GUEDALIAHOU SHIVA Obituary (2022) – New York, NY

SHIVA–Guedaliahou “Gil.” February 15, 1935 – August 4, 2022. Gil Shiva liked to say he was “just a peasant from Rehovot.” Born on February 15, 1935, to Chaim and Esther, the youngest of four brothers, he grew up in a farming community with a population of only four thousand. He was Bar Mitzvahed in 1948, just as Israel was becoming a state. There was a sense of poetry in this, and of prediction: the story of his life would be of a man crossing borders and opening doors. In his twenties, Mr. Shiva traveled with the Israeli Army to Paris, where he stood in the back of the Paris Opera House and listened to Wagner. He was the kind of person who could give himself wholly over to the love of something, and this he did with music and dance. It was this love that took him to the United States in 1962, to New York, where he managed a ballet company, the Karmon Israeli Dancers, and eventually the company of dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey. After the writer Anita Loos introduced Gil at a party to Susan Rosa Stein, Gil and Susan fell in love, and they married in 1968. They had two children, Andrew and Alexandra. When Susan became ill, Mr. Shiva retreated for several years to care for her, then after her passing from her, he raised their two children alone. This was his truest achievement of him. He gave Alexandra and Andrew many gifts, of culture, of education, but he also gave them the most valuable gift he could: the gift of a loving father. His life in New York was one of distinction, but through it all he insistently remained “just a peasant from Rehovot.” He was beloved of artists and writers far and wide, and served on numerous boards, including the Public Theater. He supported artists from a diversity of backgrounds, and he did so actively, procuring the financing that brought into existence so many powerful productions. Mr. Shiva’s work by him in the arts was splendid, but anyone who knew him knew that these remarkable facts were the least remarkable thing about him. What was special about Gil was not only his refined sense of taste, or his polished knowledge of literature and art, or even his exquisite sense of personal style and Hollywood good looks. (He was convinced to go out to lunch with legendary acting teacher Stella Adler when he got to New York City, in the hopes that she could convince him to pursue acting. She didn’t make a dent in his lack of interest in an acting career, but he enjoyed the luncheon, and would remember the story with a wonderful sparkle in his eye and a gorgeous chuckling grin.) What was special about Gil was his company. It was the generosity of his spirit and the curiosity of his mind. He was a man of culture, but he was also humble and eager to be improved. His of him was not the learning of a man who knows, whose opinions are rigid and settled, but of a man who is ever inquiring and adjusting his mind of him. “As long as I’m alive, I can learn,” he told his daughter Alexandra, when he was in his eighties. And learn he did. Two years ago, when doctors diagnosed Mr. Shiva with a glioblastoma multiforme, and he was told that he had little time left, he responded in a way that few people do: he started making plans. He architected an expedition to the Galapagos with his children and grandchildren. He wanted to show that place to them, that seminal work of art. There was such generosity and hopefulness on this trip. In it one could almost hear the echo of what he had said to Alexandra some years before: As long as I’m alive? A brain surgery after the diagnosis had left Mr. Shiva with poor eyesight, but that was of no consequence. (He switched his voracious reading over to voracious listening of audio books.) He was not there to see the Galapagos. He was there to share it with this family, to give them the gift of this memory. At the time of his passing from him, he was still making plans to audit a course at Columbia on James Baldwin, to attend the ninetieth birthday party of a friend in New Delhi. Such was the generosity. Such was the optimism. He will be missed by so many, and by them remembered with such warmth and pleasure. His loss from him brings pain, but not so much as his life from him brought joy. For those who knew him: You cannot think of Mr. Shiva without a smile. Just try it. I will give you. Gil’s survivors include his treasured daughter Alexandra Shiva (Jonathan Marc Sherman) and son Andrew Shiva (Anya Shiva), his four beloved grandchildren: Samuel Shiva Sherman; Elizabeth Susan Shiva; Theadora Rose Sherman; and Abigail Natalie Shiva, along with countless friends and family across the globe. There will be a memorial service for Gil in the fall.

Published by New York Times on Aug. 7, 2022.

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