Jewish Life Stories: The Jewish refugee who wrote the book on human rights


This article is also available as a weekly newsletter, “Life Stories,” where we remember those who made an outsize impact in the Jewish world — or just left their community a better or more interesting place. Subscribe here to get “Life Stories” in your inbox every Tuesday.

Leah Levin, 98, Jewish refugee who championed human rights

Leah Levin wrote, quite literally, the book on human rights: “Human Rights: Questions and Answers,” first published by the United Nations in 1981, remains one of its most widely distributed books.

Nowhere in the guide does she describe her own background: First, as the daughter of a Jewish family who fled their native Lithuania for South Africa in the late 1920s amid rising antisemitism (nearly all of her relatives who stayed behind would be killed by pro-Nazi collaborators); second, as a wife and mother who fled for England when white-rule authorities in Rhodesia threatened to arrest her husband for his political activism.

Joining Britain’s human rights community, Levin became director of a legal reform group that helped secure the release of six men from Northern Ireland who were serving life sentences for bombings at two Birmingham pubs in 1974. She also founded Redress, a London-based group providing legal support to survivors of torture. “The continued observance of human rights requires constant vigilance,” she wrote in her guide.

She died May 25 in London. She was 98.

Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager, 66, rebbe who bridged worlds among the ultra-Orthodox

Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager was the rebbe of the Kosov Hasidic dynasty, a dayan (“rabbinic judge”) and noted orator. (Wikipedia)

Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager was a bridge between two worlds of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

As the Kossover Rebbe, he was the Brooklyn-based leader of the best-known branch of the Vizhnitz Hasidic movement, started in what is now Ukraine. As the husband of Sara Rachel Wosner, he earned respect from followers of her late grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, a famed non-Hasidic haredi rabbi and legal decisor. Hager would both hold court in Borough Park as a “rebbe,” or charismatic leader, and rule on fine points of Jewish law, or halacha, as a dayan, or judge.

“He was renowned for his involvement in contemporary halachic issues, courageously addressing difficult topics,” the Orthodox website wrote in a tribute. “The rebbe was unique in his ability to bridge diverse traditions and schools of thought within the frum [religious] community.”

Hager, the author of works on Shabbat, prayer and Hasidism, died June 29 at 66.

Lazare Kaplan, 98, physician and son of France’s chief rabbi

Dr. Lazare Kaplan served as president for over a decade of Maguen David Adom France. (Courtesy MDA France)

During World War II, Lazare Kaplan, along with his four siblings, narrowly escaped capture by Nazi and Vichy militia forces multiple times. A member of the Jewish scouts, he delivered letters for the Resistance. After the war, his father Jacob Kaplan became the Grand Rabbi of Paris and in 1955 the Grand Rabbi of France.

Lazare pursued a career in medicine, joining the French Railways as a general practitioner; he eventually became their Chief Doctor. He also served as president for over a decade of Maguen David Adom France, the relief organization founded by his mother, Fanny Kaplan.

Dr. Kaplan died June 8. He was 98.

Recommended from JTA