By Debra Rubin/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Caption: Stanley Abramovitch (left) receives rabbinical ordination from Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu in Israel, November 1995. Credit: JDC.
The year was 1935. Yehoshua Abramowicz, just 14, was leaving
Poland to join his father in England. His mother told him, “Try to be a good
By all accounts, the boy who became Stanley Abramovitch and
never again saw his mother–she along with two of his brothers, one of them his twin,
perished in the Holocaust–did just that. For nearly seven decades, Abramovitch,
who died May 13 at 93, worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee (JDC), traveling throughout the world and dedicating himself to the
wellbeing and education of the Jewish people. In 2009, he told The Jerusalem Post that he couldn’t
imagine a life “without making a contribution to the Jewish people.”
Contribute he did, immersing himself each step of the way in
the life and culture of the people with whom he was working, learning to speak French,
Farsi and Russian, in addition to English, Hebrew and his native Yiddish. “If I
hadn’t known the local languages, then I never would have been able to
communicate” with the people with whom he was working, Abramovitch told the
“Stanley was basically the embodiment of the Joint,” as JDC
is often called, Asher Ostrin, a JDC executive in Jerusalem who worked closely
with Abramovitch in the former Soviet Union, tells JNS.org. “And if you look at the places where we work, Stanley was
basically at the epicenter for all of that.”
Click photo to download. Caption: Stanley Abramovitch speaks at a Synagogue in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1993. Credit: JDC.
His life’s work began at age 25 when he volunteered to help
Holocaust survivors after World War II. JDC sent him to a displaced persons
camp in Germany; for four years, he helped survivors rebuild their lives. JDC then
sent him to Tehran, where he spent another four years, primarily working on
programs for Jewish children.
An ordained rabbi, Abramovitch then went to Paris to work on
JDC’s “Jewish Marshall Plan,” designed to assist Europe’s Jewish communities in
reestablishing their formal and informal Jewish educational system.
In 1956, while he was participating in a Jewish seminar in
Switzerland, he met the love of his life: an Israeli woman 14 years his junior
who was studying in the seminar. “He was handsome, very clever, very witty,”
says his widow, Noemi. She recalls returning home to Israel and telling her
parents, “By the way, I met someone I think I’m going to marry.”
By the next year, the couple were married and living in
Paris. A few months later, JDC sent them to America so that Abramovitch could
study for a master’s degree in educational administration at Columbia
University in New York.
By the time the Abramovitches, now with baby daughter Edna,
returned to Europe, JDC had moved its office from Paris to Geneva.
Headquartered there for the next 15 years, Abramovitch continued his
peripatetic lifestyle, traveling to help Jewish communities throughout Europe,
as well as in the Middle East and North Africa. He often carried a suitcase
filled with food so as an Orthodox Jew he could keep kosher properly.