Washington, DC--Micah H. Naftalin, an inspirational leader in human rights activism on behalf of Soviet Jews, died earlier today in Washington, DC. He was 76 years old. Since February 1987, Mr. Naftalin served as national director of UCSJ, an independent grassroots human rights organization operating across the former Soviet Union (FSU).
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of such a great human rights leader within the Jewish community," said Larry Lerner, UCSJ's president. "Micah was a friend and colleague whom I admired for many years. He will be greatly missed".
Under Mr. Naftalin’s leadership, UCSJ monitoring has long been the principal source of primary data on religious discrimination and, especially, antisemitic and xenophobic hate crimes and propaganda across the FSU, with special emphasis on Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. In early 2007, he initiated, with cooperation from the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Coalition Against Hate, an unprecedented consortium of 30 religious freedom and human rights NGOs from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, pledged to provide cooperative activism and monitoring of hate crimes.
One of Mr. Naftalin's many strengths as a human rights leader was the close consultative relationships he maintained over the years with the White House, Congress, the State Department, and the media. He regularly briefed U.S. officials on antisemitism and the general human rights situation in the former Soviet Union (FSU). He represented UCSJ at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), as well as at other international human rights conventions throughout Europe and North America. In 1995 he represented the United States Government as an official public member of the U.S. Delegation to the CSCE Human Dimension Conference in Warsaw.
In 1989, Mr. Naftalin as a leader of UCSJ helped organize the USSR's first human rights conference, in Moscow. A year later, he presided over the founding of the Russian-American Bureau on Human Rights, the first Western human rights organization ever registered in the Soviet Union. Mr. Naftalin later oversaw the establishment of six more human rights and rule of law monitoring bureaus in Tbilisi, Lviv, Minsk, Almaty, Bishkek and Riga, and traveled extensively throughout the region.
Mr. Naftalin had a highly distinguished career before joining UCSJ. He served as Chief Counsel and Deputy Director of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Government Research and as a senior policy analyst with the National Academy of Sciences. In 1982, he joined Chairman Elie Wiesel on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, where he was appointed Deputy Director and, later, Acting Director. On his watch, the selection of the museum site adjacent to the Washington Mall, early planning of the Museum program, and fundraising under his suggested title, “A Campaign To Remember,” were all accomplished. He served in that capacity for five years.
Mr. Naftalin held a BA from Brandeis University (1955) and a JD from The George Washington University School of Law (1960). He served in Korea as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army 1955-57. He is a former president of the Chevy Chase (MD) Elementary School PTA; vice-president of Tifereth Israel Congregation (Washington, D.C.); and a member of the national board of directors of Davida Patient Citizens, a grassroots advocacy group comprising 30,000 kidney dialysis patients and their families. He was also listed in Emerald Who’s Who for Executives and Professionals.
Mr. Naftalin is survived by his wife Beth, MSW, a psychotherapist, two children--Marilyn Weaver and Suzanne Rand--and three grandchildren. A son, Ethan, died at age 39 in 2004.
UCSJ's staff and board members extend our condolences to the Naftalin family in the wake of this sudden, devastating tragedy.
Larry Lerner, UCSJ President.
Leonid Stonov, UCSJ Director of International Bureaus.
December 23, 2009
Board of the Remember and Save Association and the website editorial board extend our sincere condolences to the Naftalin family in the wake of Micah's premature demise.