Clockwise from top left: Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Kirk Douglas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Catie Lazarus. (Getty Images; photo design by Grace Yagel)
JTA) — There’s no way to tally all whom we lost in 2020, a year when we mourned even our ability to carry out time-tested rituals of grief.
Among those who died this year were some of the Jewish world’s most famous and influential pillars in a range of industries, realms of thought and areas of activism — from pioneer jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg to moral thought leader Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to Orthodox rabbi Norman Lamm to influential LGBTQ activist Larry Kramer.
But many of the people whose deaths tell the story of 2020 were not widely known, except among the people who loved them and the communities they enriched.
To honor the loss that defined this year, we’re departing from our usual end-of-year practice of highlighting only a few luminaries. Here, we’ve listed all of the people memorialized in Jewish Telegraphic Agency obituaries this year.
We’ll start with the many people — many of whose names will never make the news — lost to the pandemic that still rages. After that, we have decided the names into themed sections and listed them in chronological order of their death.
VICTIMS OF COVID-19
(Photo illustration by Grace Yagel)
Nearly 2 million people worldwide have died of COVID-19, the new coronavirus that emerged in China at the end of 2019. Among them were countless Jews, including thousands of Israelis, large numbers of aging
Holocaust survivors and rabbinic leaders around the world. The disease felled prominent people, such as the Novominsker rebbe, Yaakov Perlow, and Fountains of Wayne songwriter Adam Schlesinger, who was just 52 when he died April 1. But it also took from us mothers, fathers, grandparents, young adults with promising futures and dear friends — the full range of human experience extinguished by an unrelenting pandemic.
Read about some of the Jewish lives lost in our Bonds of Life memorials . If you know of someone who should be included, please let us know .
Jonathan Sacks seen as the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, circa 2000. (John Downing/Getty Images)
: This William Wolff later-in-life rabbi returned to Germany, where he had fled the Nazis as a child, to lead a community in a former East German state.
: His landmark translation of the Talmud Adin Steinsaltz made it more accessible.
: The former chief rabbi of Britain was Jonathan Sacks one of the Jewish world’s leading moral and intellectual voices.
: Feinstein was one of the foremost haredi Orthodox legal authorities in the United States and a symbol of the rich Jewish history of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Dovid Feinstein
: This major Orthodox Gedaliah Schwartz beit din (or rabbinical court) leader notably clashed with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
: Henkin and his wife, Rabbanit Chana Henkin, Yehuda Herzl Henkin started a groundbreaking program for Orthodox women to answer questions of Jewish law.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Kirk Douglas circa 1950. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
: The beloved and longtime commissioner of the NBA David Stern helped turn the league into a global powerhouse.
: Wurzel, only 52, Elizabeth Wurzel helped kickstart the literary memoir genre boom with her 1994 book “Prozac Nation.”
: Henry, born Henry Zuckerman, was another Mel Brooks acolyte but a star screenwriter in his own right, Buck Henry penning scripts for films such as “The Graduate.”
: The iconic movie star of Hollywood’s early golden age, who was born Issur Danielovitch and lived until 103, Kirk Douglas reconnected with his Jewish roots later in life.
: The Jewish son of a Bronx plumber was famous for his Hair Club for Men ads in the New York City subway, noting that he wasn’t only the company’s president, Sy Sperling he was also a client.
: He hosted the famed “Inside the Actors Studio,” James Lipton interviewing hundreds of movie stars over decades.
: The actor and casting director, who was raised Orthodox and attended Jewish day school, was Danny Goldman best known as the voice of a Smurf.
: The influential museum director Alan Shestack helped lead the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Yale University Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Art.
: One generation knows him best as the father of Ben, and another knows him as George Costanza’s cranky dad on “Seinfeld,” but Stiller was Jerry Stiller an actor with broad range — and a mensch.
: The openly gay director of blockbusters was Joel Schumacher known for helming “St. Elmo’s Fire” and two Batman films.
: One of the most famous and influential designers of all time Milton Glaser made some pretty Jewish graphics in his heyday.
: The comedy legend Carl Reiner called himself a “Jewish atheist” after the Holocaust, but that didn’t stop him and his best friend Mel Brooks from writing some of the 20th century’s best Jewish comedy.
: The 1956 Wimbledon doubles champion was Angela Buxton denied admission to the All England Club, which hosts the prestigious tennis tournament and normally gives lifetime access to all winners, because of anti-Semitism.
: His war experiences inspired his son Steven to make “Saving Private Ryan,” and he Arnold Spielberg helped make the USC Shoah Foundation into a leading archive of Holocaust testimony.
: The acclaimed screenwriter won an Oscar for his script for “The Pianist,” based on the memoir of a Polish Holocaust survivor. Ronald Harwood
: The Grammy Award winner for the hit feminist anthem “I Am Woman” Helen Reddy converted to Judaism.
: The acclaimed visual artist, who Marlee Shapiro Asher lived until 107, survived the Spanish flu pandemic as an infant and COVID-19 in the last year of her life.
: The comedian and writer hosted Catie Lazarus one of the entertainment world’s best kept secrets: “Employee of the Month,” a live show that involved standup and interviews with celebrities.
LAW AND BUSINESS
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a political and cultural giant on and off the bench. (Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images)
: The Sumner Redstone media industry giant born Sumner Murray Rothstein created an empire that included CBS and Viacom.
: The first Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court was a feminist pioneer, an unapologetic liberal warrior and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her later years a pop culture icon.
: Sher Linda Sher founded JACPAC, the first political action committee run by Jewish women.
: The James Wolfensohn investor-turned-World Bank president was a philanthropist to Jewish causes and shepherded Israel’s exit from Gaza in 2005.
: Mann Theodore Mann led several major Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Jewish Congress, and was an early critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Larry Kramer poses for a portrait at the door of his New York apartment in April 1993. (Catherine McGann/Getty Images)
: The outspoken writer Larry Kramer emerged as one of the most important figures in the history of LGBTQ activism during the AIDS crisis.
: Hirsch, who Gabor Hirsch survived near death in Auschwitz, was one of Switzerland’s most prominent advocates for Holocaust commemoration.
: Sonder Justin Sonder became a police officer in his native Germany just six months after U.S. troops liberated him from a death march from Auschwitz, and later a left-wing politician and activist.
: In addition to testifying before young people about the Holocaust, Gattegna Renzo Gattegna helped rebuild the Jewish community in Italy after the genocide and eventually led the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.
: The Belgian Auschwitz survivor became dubbed a Paul Sobol “a conveyer of memory” by local media in his later years.
: Cling, who survived Auschwitz and Dachau, became an English teacher who also Maurice Cling told his story to teens in France, where he eventually fled to.
: Cohen, who escaped Auschwitz, Esther Cohen educated her fellow Greeks about the Shoah.
ACADEMIA AND INNOVATION
Nobel Prize winner Jack Steinberger, left, in 1956. (Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
: The Xerox and Apple innovator Larry Tesler invented the now-ubiquitous copy and paste function.
: The prolific Jewish scholar and author helped turn Yeshiva University back into a flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy as its longtime president. Norman Lamm
: The Israeli expert on fascism and ultranationalism taught at Hebrew University for decades and was an Zeev Sternhell outspoken critic of the settler movement.
: The Hungarian Holocaust survivor and MIT biochemist who spoke six languages Martha Nierenberg helped bring Scandinavian furniture design to the U.S. through a company with her husband.
: The David Schneer beloved Jewish studies professor at the University of Colorado died of the coronavirus at 48.
: The pioneering physicist won a Nobel Prize for helping to identify the Jack Steinberger universe’s smallest particle.
JEWISH COMMUNAL LIFE
A scene in the documentary “Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross” shows Ross speaking to a group of students at a Boston public school. (Tony Bennis)
: The Albert Sherman influential communal and political insider in Boston held leadership positions at several major Jewish organizations, including the New England Anti-Defamation League.
: The Holocaust survivor Stephan Ross founded the New England Holocaust Memorial.
: The Robert Lappin massive giver to Jewish causes helped found the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and sponsored teen trips to Israel decades before the start of the Birthright program.
: His Genesis Philanthropy Group Ilia Salita worked to strengthen the Jewish identity of Russian-speaking Jews around the globe.
Meijer and Tedje van der Sluis during the filming of a 2018 documentary film about their marriage. Tedje died April 11, 2020, of the coronavirus. (Merlijn Doomernik)
: The Holocaust survivor became a Maurice Bidermann leading men’s fashion magnate but was also eventually convicted of corruption.
: The Yefim Goldberg 106-year-old Jewish veteran of World War II who was honored frequently by the governments of Belarus and Russia.
: The Dutch Holocaust survivor was the subject, along with her survivor husband, of Tedje van der Sluis a hit documentary in her native Holland.
: He became Jackie Jakubowski one of Sweden’s most important Jewish voices as editor of the local cultural magazine the Jewish Chronicle.
: The Albert Memmi famed French author often referenced his Jewish identity and wrote about anti-Semitism.
: The Beny Zlochisty beloved Mexican Jewish leader helped Jews in the Soviet Union, led trips to Holocaust sites in Europe through March of the Living and helmed the Mexican Zionist Council.
: It took decades for the Auschwitz survivor to David Galante teach younger generations about his experience in his adopted Argentina.
: The influential Jorge Kirszenbaum former president of Argentina’s Jewish community helped the relatives of those who were kidnapped and disappeared under the last military dictatorship that ruled Argentina, from 1976 to 1983.
: The Holocaust survivor from Odessa Mikhail Zhvanetsky became one of Russia’s most famous standup comedians, against all odds during the oppressive Soviet Union years.
: The former JTA correspondent was Suzanne Belling a leading writer on Jewish issues in South Africa.
: Brazil’s richest man at the time of his death, with a fortune of over $23 billion, was Joseph Safra a leading global Jewish philanthropist.