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Isaiah Minkoff Dead at 82

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Isaiah Minkoff, a long-time leader in Jewish labor and liberal causes, died of cancer after a brief hospitalization at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center here last night. A funeral service will be held Friday at Park West Chapel.

Minkoff, who was 82 years old, served for 31 years as executive director, later executive vice president, of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC). He directed it from its founding in 1944 until his retirement in 1975. Prior to his work at NJCRAC, Minkoff served as executive director of NJCRAC’s precursor. The General Jewish Council, from 1941 to 1944. Before that, from 1936 to 1941, during the heyday of the Jewish labor movement, he was executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee.

Minkoff began organizing Jewish labor union support, and support of the general American labor movement, on the issue of combatting Nazism, through a “counter-olympics” held at Randalls Island in 1936, in protest to the holding of the regular games in Nazi Berlin during that year. This activity led to leadership in a labor-backed effort to boycott Nazi goods imported into the United States.

Before American entry in World War II, Minkoff was active in gaining American asylum for European labor and socialist leaders who were threatened by Hitler’s advance in the war’s early years. He served as unofficial liaison with the State Department in securing visas, passports and means of escape.

Born in Warsaw in 1901, Minkoff became involved in Jewish and socialist organizations as a teenager through war refugee relief work, in Moscow, during World War I. After the Russian revolutions of February and November 1917, he continued as a student activist in the Russian Jewish Social-Democratic movement, which eventually led to a one-year term in Soviet prisons. After fleeing the Soviet Union in 1922, Minkoff attended the University of California at Berkeley, earning a B.A, in Slavonic Languages in 1926. After his retirement from NJCRAC in 1975, Minkoff remained an active lay leader in many Jewish organizations.

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