Avi Lyon, former head of Jewish Labor Committee, is dead at 76


(JTA) — Avram “Avi” Lyon, who was executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee from 1997 to 2008, died Monday.

He was 76. The cause was pancreatic cancer, his wife, Laurie Ebner-Lyon, wrote on his Facebook page.

As head of the JLC, Lyon was active in exposing workers’ rights abuses at the Agriprocessors kosher meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, and assisting Jewish and labor organizations working to combat these abuses, according to the JLC. In 2000, he launched a “Labor Seder” program to strengthen connections between organized labor and the organized Jewish community.

According to the JLC, Lyon was involved in liberal and progressive Jewish causes since he was a teenager. He was active in the Ihud Habonim (now Habonim Dror) Labor Zionist Youth Movement and in the Jewish student movement of the 1960s and ’70s. He worked with the Jewish Agency for Israel in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War, helping to find work for volunteers who traveled to Israel.

In the early 1970s, he led the North American Jewish Students’ Appeal, a student-run organization promoting Jewish identity and raising funds among college-aged youth. He later worked for a range of educational and advocacy institutions before coming to the Jewish Labor Committee in 1997.

At the Jewish Labor Committee he was committed to building relationships with other religious and ethnic groups, and worried that other Jewish organizations were neglecting coalition building.

“It’s not enough to give money to power brokers in Washington,” he said in an interview with Jewish Currents in 2005, soon after the JLC marked its 70th anniversary. “You always have to have a broader base of support built on a community of interests, and the only way to have that is by really working at it and getting involved with other ethnic and coalition groups in a major way.

“The labor movement is an important part of the Jewish past and the Jewish present, and is an important ally to the Jewish community,” he added. “We have stood by them, and they have stood by us, and we need to continue to do that. There will be a tremendous price to pay if we isolate ourselves.”

In retirement he served on the boards of the Forward Association and Ameinu, the successor to the Labor Zionist Alliance.

Lyon is survived by his wife and three daughters.

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