Obituaries for Aug. 3, 2017

Disney chief ‘imagineer’ Marty Sklar dies at 83

Marty Sklar, who served 54 years as an “imagineer” for the Walt Disney Co. and led the creative team behind the company’s theme parks, attractions and resorts, has died.

The company announced his death in Los Angeles July 27. He was 83.

Sklar served as principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, turning the company founder’s ideas into reality.

“Everything about Marty was legendary — his achievements, his spirit, his career,” Disney CEO Robert Iger said in a statement. “He embodied the very best of Disney, from his bold originality to his joyful optimism and relentless drive for excellence. He was also a powerful connection to Walt himself. No one was more passionate about Disney than Marty, and we’ll miss his enthusiasm, his grace, and his indomitable spirit.”

Sklar was born in New Brunswick, N.J, and attended UCLA. He was the editor of the university’s Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to edit a tabloid to be sold at Disneyland’s Main Street. Walt Disney liked his work on the tabloid, and eventually Sklar became Disney’s lieutenant.

In 2001, Sklar was recognized as a Disney Legend — the company’s version of the Hall of Fame — and in 2009 was honored with a window on Disneyland’s Main Street.

Sklar was the author of the 2013 memoir “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdom,” in which he debunked a common rumor that Disney was anti-Semitic.

“I never saw a shred of anti-Semitism in him,” Sklar told the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in an interview when the book was published. “Walt was from the Midwest, he wasn’t used to being around Jews. And then he came out here, [where] most of the people in the entertainment business were Jews, so he was the guy out in the cornfield; he was different, and I think that’s where it came from. It never came from anything he said. Not ever.”

In his final years at Disney, Sklar served as a company “ambassador,” teaching a list of Disney principles called “Mickey’s Commandments” that he had distilled from his time with the company founder. The list included “Know your audience” and “Take time to teach — mentors are mensches.”

“That was what I learned: It’s the details that make the Disney parks work, that attention to detail,” Sklar told the Jewish Journal. “And you have to make it a complete story, which means striving to be accurate about whatever story you’re telling, down to the smallest details.”

Sklar is survived by his wife of 60 years, Leah; son Howard and his wife, Katriina Koski-Sklar; grandchildren Gabriel and Hannah; daughter Leslie; and grandchildren Rachel and Jacob.

—JTA News and Features

Maurice Weisenberg, rabbi to Mishkan Torah Synagogue

Rabbi Maurice (Mayer Chaim) Weisenberg, the first full-time rabbi of Mishkan Torah Synagogue in Greenbelt, died on June 23. He was 83.

Weisenberg attended Manhattan Talmudical Academy in New York and later Yeshiva University, where he was ordained. He was a spiritual leader to five congregations, including Mishkan Torah, starting in 1966. He resided in Boca Raton, Fla. until his death.

Weisenberg is survived by his wife, Nachama, and four daughters, Ellen (Russell) Elovitz of Olney, Shira (Joe) Cohen of Boynton Beach, Fla., Atara (David) Berkowitz of West Hempstead, N.Y., and Ariela Weisenberg of New York. He was the devoted grandfather of Hannah and Maxine Elovitz, Alex and Sam Berkowitz, and Harris and Ezra Cohen, and the loving brother of the late Rabbi David Weisenberg, Sylvia Isner, Rabbi Samuel Weisenberg, and Professor Matisyahu Weisenberg.

Richard Lees

Richard Lees, of Rockville, died on July 19. He was 87.

Lees earned a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University in New York, studied dentistry at New York University and also studied orthodontics.

He maintained an orthodontist practice in New York and Ossining, N.Y.

Lees was a guest lecturer on dentistry at New York University, a member of Kiwanis of Westchester County and a volunteer dentist at Pleasantville Cottage School in Pleasantville, N.Y.

He is survived by his children Rhonda Lees, Matthew Lees (Susan), Diana Schmidt (Rich) and Peter Lees; and grandchildren Joshua and Jacob, and Ruby and Stella.

 

Athlete barred from 1936 Berlin Olympics dies at 103

Margaret Bergmann Lambert, a high jumper who was barred from the 1936 Berlin Olympics because she was Jewish, died in New York at 103.

Her niece, Doris Bergman, confirmed that Lambert died July 25, The New York Times reported.

In June 1936, a month before the Olympics, Lambert, then a German citizen known as Gretel (short for “Margarethe”) Bergmann, won a meet against some of the best German high jumpers with a leap of 5 feet, 3 inches — a height tying a German record and good enough to win the top spot on the Olympic team.

The Nazis had demanded that she compete in the trials in order to appease foreign powers who suspected that the party’s race theories and anti-Semitic policies would sully the Olympics.

But shortly after her record-setting performance at the meet in Stuttgart, at Adolf Hitler Stadium, she received a letter from Nazi officials informing her that she had not qualified.

“Looking back on your recent performances,” the letter said, “you could not possibly have expected to be chosen for the team.” Her accomplishment was removed from the record books.

JTA reported on July 16, 1936, that Bergmann had been dropped from the German Olympic team. The same article noted that Helene Mayer, a fencing star who was half-Jewish, would be allowed to compete but had been demoted to 14th place on the team’s roster. The article cited a report in Der Angriff, a newspaper set up by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, which claimed that Bergmann was dropped because Germany had no chance of winning the high-jump event, “owing to the excellence of the American and Japanese competitors.”

A Hungarian athlete would go on to win the event with a jump just below 5 feet, 3 inches.

“I had nightmares about the whole thing for months before,” Bergmann said, in a 2015 interview with Newsday, about her return to Germany. “How would people on the team treat me? Maybe they would break my leg to keep me from competing. If I won, could I stand up there and salute that man? What if I lost?”

Margarethe Minnie Bergmann was born to a secular Jewish family in 1914, in the small town of Laupheim, in southwest Germany, about 65 miles from the Swiss border. As a student athlete she excelled in the shot put, the discus and other events as well as the high jump.

With anti-Semitism on the rise in Germany, Bergmann left home at 19 and moved to England, where she won the British high-jump championship in 1935. But when the Nazis pressured her father to bring her home, she returned to Germany to seek a position on the Olympic team.

In 1937, Bergmann was able to obtain papers that allowed her to immigrate to the United States. She landed in New York City, where she worked as a masseuse and housemaid, and later as a physical therapist, according to the Times. In 1938, she married a fellow German refugee, Bruno Lambert, who was a sprinter. He died in 2013.

Dagmar Freitag, a member of Germany’s parliament, attended Bergmann’s 101st birthday party in 2015 at her home in Queens, N.Y.

In 2004, HBO aired a documentary about her called “Hitler’s Pawn.”

She is survived by two sons, Glenn and Gary, two grandchildren and a great-grandson.

—JTA News and Features

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