Si Frumkin, 78, Soviet Jewry Activist

By JTA

Published May 27, 2009, issue of June 05, 2009.
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Leading Soviet Jewry and human rights activist Si Frumkin has died.

Frumkin, who founded the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews in 1968 and helped make it a mainstream American cause, died May 15 after battling cancer. He was 78.

At a packed funeral service on May 19, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky eulogized his close friend and fellow activist as “a one-man rapid response force for Jews in trouble.”

Citing one of many examples of Frumkin’s ingenuity, Yaroslavsky recalled that when a Soviet freighter arrived in the port of Los Angeles, the two buddies rented a motorboat and headed out to the ship. Their plan was to paint “Let the Jews Go” on the side of the ship, but when they cut their boat’s engine, it kept driftng away. Frumkin solved the problem by attaching a toilet plunger to the ship’s side and keeping hold of the handle.

Born Simas Frumkinas in Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania, Frumkin was 11 when he was consigned to the Kovno ghetto and 14 when he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp.

He arrived in New York in 1949, earned a college degree, and after moving to Los Angeles became the owner of a successful downtown textile company.

When news of the plight of Jews trapped in the Soviet Union trickled out in 1968, Frumkin turned to full-time advocacy for their cause and founded the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews. In the following decade he was instrumental in moving the issue from a fringe movement to a mainstream American cause.

With the Soviet Jewry battle won, Frumkin turned to integrating the newly arrived immigrants into American life and took up the causes of Ethiopian Jewry, insurance payment for impoverished Holocaust survivors, and the fight against neo-Nazis in Skokie, Ill., and elsewhere.


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