Schneier Levenberg 1907-1997


Dr Levenberg (few people addressed this very private man by his first name) was born in Kursk in the reign of Nicholas II. He barely escaped the murderous embrace of Reds and Whites in the Civil War a decade later: his parents fled to Riga, where he spent his formative years studying law and involving himself in the Zionist movement. Independent Latvia in the 1920s was the birthplace and stronghold of the right-wing Zionist Revisionist movement. Levenberg, however, took the path of democratic socialism. He was never attracted to Marxism, Bundism or even the ‘intellectual deviation’ of Trotskyism; he was never seduced by Stalin’s glowing wheatfields or the Utopia painted by the postStalinist ‘New Left’ in the West in the 1970s. It was undoubtedly his allconsuming involvement with Labour Zionism that enabled him to distance himself from these currents. In the immediate post-war years, when the fight for a Jewish state was the major Jewish issue, he was the central contact for pro-Zionist British Labour parliamentarians and supporters. He was the treasurer at one point of the Socialist International and was heavily involved with the left-wing Zionist publication the Jewish Vanguard. Levenberg was a dual survivor—a young escapee from Bolshevism and later a refugee from the Latvian fascist coup in 1934. The latter exile led him into full-time Zionist activity as head of the Jewish Agency’s research department in London; it also saved his life as war clouds hovered over East-Central Europe. Levenberg was unusual in that he was a classic secular Jewish intellectual, proficient in many cultures and languages, who was also prominent in the political life of Anglo-Jewry. His involvement stemmed from his wide network of contacts in the world of left-wing Zionism through to the British Labour Parry and finally to the British Board of Deputies and the World Jewish Congress. Levenberg’s quiet manner and ability to get on with all manner of people was undoubtedly an asset to the Zionist cause. He was effectively an educator on political issues to many British Jews. His speeches to the Board of Deputies were factual and concise, and listened to with reverence. He was reserved, cautious and a non-controversialist. Levenberg’s social democracy, Zionism and profound knowledge of communism made him a keen observer of the plight of Soviet Jewry long before it became a fashionable item on the Jewish agenda. He followed closely the hopes and ultimate decimation of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and organized protests against the executions of its members in August 1952. The re-awakening of Soviet Jewry in the aftermath of the 1967 war in the Middle East led not only to a vigorous student campaign on their behalf among Anglo-Jewry but also to the publication of the Bulletin on Soviet Jewish Affairs, the forerunner of East European Jewish Affairs, by the Institute of Jewish Affairs (now the Institute for Jewish Policy Research). Levenberg made numerous contributions to the journal and to the Institute’s discussions in this field. The bulletin’s transformation into Soviet Jewish Affairs in 1971 led to the formation of a formal editorial board, of which Levenberg, who rarely missed a meeting, remained a member until his death. The year 1991 saw the publication of his wide-ranging work The Enigma of Soviet Jewry. Historical Background. Dr Levenberg thrived on participation in Jewish affairs; he was the committee mznpar excellence while avoiding contentious quarrels. His secret was that he could balance several worlds and remain both within and without. His life is a testimony to the peaks and troughs of the history of the Jews in this turbulent century.

EAST EUROPEAN JEWISH AFFAIRS, vol. 27, no. 1, 1997

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