We at the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union are saddened by the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg. He was a devoted public servant and a friend of all those around the world fleeing from religious discrimination; in particular, the millions of Jews from the former Soviet Union who owe him a debt of gratitude for his support and leadership.
Dr. Leonid Stonov, a former Refusenik who is now the Director of International Activities for the UCSJ, recalls Senator Lautenberg’s interest regarding Jewish life in the USSR:
In 1989, the Senator visited Russia and spent a whole day with a group of long-term Refuseniks in his hotel room and at the US Embassy. Senator Lautenberg wanted to learn more about the history of Judaism in Russia, Jewish emigration, the fate of the prisoners of Zion and the Refuseniks, and the possibility and ways of restoring Jewish traditions and education. The Refluseniks all agreed that the most respected US Senators were Jackson and Lautenberg.
After the meeting, we provided the Senator with the current list of Refuseniks. The very next day, he presented the list to high level Soviet authorities, demanding that they be allowed to emigrate. As a result of this action, some Refuseniks soon received permission.
Later, a well-known Kiev Jewish artist, Samuel Kaplan, gave the Senator a present on behalf of the Soviet Jewish immigrants: his painting which depicted a long line of Jewish people standing in front of the American Embassy, waiting to be granted refugee status. The picture still hangs in Senator Lautenberg’s office.
Rabbi Shimon Gamliel said “on three things are the world sustained: Justice, Truth and Peace.” He would have been proud to know Frank Lautenberg.