Obituaries - Aug. 20, 1999

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Hanoch Levin; Acclaimed Israeli Playwright

Hanoch Levin, 56, one of Israel’s most acclaimed playwrights. Levin wrote 34 plays over three decades, beginning with a controversial satirical cabaret called “You, Me and the Next War” in 1968. Produced in the wake of the Six Day War, it provoked a wave of criticism for attacking the Israeli mainstream position that Israel had no choice but to launch the war. His next play, “Queen of the Bathtub” in 1970, pilloried the government and closed after only 18 performances. That was followed in 1972 by “Hefetz,” a play about suffering, degradation and death that was a critical and box office success. He became the most sought-after playwright in the history of Hebrew theater, although many of his works stirred controversy. His 1992 play “The Patriot,” which portrayed the average Israeli as imperialistic, crassly greedy and brutal toward Arabs, was banned by government censors, a move harshly criticized by Israeli liberals who said the ban was unprecedented and reflected a desire by then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin to crush criticism of right-wing nationalist values. Levin won many awards for his work, including the Israel Prize. Prime Minister Ehud Barak praised Levin this week as an ingenious playwright who made “an important contribution to fomenting public debate and dialogue.” On Wednesday in Tel Aviv of bone cancer.

Michael Sveda; Found Sugar Substitute Cyclamate

Michael Sveda, 87, researcher who discovered the sugar substitute cyclamate. While a graduate student at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Sveda was experimenting with some chemical compounds in the laboratory when he lit a cigarette without stopping to wash his hands. When he put the cigarette in his mouth, he was surprised by a very sweet taste. He realized that the sweetness must have been caused by one of the chemicals he had been handling, none of which was a sugar, so he quickly began tasting everything on his workbench and found the culprit, sodium cyclohexyl sulfamate. Abbott Laboratories of Chicago later took over testing of the compound, finally introducing it in 1950 under the trade name Sucaryl Sodium. It was approved for consumers after two more years of testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. About 30 times sweeter than sugar, cyclamate became a $1-billion business by the 1960s and quadrupled the market for diet soft drinks. The FDA banned the substance as a potential carcinogen in 1969. Although a government panel later found that there was no evidence that cyclamate caused cancer in animals, it said questions remained about how safe the sweetener was and kept the product under review. Sveda maintained that the substance, which is approved for use in 50 other countries, is not cancer-causing. He worked for many years at E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. in Cleveland, where he also developed an antislip floor wax. On Aug. 10 at his home in Stamford, Conn., of complications of Parkinson’s disease.