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LEONARD R. SUSSMAN 1920 – 2015

Allan C. Brownfeld
Spring-Summer 2015

It is with regret that we learned of the death of Leonard R. Sussman at the age of 94 in April at his home in Craftsbury, Vermont.  
Leonard led an extraordinary life and his contribution to the advancement of freedom — in particular freedom of the press — has been notable. As the executive director of Freedom House for twenty one years and later as its Senior Scholar of International Communications, he had the opportunity of both leading and serving an organization that has been at the center of the struggle for freedom for more than sixty years.  
Of particular interest are the years Leonard served as a member of the staff of the American Council for Judaism, in which capacity he helped develop nationwide religious education programs and, finally, as executive director, sought to advance the vision of a universal Judaism which rejects narrow nationalism but embraces the prophetic vision of the founders of American Reform Judaism.  
When it came to opposing narrowness and tribalism within Judaism, or rejecting other forms of political and ethnic intolerance, Leonard emerged as an effective and articulate spokesman for freedom and as an example of the influence a single individual can have in making the world a better and more decent place.  
Under Leonard’s leadership, the Council completed a religious school curriculum for kindergarten through twelfth grade, with weekly classroom themes and supporting texts for each grade for the entire school year. In his memoir A Passion for Freedom (2004), he recalled that, “I traveled the country establishing schools in 13 cities. Teachers in almost all cases were parents who wanted this kind of religious education for their own children.” Leonard always lamented the fact that many Jews have substituted the State of Israel and the Jewish people for God as the proper object of worship.  
In this connection, he said that, “One cannot fulfill even the minimalist interpretation of Judaism … without a commitment to the obligations of ethical practice and social justice that are inherent in the religion. That obligation goes beyond the family and the fellowship of Jews to the uplifting of oppressed human beings, whatever their religious beliefs. This commitment impelled Jews in the civil rights movement … It calls on Jews to understand the travail of Palestinians as well as Israelis. Such a commitment is imperiled by the tribalistic worship of false gods …”  
During his time at Freedom House, Leonard developed the widely used “Map of Freedom,” which showed the numerous not-free countries in black, the as-numerous partially free countries in gray, and the one-third minority of free countries in white. Among the many distinguished Americans Leonard worked with on the Freedom House board were Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Margaret Chase Smith and Paul Douglas, philosopher Sidney Hook, and civil rights leaders Roy Wilkins and Bayard Rustin.  
Leonard participated in the first election observer team which, in 1979, traveled to Zimbabwe to monitor the fairness of the election in that newly independent country. He recalled that, “This Freedom House election observer team was the first of its kind. Since then, many other groups have engaged in such activity. Jimmy Carter’s center at Emory University … has become a regular monitor of elections on several continents. But our mission set the pattern …”  
Before President Ronald Reagan departed for the 1986 summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland with Mikhail Gorbachev, Leonard was one of a group invited to the White House to discuss the question of human rights and their role at the summit.  
For his whole life, Leonard has been in the forefront of the fight for freedom and human rights. This writer has had the privilege of knowing him since first becoming a participant in the American Council for Judaism while still in high school. I have felt his positive influence over the years. He has been a model for men and women who wish to make the world a better place, and has set a standard for the rest of us.  
Leonard devoted himself to the advancement of humane values and genuine civilization, something he recognized to be a formidable task, one which is never completed, but must be carried on from generation to generation. We extend our condolences to his family upon his loss.

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