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June 06, 2013 - Image 66

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-06-06

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obituaries

Obituaries from page 64

Sen. Lautenberg Dies At Age 89

I Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA)

I

n 1982, Frank Lautenberg was run-
ning 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, June 3, at
89 after serving more than 30 years in
Washington. Lautenberg had been chair-
man 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 Jewish campaign that year,
recalls that New Jersey Jews were skepti-
cal of Lautenberg's chances: How likely
was this political 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, com-

mitment now: " said Toporek, who now
directs the New Jersey State Association
of Jewish Federations.
The pitch worked, 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-mak-
ing champion of Soviet Jewry.
"When he became
involved in electoral Jewish
politics, he didn't forget his
Jewish involvement:' said
Mark Levin, the director of
NCSJ, formerly the National
Council of Soviet Jewry. "He
Sen. Frank
became one of the leading
Lautenberg
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 owning 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 Amednment, passed in
October 1989, facilitated the
emigration of Soviet Jews by
relaxing the stringent standards
for refugee status, granting
immigrant status to those who
could show religious persecu-
tion in their native lands.
At a tribute in New York to
Lautenberg last week hosted
by Hillel: The Foundation
for Jewish Campus Life,
Lautenberg's wife, Bonnie,
called the amendment his
"proudest achievement."
Bonnie Lautenberg accepted the award in
his stead because the senator was too ill
to attend.
Lautenberg grew up in Paterson, 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 from
Paterson a shot at an Ivy League educa-
tion undergirded Lautenberg's subsequent
commitment to social justice.
He started Automatic Data Processing
and built it into the largest data process-
ing firm in the world by 1974, when he
became chairman of the United Jewish
Appeal. Within a year Lautenberg had
increased its charitable intake to the sec-
ond-highest in its history — an extraordi-
nary accomplishment at a time when the
United States was reeling from the energy
crisis.
"I am terribly saddened by the passing
of Frank Lautenberg. His vibrancy and his
passion for America as a welcoming and
tolerant land left an indelible impression
on all who knew him:' said Michigan Sen.
Carl Levin.



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66 June 6 • 2013

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