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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previous columns here.
Arieh Handler, 95, British Zionist leader
Arieh Handler, a longtime British Zionist leader, a founder of the Bnei Akiva movement in Britain, an activist on behalf of Ethiopian Jews and the man believed to have been the last living attendee at the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, died May 19 in Israel at 95.
Handler made aliyah to Israel at age 90 after a lifetime of activities focused on saving Jewish lives.
"Arieh was one of the great Jewish heroes of the modern world and his achievements are almost too great to number,” said Michael Rainsbury, secretary of Bnei Akiva in Britain. "He was truly the greatest leader in our movement’s history and his legacy is in the success of the organizations he built.”
Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said Handler’s contribution to British Jewry, the State of Israel and the Jewish people in general “is immeasurable and his legacy will continue for generations to come.”
Handler was born in Bohemia and grew up in Germany. Even before World War II, as a member of Youth Aliyah, he used a Gestapo permit to help arrange transport and visas for Jewish children.
At 32, he was one of 200 to witness the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv. Jonny Lipczer, head of the British desk at World Bnei Akiva, wrote that Handler’s invitation “remained one of his most cherished possessions, which he was always so excited to show people.”
Handler recalled the day in an interview years later: “I will never forget it. We were called to the meeting, it started at 4 o’clock, the state was declared, and it finished on the dot at 5:30 — such punctuality never normally happens at a Jewish function! I had this feeling in me that this was a historic moment, not just for the Jews but for the world.”
He visited Ethiopia in the 1950s, one of the first Zionist leaders to go there, and started to push for Ethiopian aliyah afterward.
Handler went back to London from Israel in 1956 at the request of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett to build Migdal Group, an insurance company owned by Bank Leumi. He was in Israel in the 1960s, and then returned to London in the 1970s to work in banking and build religious Zionist institutions. He was a vice chairman of the Montefiore Endowment in the UK.
Handler made aliyah in 2006 at 90 with his wife. In a 2009 meeting with British Bnei Akiva members in his Jerusalem home, Handler said that "Every one of you can help to make sure that the Jewish nation will be a strong and good nation."
Joseph Wershba, 90, journalist
Joseph Wershba, a pioneering TV journalist whose work helped discredit Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for U.S. communists in the mid-1950s, died at 90 on May 14.
Wershba produced several 1953 and 1954 reports on McCarthy for Edward R. Murrow’s groundbreaking CBS news program “See It Now.” McCarthy had falsely accused celebrities and entertainers, including playwright Arthur Miller and Charlie Chaplin, of having communist ties.
The journalistic efforts built the case for McCarthy’s lies and deceit. “See It Now” producer Fred Friendly said it was “the first time any of us appreciated the power of television.” Robert Downey Jr. played Wershba in the 2005 film “Good Night and Good Luck,” which depicted Murrow’s conflicts with McCarthy.
Wershba left CBS in the mid-1950s to be a documentary producer and then a reporter at The New York Post. He returned to CBS News and was one of the six original producers of “60 Minutes.” Two segments he produced won Emmy Awards — one on the Tonkin Gulf incident, which had led to American troops fighting in Vietnam, and a 1978 profile of Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek.
In an oral history interview, Wershba said he remembered telling Walter Cronkite not to use the word conspiracy in describing the Nixon administration’s campaign against the news media: “Walter, I wouldn’t use the word conspiracy.’ When I saw the documentation, I went back years later and apologized to him. There was a conspiracy.”
Wershba was born in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn. His father was a garment worker. He attended Brooklyn College and edited the school newspaper there, but dropped out in 1940 and was drafted into the U.S. Army.