Albert Chernin, a Jewish organizational pioneer who was Executive Vice Chairman Emeritus of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs died Monday in his sleep, reported his daughter, Anne Chernin. He was 85.
Chernin led the organization, which was then known as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council from 1975 to 1990 and was previously head of Jewish Community Relations Councils in Indianapolis and then Philadelphia.
At NJCRAC, Mr. Chernin played an important leadership role during the Soviet Jewry movement, marshalling Jewish community and national activities that led to reforms in the late 1980s. He was co-editor with Murray Friedman of “A Second Exodus: The American Movement to Free Soviet Jews,” a collection of essays and memoirs published by Brandeis University Press in 1999.
The JCPA’s highest annual award, which has been bestowed on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senators Carl Levin, Frank Lautenberg, and Ron Wyden, is named in Chernin’s honor.
Martin Raffel, CEO and president of JCPA, recalled working with Mr. Chernin at the time of the massive solidarity rally for Soviet Jews in December, 1987.
“He was at the forefront of planning this historic event and directing the agency’s efforts to bring tens of thousands of people from across the country to the Mall that great day,” said Raffel in a JCPA statement.
“This was also the period of the first intifada, a divisive time for Israel and for us. His leadership and mentorship were invaluable to me as a professional, new on the national Jewish scene, dealing with complex Middle East issues.”
Jerome Chanes, who was national affairs director of NJCRAC for 14 years, called Mr. Chernin a “polymath” who was deeply involved in domestic agendas, such as church-state issues, as well as the Soviet Jewry issue and Mideast affairs.
“He had a major impact,” Chanes told The Jewish Week. “He was one of the best policy analysts in the Jewish community and was regarded as such. He had no compunctions about butting heads with leaders of the agencies and federation directors, even though funding came in large measure from the federated system.”
Arden Shenker, past chair of the JCPA, recalled traveling with Mr. Chernin on NJCRAC business to Israel, Europe and South Africa. “I vividly recall our leading the U.S. delegation to the Prime Minister’s Solidarity Conference in 1990,” said Shenker in a statement. “Al’s presence then, as always, made a difference to the tone and the content of the proceedings. He had an unerring sense of what to say and how to say it, on behalf of the American Jewish Community.”
He is survived by his son Daniel Chernin, daughter Anne Chernin, daughter-in-law Debby Handler, three grandchildren Arielle, Jake and Julia and his sister Lillian. The funeral was at Beth Israel Memorial Chapel in Boynton Beach, Florida. Shiva was at the Hilton Garden Hotel in Boca Raton.