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June 7, 2013     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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June 7, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 7, 2013 By Ron Kampeas • WASHINGTON (JTA)--In 1982, Frank Lautenberg was running for New Jersey's U.S. Senate spot at a time when Democrats in the state were down on their political fortunes. The Jewish community knew and liked Lautenberg, a data processing magnate who died Monday at 89 after serving more than 30 years in Washington. Lautenberg had been chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in the previous decade and turned the charity around during a parlous economy. But Jacob Toporek, who managed Lautenberg's Jew- ish campaign" that year, recalls that New Jersey Jews were skeptical of Lauten- berg's chances: How likely was this politicl neophyte to win when the Republicans were on the rise both in the state and nationally? "We ran an ad in Jewish papers with a picture of him with Golda Meir, with a simple caption: 'Commitment then, commitment now,' " said Toporek, who now directs the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations• The pitch wQrked, and the Jewish vote helped vault Lautenberg to 30 years in the Senate, where he made good on the implicit promise in the ad, becoming a history- making champion of Soviet Jewry. "When he became involved in electoral Jewish politics, he didn't forget his Jewish in- volvement," said Mark Levin, . the director of NCSJ, formerly the National Council of Soviet Jewry. "He became one of the leading advocates for Jews in the Soviet Union. Lautenberg died Monday morning of viral pneumonia, his office said in a statement that outlined an array of far- reaching legislation in which he had a hand. It included laws that kept convicted domestic abusers from own- ing guns, banned smoking on planes and made 21 the minimum drinking age. Those who were closest to Lautenberg said the law that had the most meaning for him was the one that bears -his name. The Lautenberg Amend- ment, passed in October 1989, facilitated the emigra- tion of Soviet Jews by relaxing the stringent standards for refugee status, granting im- migrant status to those who could show religious perse- cution in their native lands. At a tribute in New York to Lautenberg last week hosted by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Lauten- berg's wife, Bonnie, called the amendment his "proudest achievement." Bonnie Laut- enberg accepted the award in his stead because the senator was too" ill to attend. The law "fundamentally changed the face of the American Jewish commu- nity," Levin said, noting that. it resulted in the emigration of hundreds of thousands of former Soviet Jews to these shores. Mark Hetfield, the presi- dent of the Hebrew Immi- grant Aid Society, the leading In Senai:00,, Lautenberg maintained commitme00 !t to the Jewish community Chip Somodevilla/Cetty Sen. Frank £autenberg attending u Holocaust memorial ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, May 1, 2008. Jewish immigrant advocacy group, said Lautenberg's final legacy may be making his amendment permanent. The amendment now re- quires renewal every year, and at times has been threat- ened when Congress cannot agree on a budget, as was the case this year. An amendment authored by Lautenberg to the immi- gration overhaul now under consideration in Congress would allow the president to fund the Lautenberg provi- sions without congressional approval. The amendment was part of a package ap- proved last month by the Judiciary Committee, and the odds are that the full bill will pass. "The law has been a life- saver for hundreds of thou- sands of people who have fled religious persecution," Hetfield said. Lautenberg grew up in Pa- terson, N.J., the son of poor Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. He liked to say his parents ';could not pass on valuables, but left me a legacy of values," according to a release from his office. He served in the U.S.Army Signal Corps in World War II and then earned' a degree in economics at Columbia University through the G.I. Bill. The role of government in giving a poor kid fromPat- erson a shot at an Ivy League education undergirded Laut- enberg's subsequent commit- ment to social justice. He started Automatic Data Processing and built it into the largest data processing firm in the world by 1974, when he became chairman of the United Jewish Appeak Within a year Lautenberg had increased its charitable intake to the second-highest level in its history--an ex- traordinary accomplishment at a time when the United States was reeling from the energy crisis. His business success meant he could pay for much of his Senate run in 1982, when the seat was open because the incumbent Democrat, Harrison Williams, resigned after being implicated in a bribe-taking scandal. Lautenberg's opponent, moderate Republican con- gresswoman Millicent Fen- wick, had the backing of the Bonnie Lautenberg's personal collection Frank Lautenberg, before he became a U.S. senator, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. state's popular GOP governor, Thomas Kean, and was fa- vored to win. But Lautenberg prevailed, 52 percent to 48 percent. His Senate career was marked both by unflinching liberalism and his reputa- tion for integrity. Lauten- berg retired in 2001, but in a replay of his 1982 election, the state party called on him to run in 2002 after the scandal-plagued Robert Tor- ricelli was forced to resign. This time, Lautenberg won handily. His liberalism was rooted in his hardscrabble youth overshadowed by the death of his father from cancer when he was a boy, according to lifelong friend and fellow Paterson native Stephen Greenberg, now chairman of NCSJ. "Paterson was the silk center of the world at the time," Greenberg said. "You had this massive number of Jews from Russia and Poland in that whole area. His father worked in the silk mills, and Frank believed that was the predominant source of his cancer." Lautenberg became the Senate's leading advocate of public safety, writing laws that improved standards for clean coastal waters and trfpled liability for oil spills. In 1968 he founded the Laut- enberg Center for Immunol- ogy and Cancer Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He launched crusades for safer conduct on the roads, rails and in the air. During his short absence from the Senate in 2001-02, the Se- caucus Junction train station was named for him, honoring his work on expanding rail transportation in the eastern United States. The last World WarII vet- eran in Congress, Lautenberg also led passage of the "G.I. Bill for the 21st Century," extending education benefits to veterans of the post-Sept. 11 .wars. He alsowas a'lead cham- pion of women's rights, advancing laws mandating sex education and keeping pharmacists from invoking religious beliefs in order to deny service to women seeking birth control medi- cations. At the time of his death, Lautenberg was pushing hard on a number of repro- ductive issues, including the repeal of a law banning funding for groups overseas that provide abortions and extending abortion rights to women serving in the military overseas. "It's a loss," said Linda Slucker, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women. "We always needed that voice,' and he brought that voice to the Senate." Lautenbergwas in Israel on Sept. 112001, on a federation mission that included a stop at a park in Rishon Lezion named for him. Upon learn- ing of the terrorist attacks on New York and WasMngton, he used his pull as a former sena- tor to secure spots on flights back to the United States, so the Jewish officials on the trip could attend to families affected by the attack. "Because of him, we were able to make international flights back to the United States," recalled Max Klein- man, the executive vice presi- dent of the Jewish Federation Of Greater MetroWest in New Jersey. In 2011, Lautenberg initi- ated a non-binding Senate resolution that recommend- ed marking Sept. 11 with a moment of silence; it passed unanimously. .Lautenberg gave prodi- giously to Israel and was its champion in the Senate. But he also was outspoken in • criticizing the state when he thought it erred, said Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center. "He was a champion for us on religious pluralism and the right to marry in Israel," Saperstein said. One of Lautenberg's children had married a non-Jew, and that Israel would question the Jewish status of any of his grandchildren "infuriated" him, the rabbi added. Despite his firebrand rep- utation, Lautenberg was PAGE 15A i avuncular in person. Jew- ish staffers on Capitol Hill called him "zayde," Yiddish for "grandfather," recalled Rabbi Levi Shemtov, direc- tor of American Friends of Lubavitch. Lautenberg was a regular at holiday events, and if he noted Jewish officials in the halls, he would stop and chat. "He felt connected," Sh- emtov said. The NCJW's Slucker, who was friends with Lautenberg through their synagogue, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, N.J., said he could not walk through the sanctuary's aisles on the High Holidays without meeting and greeting fellow congregants. "He was a real listener," she said. Lautenberg's faith and Americanism were wrapped one into the other, the NCSJ's Greenberg recalled. Lauten- bergwas outraged in 1985 to learn that President Ronald Reagan was planning to mark the 40th anniversary of V.E. Day with a visit to Bitburg, a German military cemetery that included the remains of officers of the murderous SS, the Nazis' elite military unit. Jewish leaders were out- spoken in their fury, but Laut- enberg decided his protest would be personal. On May 4, 1985--the day before the anniversary--Lautenberg toured Dachau with Green- berg and Morris Glass, a survivor of the camp. From there they went to Munich to pay tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Pales- tinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics. On May 5, the day Reagan was at Bitburg, the trio was at the massive U.S. military cemetery at Henri Chapelle in Belgium, where Lautenberg laid wreaths on the grave- stones of three New Jersey soldiers--one Jewish and two Christians. "We were two Jewish boys from Paterson, N.J., doing their part when the president was going to the wrong place to honor the wrong people," Greenberg said. -FLORIDA Call us Today 407-4/8-5469, ! Caring for you in your home or facility part-time or 24 hours 7 days a week. We always provide a C.N.A: Laundry Range of Motion Exercises Walking Assistance Companion Services  Light housekeeping Meal prep and clean-up Medication Reminders Errands & Transportation Alzheimer's & Dementia Care Bathing/Transferring/Toileting Get 10 hours of care FREE/ Call us TODAY for details... State of FL AHCA,. 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