Legendary Jewish Comedian Joan Rivers Dies at 81

Legendary Jewish Comedian Joan Rivers Dies at 81

The daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants, her greatest joy in life was making people laugh.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Joan Rivers, the famed Jewish comedian from Brooklyn, N.Y., died today at age 81, NBC News reports.

Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai hospital on Aug. 28 after she stopped breathing during surgery on her vocal cords at a clinic, TMZ first reported.

Rivers remained in the hospital and was kept on life support as her condition fluctuated, moving in and out of intensive care throughout the week. She was placed into a medically-induced coma and then life-support before daughter Melissa finally moved Rivers from intensive care into a private room.

“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers,” announced Melissa, her only child, in a three-paragraph statement. “She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. surrounded by family and close friends.

“My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing too.”

Melissa Rivers apparently decided to take her mother off life support at The Mount Sinai Hospital eight days after she arrived at the facility.

Rivers was a pioneer for women in comedy as well as a champion of Jewish causes. The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, Rivers was a staunch supporter of Israel's right to defend itself, as evidenced by her many statements during the most recent conflict.

“Joan Rivers was not only an iconic comedian, she was an ardent supporter of Israel who vociferously and unabashedly expressed her opinions in support of the Jewish homeland, including during the recent Operation Protective Edge,” said Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the Israeli-American Council. “We’re sure all Israelis in the U.S. today share in the sadness of the passing of this exceptional woman. The IAC offers our deepest condolences to Joan Rivers’ family, friends and fans.”

The former Hadassah Woman of the Year, she made several significant philanthropic contributions to Jewish organizations over the years.

Although she walked a thin line in regards to incorporation of the Holocaust into her comedic routines, Rivers told The Hollywood Reporter, “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.” Her Jewish heritage and cultural identity were integral parts of her humor.

Rivers was also an active philanthropist affiliated with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, God’s Love We Deliver and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

After winning the $250,000 prize in the 2009 edition of “The Apprentice,” Rivers donated the prize to God’s Love — an organization that provides meals to shut-ins across the metropolitan area.

She will be missed.


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