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The Eulogizer: Human rights activist Yelena Bonner and Charlotte Bloomberg, N.Y. mayor’s mom

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Yelena Bonner, 88, human rights activist

Yelena Bonner’s death in Boston on June 18 at 88 has been covered widely, and JTA’s first-day news coverage provided the basics of her life as wife of Nobel Prize-winning dissident Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov and as an activist on her own.

But there are additional fascinating aspects to her long life worth a second look, especially regarding her Jewishness and Israel. Throughout her life Bonner attempted to balance the priorities and needs of her diverse heritage. Her father was an Armenian Bolshevik revolutionary and one-time Communist Party chief in Armenia. Her mother was the daughter of a Jewish family born into Siberian exile.

"I hope to live out my life until the end worthy of the Russian culture in which I’ve spent my life, of the Jewish and Armenian nationalities, and I am proud that mine has been the difficult lot and happy fate to be the wife and friend of academic Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov," Bonner wrote in her 1988 memoir “Alone Together: Story of Elena Bonner and Andrei Sakharov’s internal exile in the Soviet Union.”

Bonner was “at heart a (Russian) patriot” and was wounded twice while serving as a nurse in World War II. After the war she enrolled in the Leningrad Medical Institute, but was expelled during a Stalin-era campaign against Jews.

In the years after the Soviet Union fell, not only did Bonner continue to speak out against corruption and anti-democratic rule in Russia, she spoke and wrote eloquently about anti-Semitism and Israel.

Fellow former dissident and activist Natan Sharansky, now chairman of the Jewish Agency, said that "The Jewish world and the State of Israel have lost one of their most passionate champions. At the same time, the global community of democratic dissidents, political prisoners and human rights activists has lost one of its greatest leaders and advocates. Whereas Andrei Sakharov was the heart of our struggle to defeat the great evil of the Soviet system, Yelena Bonner was the engine that encouraged us to act.”

In a 2002 essay titled “An Appeal to World Society,” Bonner wrote with horror and prescience of the suicide terrorism initially directed against Israel:

“The suicide bombers have introduced a new weapon — cheap and easily transported — into the business of terrorism. And without a doubt, it will spread around the world, not only to promote the political aims of various extremist groups, but also as a way for tens and hundreds of mentally disturbed persons to solve their problems. Anyone tacitly sympathizing with the suicide-terrorists who thinks that this new weapon of murder-on-command can be kept localized is mistaken. If there is no attempt to fight back against them, very soon the suicide bombers’ attacks will spread beyond Jerusalem. Their bombs will explode on the Champs-Elysees, on Red Square … and Damascus, depending on who orders and pays for the explosion and what are his goals.

“Despite all this, in Europe and America there is a growing anti-Israeli hysteria whose battle-cry is the defense of the Palestinian people, even though Israel is conducting a necessary and just war not against the Palestinian people but against world terrorism, against the terrorism syndicate linking Al Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, et al.”

Bonner also saw clearly the growing threat against Israel now labeled delegitimization:

“The extent of this hysteria is impressive … it has infected American students, Hollywood stars, European scholars, members of the Norwegian parliament and human rights organizations. Scientists have been considering a boycott of their Israeli colleagues. Two hundred and sixty-nine members of the European Parliament voted for an anti-Israeli resolution. …

“Politicians have a short memory. They have forgotten how Arafat’s Black September almost destroyed Jordan, the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and much else. The hysteria has tragically isolated Israel, but it is also dangerous for Europe and America, where it has stirred up a troubling wave of anti-Semitism.”

Click here to read the entire essay, which offers a striking scenario for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

In a 2009 speech titled “About Israel and the World,” given at the Freedom Forum in Oslo, Bonner said that many laid the blame for suicide terrorism and bombing at the feet of former President Bush “and as always, the Jews” and Israel, giving as examples the United Nations anti-racism gatherings in Durban.

Bonner said she focused on Israel and Jews “not just because I’m Jewish, but primarily because the Middle East conflict during the time that has elapsed since the end of World War II has been a springboard for political games and gambling by the big powers, the Arab countries and some politicians who want the so-called ‘peace’ process to renew their political name, and maybe even win a Nobel Peace Prize.”

Bonner said she continued to be shocked that her late husband and Yasser Arafat were members of the club of Nobel Prize winners. She spoke of Sakharov’s views of Israel and how many would be surprised “at how sharp they look” compared to the views of those at odds with Israel, and that Sakharov believed in Israel’s “absolute right to exist," and that the wars Israel fought were imposed by “irresponsible Arab leaders."

Charlotte Bloomberg, 102, mother of New York mayor

Charlotte Bloomberg, the mother of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a “constant source of encouragement and wisdom for him,” died June 19 at her home in Medford, Mass., at 102.

“As the center of our family, our mother’s unimpeachable integrity, fierce independence, and constant love were gifts that profoundly shaped our lives and the lives of so many who knew her,” Michael Bloomberg said.

Charlotte Bloomberg was born in Jersey City, N.J., received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from New York University, married William Bloomberg in 1934, and moved to Massachusetts in 1945, where she lived in the same house until her death, even as her son became a billionaire media mogul and then New York mayor.

The New York Times noted that she “was co-president of her synagogue, Temple Shalom,” which is also home to the William and Charlotte Bloomberg Jewish Community Center, in her 90s.

She traveled to Jerusalem with Bloomberg in 2003, when he dedicated a wing at Hadassah-University Hospital in honor of her 95th birthday.

 

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