(JNS.org and the Ledger staff) Longtime New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday, June 3 at 89 from complications from viral pneumonia, was praised and remembered fondly by Jewish groups for his support of Israel and Soviet Jews, as well as his long record of public service.
Connecticut’s former Senator Joseph Lieberman called his late colleague “a proud and patriotic American who served our country with great honor and effect. For me, he was a very special personal friend whose counsel I benefitted from and whose wonderful sense of humor brightened many otherwise somber Senate days. I will really miss Frank but his legacy of legislation and philanthropy will live on and our memories of him will be forever bright.”
AIPAC called Lautenberg a “tireless champion for the US-Israel relationship and the human rights of Jews and persecuted peoples throughout the world.”
Just a few days before his passing, Lautenberg received the Renaissance Award from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life at a gala held on Thursday, May 30, in New York City. The award was presented to him in recognition of accomplishments, including the law named after him. The Lautenberg Amendment allowed Soviet Jews and other minorities from the former USSR to immigrate to the U.S.
“It is truly an honor to be recognized by Hillel — a great organization that instills students with a connection to Judaism and Israel,” Senator Lautenberg said.
Hillel, along with the National Council on Soviet Jewry: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, is also awarding the newly established Lautenberg Prize to the Genesis Philanthropy Group. The prize “will be presented annually to organizations and individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to the strengthening of Jewish identity within the Russian-speaking Jewish community,” according to Hillel.
Other Jewish groups also praised Lautenberg for his work in facilitating the immigration of Soviet refugees under the 1989 Lautenberg Amendment.
“Senator Lautenberg was a dynamic activist on behalf of freedom,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. “The landmark Lautenberg Amendment was a major step in turning the tide for the exodus of Soviet Jews. As we heard him say at several AJC gatherings, this was among his proudest achievements.”
The Jewish Federations of North America said the Lautenberg Amendment “continues to ease the immigration of refugees to this day.”
B’nai B’rith International praised Lautenberg’s patriotism and concern for Jews across the world.
“Lautenberg was a World War II veteran and a dear friend of the Jewish community. As a senator from New Jersey for more than 28 years, he was a staunch supporter of Israel, a champion of free emigration for Soviet and Iranian Jews, and a booster of the rights of Jewish refugees from the Middle East,” B’nai B’rith said.
Frank Lautenberg is survived by his wife Bonnie, his six children and several grandchildren. His daughter Ellen Lautenberg, who lives in Westport with her husband Doug Hendel and their two children, Aaron and Talia, is a member of Temple Israel and the Board of Directors of UJA/Federation of Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk.