The Eulogizer: Cold War-era ‘master spy,’ Israeli children’s book illustrator


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.

Judith Socolov, 88, convicted of spying for Soviet Union

Judith Socolov, whose convictions for spying for the Soviet Union in the early days of the Cold War were overturned on appeal, died Feb. 26 at 88.

Despite the overturned convictions, there has been general agreement in recent years that Socolov, whose name was Judith Coplon at the time, was in fact a Soviet agent.

The authors of a 2002 book about the case, “The Spy Who Seduced America: Lies and Betrayal in the Heat of the Cold War: The Judith Coplon Story,” one of whom was a government investigator in the case, believed she was guilty. The appeals court judge who overturned her conviction on technical grounds believed she was guilty, and Coplon is listed as a “master spy” by the website The U.S. Justice Department finally dropped the case in 1967.

Socolov maintained her innocence and then kept a stout silence for decades.

Socolov’s daughter Emily offered a nuanced answer shortly after her mother’s death: “Was she a spy? I think it’s another question that I ask: Was she part of a community that felt that they were going to bring, by their actions, an age of peace and justice and an equal share for all and the abolishing of color lines and class lines? If these were things that she actually did, she was not defining them as espionage. If you feel that what you’re doing answers to a higher ideal, it’s not treason.”

Socolov was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Samuel and Rebecca Coplon, a toy manufacturer and milliner. They were prosperous and involved members of the Jewish community. After graduating from Barnard College in 1943, Socolov began working for the U.S. Justice Department in 1944. She worked in a department with access to counter-intelligence information, despite having been a member of the Young Communist League while at Barnard.

According to the U.S. government, Socolov was recruited by Soviet intelligence later that year by the agent with whom she was arrested in 1949 and who had become her lover.

A Time magazine article published shortly after her arrest offered a detailed and lurid account of the surveillance and arrest of Coplon by FBI agents, as well as offering a sympathetic portrait of her family, calling her father “the ‘Santa Claus of the Adirondacks’: he gave away thousands of toys to country kids at Christmas."

The article went on to say, "When they were hauled away to jail, the Russian remained frozen-faced, but Judith smiled cheerfully. In Brooklyn, her mother cried: ‘Oh, God! No, No! It’s not so. I’ll never believe it!’ "

The New York Times also offered details of Socolov’s arrest after being followed by “30 agents and a fleet of radio cars” with secret documents, including a faked memo set up as part of a sting.

While her appeals were pending, Socolov married one of her lawyers, Albert Socolov. She raised four children, earned a master’s degree in education, tutored women in prison and ran Mexican restaurants in Manhattan in the years after her guilty verdicts were reversed.

Ora Eyal, 64, Israeli children’s book illustrator

Ora Eyal, one of Israel’s most successful children’s book illustrators, whose work included the Israeli classic “A Tale of Five Balloons,” died Feb. 26 at 64.

Sherry Gutman, editor in chief of the Israeli publisher Mansion House, called Eyal, "a true artist. Her very presence has enriched the world.” She said that Eyal had something “wonderful” and “comical” in her perception of the world and life in general, even when her life, including a long illness, was not so good.

Eyal illustrated more than 70 books (see a sampling here), including "Stories of Itamar" by David Grossman and "Yael’s House."

“A Tale of Five Balloons,”  written by Miriam Roth, is one of Israel’s most beloved stories. A classic known to virtually all Israeli children, it has been turned into videos and games, and won an award from UNICEF. A Google Doodle, a decorative change to the Google logo based on “Five Balloons,” ran on Google’s Israel website on a recent anniversary of Roth’s birth.

Eyal was born in Jerusalem in 1946 and studied at the Bezalel Academy in the city. She also worked as a translator from Italian. Eyal won the 1994 Ben Isaac Prize for Illustration from the Israel Museum. She was awaiting delivery of the final book she illustrated, “Everyone Went for a Trip,” just before she died.

Recommended from JTA