The Eulogizer: Israeli president’s wife, documentary photographer, Israeli burial society director


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at Read previous columns here.

Wife of Israeli president   

Sonia Peres, wife of Israeli President Shimon Peres since 1945 and the mother of three, died Jan. 20 at 87.

She was born in Poland, moved to prestate Israel at age 4 and avoided the public spotlight.

Dr. Rafi Valdan, Peres’ son-in-law, said Sonia Peres was "all nobility and devotion.The family members were very close to her. We would see her almost every day."

Photographer of underprivileged

Milton Rogovin, a left-wing activist and optometrist who went on to a distinguished career photographing the poor and underprivileged worldwide after being called before the House Un-American Affairs Committee during the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, died Jan. 18 at a hospice near his home in Buffalo, N.Y. He was 101.

Rogovin, who traveled and photographed widely until his 90s, has been the subject of documentary films and retrospective exhibits of his work in recent years. In 2010, the Center for Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook University gave Rogovin its award for Lifetime Contributions to Social Justice for Working People.

Rogovin was born in Brooklyn to immigrants from Lithuania. He graduated from Columbia University with a degree in optometry in 1931. Four months later, after the family had lost its store and home, his father died of a heart attack. He moved to Buffalo in 1938 after being radicalized by poverty in New York City.

"I was a product of the Great Depression, and what I saw and experienced myself made me politically active,” he said in 1994. After World War II, Rogovin became involved in the Buffalo branch of the Communist Party.

After he testified before the House Un-American Affairs Committee, a Buffalo Evening News headline called him "Buffalo’s Top Red," which eventually cost him his optometry business. He became known as a photographer in 1962 after Aperture published his photos of church services on Buffalo’s poor and African-American East Side, along with an introduction by W. E. B. Du Bois, who described the pictures as “astonishingly human and appealing.”

Over the years, along with documenting life in Buffalo, Rogovin photographed miners in 10 countries, a project that became known as the “Family of Miners,” and worked with Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in the 1960s on a project that became "Windows That Open Inward: Images of Chile," a book of photos and poems that has been described as a "stunning collaboration of visions." Rogovin, who used black-and-white film throughout his career, was photographed at his 101st birthday on Dec. 30 in the same newspaper  that had called him "Red" in 1957. A major retrospective of his work is set to open Jan. 20 at Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery in Chicago that includes images never seen before by the public.

Rogovin’s archives are at the U.S. Library of Congress. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Biblotheque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Chevra Kadisha director, in shooting

Benny Hesse, 67, director of a chevra kadisha (communal burial society) in Haifa for more than 20 years, was shot to death outside his home Jan. 9 by several attackers in a killing that some have speculated may have been related to internal disputes among burial groups over allocation of burial plots. Burial society organizations throughout Israel held a brief strike two days later in protest of the shooting.

Hesse managed Haifa’s Ashkenazi burial society, taking over the position from his father. Hesse had been commander of an Israei army burial unit and had retired as a lieutenant colonel. Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, a Haifa resident and friend of Hesse, described him as "level-headed, humorous and kind."

Friends told Israeli media that Hesse was accepted by different religious groups in Haifa, but he lost an eye in an acid attack in 2006 and his house was set on fire.

Rabbi Yisrael Rosenthal, chairman of burial groups in Haifa, said Hesse had cleaned up corruption in Haifa, which angered some.

"The problem is that all is lawless in this country," Rosenthal said. This is what he tried to prevent, and maybe that’s the reason this all happened." 

Jewish centenarians

The passing of Milton Rogovin noted above made the Eulogizer think about Jewish centenarians. A 2008 article in London’s Jewish Chronicle claimed the number of centenarians, increasing overall in Britain, is disproportionately high in the Jewish community.

Dr. Nir Barzilai of Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein Institute for Aging Research has conducted genetic analyses of more than 500 Ashkenazi Jewish centenarians and near-centenarians and their children and found factors that contribute to extreme longevity include having a parent who lived a long life, plenty of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol), and that telomeres, a region of repetitive DNA at the end of a chromosome that protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration, are longer in centenarians, and longer telomeres seem to be inherited by their children.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, a leader of Ashkenazi haredim in Israel and elsewhere, is still active as he nears 101. Michel Fisher received an aliyah in February 2010 on his 100th birthday at the Young Israel of San Diego.

The Eulogizer asks you to send us information about Jewish centenarians. Write to the Eulogizer at

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