Zev Yaroslavsky and Morey Schapira remember Lou Rosenblum....
Lou Rosenblum’s passing is a profound loss to the American Jewish community. He was a critically important leader and voice in the struggle for Soviet Jewry, long before it was on the Jewish community’s radar screen.
Lou’s passing is also a profound loss to me. I first met him in 1968 when I returned from my first trip to the Soviet Union and wanted to organize students in Southern California into a movement to promote freedom for Soviet Jews. Lou was a mentor to me at that time -- a most formative period in my life. He encouraged me, not only by his words but by his example. He showed me and countless others that one person could truly make a difference to a cause, and Lou certainly made such a difference.
Lou’s life was characterized not only by intellect and activism, but by courage and integrity. I tried to model my own personal and professional life on Lou’s model for decades after I first met him. Lou and his late wife, Evy, became close friends of Barbara and me. They always took an interest in our kids and later in our grandkids.
His courage and integrity was evident in his commitment to Soviet Jewry. He was one of the earliest American advocates for this cause. The first button I wore depicted a shofar with the phrase, “I am my brother’s keeper.” In small lettering, the initials CCSA (Cleveland Council on Soviet anti-Semitism) were barely visible. So, when I first met Lou, he was already a legend to me.
In 1970 he corralled a rag tag group of independent Soviet Jewry organizations in L.A., San Francisco, Oakland, Miami and Cleveland to form the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews -- an act that was viewed as a declaration of war by the American Jewish establishment. Lou, like SSSJ, were not satisfied with the level of activism on behalf of our brethren and he decided to raise the stakes. He always behaved as though he was a fiduciary for Jews in the Soviet Union, refuseniks, and Prisoners of Zion. He was less interested in intra-Jewish organizational politics, column inches in the NY Times, or who got credit for doing something. He only cared about the people who we were all fighting for.
In 1974, Lou, my L.A. colleague Si Frumkin (z’l) and Bob Wolfe (Miami) and I traveled to Moscow and Leningrad to meet with the refusenik leadership. It was the most intense week I have ever spent in my life as we met with the likes of Slepak, Sharansky, Lerner, Luntz, Panov, Abramovich, Polsky, and many, many others. We brought back a clear and unmistakable message: speak up, speak loud, fight for Jackson-Vanik, and don’t back down. This trip was Lou’s idea. He was our leader, our teacher, our mentor, our conscience and protector.
His influence spans several generations. We have lost the giant sequoia of our movement. But like a sequoia, they really never die; they continue to grow and spin off cones that spawn new sequoias. I was one of his activist offspring, and my life was changed forever by knowing him. May Lou’s memory be a blessing to his beautiful family and the hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews whose lives were also changed forever because of him.
Memories of Dr. Lou Rosenblum
My first vivid memory was my senior year in college at Case Western Reserve University. The year was 1969-1970. I was president of the Hillel House that year on campus. One day I received a small package in the mail that was addressed to the “Hillel President”.
I opened the package. Inside were 6-10 greetings cards in English and Russian. The greeting cards were made for the Rosh Hashanna or Passover holidays. Included were detailed instructions advising people that it was ok to send these cards to Soviet Jewish families. The addresses of the families were included as well as postal instructions. We were cautioned NOT to make any political statements.
This strategy of sending cards was brilliant. It enabled people here not to focus on three and a half million Soviet Jews, which could be overwhelming, but rather be focused one on one with their counterparts half the world away behind the Iron Curtain. This was the beginning and the basis of the one-on-one approach that became the hallmark of the grass roots Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.
Lou was one of the founders of the Cleveland Council on Soviet anti-Semitism. The name reflected a clear but scary reality of the Jewish population in the USSR being held hostage in a very hostile anti-Semitic environment.
This was long before The Six Day war in the Middle East, which heightened the awareness of Soviet Jews. This was long before the publication of the ‘Jews of Silence’ book by Elie Wiesel. This was long before the words emigration or aliya were uttered by Soviet Jews or by US Soviet Jewry activists.
Lou’s name will not be recognized by 99.99% of the people whom he helped to ultimately free. He was a low key individual who was quite humble. But the passion, intensity and vision were burning inside of him. His tactics as well as his strategies have been vindicated by history.
Many Jews talked about Soviet Jewry. Lou Rosenblum did something about it. He created a movement which resulted in one of the most significant events in over 3,000 years of Jewish history. He founded one of the two great pillars of the movement—the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. Jacob Birnbaum, zt’l, founded the other, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jews in 1964. May their names continue to be a blessing.
Like Pharaoh, the rulers of the Kremlin ultimately “Let Our People Go!”