A refugees’ champion

A refugees’ champion

We at the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union were saddened by the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a devoted public servant and a friend of the millions of Jews from the former Soviet Union who owe him a debt of gratitude for his support and leadership as well as all those around the world who need to flee from religious discrimination.

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 U.S. Embassy. Dr. Leonid Stonov, a refusenik and now director of international activities for the UCSJ, recalls his interest about Jewish life in the USSR, the Jewish history of Russia, Jewish emigration, the fate of prisoners of Zion and the refuseniks, and the possibility and ways of restoring Jewish traditions and education, etc. The refuseniks all agreed the most respected U.S. senators were Scoop 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 permissions for emigration. As a result of his action some of them had soon received permission.

Later, a well-known Kiev Jewish artist, Samuel Kaplan, on behalf of  Soviet-Jewish immigrants, gave the senator his picture depicting long lines of Jews standing in front of the American Embassy in order to get refugee status. The picture still hangs in Sen. Lautenberg’s office.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, “The world is sustained by three  things: by justice, by truth, and by peace.” He would have been proud to  know Frank Lautenberg.

Larry Lerner
Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union

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