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April 25, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 25, 2014

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FLORI DA JEW I'SH EW S Editorials ................................ 4A Op-Ed ..................................... 5A Calendar ................................. 6A Synagogue Directory ............... 7A B'nai Mitzvah .......................... 8A Scene Around ......................... 9A Jacob Birnbaum wasJn00 unsung father of Soviet Jewry fred,dom By Avi Weiss NEW YORK (JTA)--May 1 will mark the 50th anni- versary of the first Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) demonstration on be- half of Soviet Jews. The man who inspired the demonstra- tion and became the father of the movement, Jacob (Yaakov) Birnbaum, died April 9 at the age of 87. Birnbaum founded the SSSJ and, together with others including Glenn Richter, de- veloped the first national grassroots Soviet Jewry organi- zation. But Birnbaum's legacy was much greater than any organizational affiliation. He was a heroic, legendary figure. In certain ways, his life -- E m "- o --- xl t,) -x paralleled the biblical story of Jacob, about whom the Passover Haggadah declares "arami oved avi," "my father was a wandering Aramean." Jacob Birnbaum was a wanderer, too. Born in Ger- many, his family escaped to Englandwhen he was ayoung boy. After World War II he became involved in reset- tling the remnants of Eastern European Jewry. Having seen firsthand the horrors of the Shoah, Birnbaum resolved to do all he could to save Soviet Jewry. So in the early 1960s, af- ter coming to New York, he roamed--from room to room in Yeshiva University dormito- ries and in the halls of Colum- bia University--searching for students who would join him in a campaign to free the mil- lions of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. He was unyielding, uncompromising, relentless, stubborn, steadfast and tenacious, persevering no matter the obstacles. After wandering for years, the biblical Jacob had pro- claimed, "I crossed the Jordan with my staff, and now I'm accompanied by two large camps." This, too, was the story of Jacob Birnbaum. He had little when he arrived on these shores. But with his departure from this world, one could proclaim loudly and clearly that the camps he accompanied were large, numbering well over a mil- lion Soviet Jews. American Jews are part of his camp, too, as Birnbaum inspired us in the West to stand up for A rally for Soviet Jewry our brethren in the East, and identify ourselves proudly and clearly as Jews. Birnbaum was the first to sound the alarm in America, having been inspired by his grandfather, Nathan Birn- baum, who is known to have coined the term "Zionism." Jacob Birnbaum was the first to insist that we must cry out collectively to save Soviet Jewry; the first to lead the masses onto the streets in front of Soviet missions and embassies around the world; the first to understand the spiritual power of the move- ment and incorporate it with religious slogans and songs. Indeed, Birnbaum was the first to recognize that not only didwe have a responsibility to direct our protests against the Soviet Union, but we also had the obligation to insist that our own U.S. government do more, much more, to press the Soviets to let our people go. Sadly, Birnbaum often would be peremptorily cut off by establishment figures who understood far less than he about the issue at hand. They eventually co-opted many of Center for Jewish History on Simehat Torah in 1983. his original ideas but accorded him virtually no credit for tiis pioneering work. In the early '60s, Birnbaum asked Rabbi Shlomo Car- lebach to compose a Soviet Jewry theme song. The words go back to the biblical narra- tive, when Joseph, after 22 years of separation from his father, Jacob, asks his broth- ers "ha'od avi chai?"- "Is my father still alive?" And today, the Jews from the Soviet Union and their descendants can declare, yes, Jacob Birnbaum, our father, the father of the Soviet Jewry movement, lives on. On his shoulders we, his sons and daughters from the former Soviet Union and from the free world sing out as one, "AmYisrael Chai,'"the people of Israel live." Rabbi Avi Weiss, senior rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale- The Bayit, served as national chairman of the Student Struggle for So- viet Jewry from 1983 to 1991. His memoir on the Soviet Jewry movement, "Open Up the Iron Door," is scheduled for publication this summer. JAO board names new head of school MAITLAND---After com- pleting an extensive seven- month search, the Jewish Academy of Orlando has named Alan G. Rusonik as its new head of school, the JAO Board of Directors has announced. Rusonik had been serving as Judaic Studies director at the San Diego Jewish Acad- emy and is a former head of school for Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston, Texas. He will begin his new role July 1, 2014. Rusonik replaces Lynne Shefsky who retired as head of school more than a year ago. Acting in an interim capacity was Shari Wladis, who will be elevated to prin- cipal, reporting to Rusonik and overseeing curriculum, faculty and the academic experience. "We took the time to con- duct an extensive and very professional search process that led us to our decision to hire Alan," said Maura Weiner, president of the school's board of directors. "We are very en- thusiastic about Alan's ability to build upon the momentum we have created in' the last few years and helping elevate the school even further." she added. Rusonik's career back- ground includes serving as ex- ecutive director at the Agency for Jewish Education in San Diego; director of education, Congregation Emanu El and Alan G. Rusonik as a teacher/coordinator of Judaic Studies at I. Weiner Jewish Secondary School in Houston. He has a Master of Arts degree from The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from York University in Canada. Rusonik also attended The Hebrew University in Jerusalem in a one-year program for over- seas students. Additionally, Rusonik led fundraising and development efforts in his previous head of school and executive director roles, "Thisis an exciting time for the'Jewish Academy of Orlando, and we look for- ward to a bright future with our new head of school. Our school continues to nurture future leaders for our Jewish communities, while provid- ing top-notch education and instruction," Weiner noted. Nominations now accepted for the Heritage Human Services Award Heritage Florida Jewish News is accepting nomina- tions for the 2014 Heritage Human ServiceAward, which will be presented in August at the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. "For more than 25 years, individuals who have made major, voluntary contribu- tions of their talent, time, energy and effort to the Central Florida community have been honored with the selection and presentation of this award," said Jeff Gaeser, editor and publisher of the Heritage. Last year's recipient was Nina Oppenheim, Former recipients have included Wolf Kahn (1999), Robert Petree (2007), and Claire Mercer (2003). According to Gaeser, "Each recipient chose their own path, but made considerable and long-lasting contribu- tions to the Jewish commu- nity. Nominees for the 2014 award are individuals who do not look for recognition, but perform tikun ohm--repair- ing the world--out of internal motivation." Nominations should be emailed to news@orlando- heritage.corn with the sub- ject Human Service Award, or typed on 8 1/2" X 11" paper and sent by mail to Heritage Florida Jew- ish News, Human Service Award, 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Included should be the name and phone number of the nominee, a documented list of his or her accomplishments, and the name and phone number of the nominator(s).