Theodore Bikel attending a film festival in Hollywood, California, April 25, 2013. Via JTA
Theodore Bikel attending a film festival in Hollywood, California, April 25, 2013.

Theodore Bikel, Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

Theodore Bikel, an actor and folk singer who was recognized in 1997 with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, has died at 91.

Bikel, who won fame playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, doing more performances of the role than any other actor, died July 21 of natural causes at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Born in Vienna, Bikel fled Austria at age 13 with his family after the 1938 Nazi Anschluss. The family settled in prestate Palestine, and in 1946 Bikel went to London to study at the Royal Academy of
Dramatics Arts.

In his autobiography, according to Variety, he expressed regret about not returning to Israel to fight in the 1948 War of Independence: “A few of my contemporaries regarded what I did as a character flaw, if not a downright act of desertion. In me, there remains a small, still voice, that asks whether I can ever fully acquit myself in my own mind.”

Bikel moved to the United States in 1954 to appear on Broadway in Tonight in Samarkand, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1961. Also on Broadway, he played Captain Georg Von Trapp in the first Broadway production of The Sound of Music.

In 1958 he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in The Defiant Ones, and in 1959 he co-founded the Newport Folk Festival.

Along with his arts work, Bikel was active in many left-wing causes, from the civil rights movement to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the Soviet Jewry movement to progressive Zionism and the Democratic Party. He was a longtime board member of the American Jewish Congress.

Bikel also was a labor activist, serving as president of Actors Equity Association for 11 years and as the longtime president of the AFL-CIO-affiliated Actors & Artistes of America.

In a 2007 interview with Hadassah Magazine, Bikel linked his activism to his experience living through the Anschluss, the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938.

“It became clear that I would never ever put myself in the place of the nice people next door who said ‘It’s not my fight,’” he said. “It’s always my fight. Whenever I see an individual or group singled out for persecution, there’s a switch thrown in my mind — and they become Jews.”

In 2013, at an event marking the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Austrian government honored Bikel with its highest honor in the arts. As a finale, Bikel asked the distinguished audience to rise as he sang the “Song of the Partisans” in Yiddish.

Many of Bikel’s 27 albums featured Hebrew and Yiddish folk music — two languages that he spoke fluently, along with German, French and English. In a 2013 interview, he said that of all his accomplishments he was proudest of “presenting the songs of my people, songs of pain and songs of hope.”

In the same interview, Bikel said he had planned the inscription for his tombstone — “He Was the Singer of His People” — in Yiddish.

— JTA News & Features

E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow Via
E.L. Doctorow


American Jewish author E.L. Doctorow, who wrote the novel Ragtime, died at age 84.

Doctorow died of complications from lung cancer July 21 in Manhattan, according to the New York Times. Author of a dozen novels as well as assorted other works, Doctorow primarily wrote historical fiction. Ragtime, published in 1975, is set in New York in the lead-up to World War I and includes characters like Sigmund Freud and the anarchist Emma Goldman. His works spanned periods from the Civil War to the present day.

Doctorow won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. He was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Among his other prominent works are Billy Bathgate, The Book of Daniel and The March. Several of his books have been adapted into films.

Doctorow was born in 1931 in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He told the Kenyon Review that he grew up surrounded by talented Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi Germany. He attended Kenyon College and published his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, in 1960. He lived in New York City.

Doctorow is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren.

— JTA News & Features

­­Rita Snow

On July 23, Rita Snow, 79, of Potomac. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, Snow was a realtor for 30 years and a member of Congregation Har Shalom. Daughter of Henry and Clara Mueller, both deceased, and wife of Dr. M. Leonard Snow, also deceased. She is survived by four sons: Dr. Daniel E. Snow (Linda Silverman) of Potomac, Dr. Jeffrey L. (Dr. Catherine) Snow of Raleigh, NC, S. David Snow of Potomac, Stanley H. (Nina) Snow of Potomac; sister Mae Weiss of Silver Spring; brother Abraham Mueller of Shady Side, MD; and six grandchildren: Michael, Craig, Lauren, Max, Samantha and Jake Snow.

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