At the March AIPAC conference in DC, Burton and I met outgoing young volunteer Natalie Bloom. When we heard she was from Michigan, we bonded. And when I learned she’s a senior at my alma mater, the U of M, we became instant BFFs.
Natalie told us U of M Hillel was being honored the last night of the conference. As president, she would speak. She hoped we’d be there. You bet we would. We arrived at the Verizon Center in time to score seats near the stage. Close enough to call “Go Blue!”
Natalie introduced us to her parents, Pam and Kenny Bloom of West Bloomfield, MI. I discovered they’d not only raised this rising star, but two before her. Their older daughters each participated in AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Jennifer Bloom-Kravis now raises money for US senators and not-for-profits. She was just in India working for no less than child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Sister Stephanie spent 4 years teaching in high poverty areas of NY and DC (2 of which were with Teach for America). And there’s more to the remarkableness of the Bloom family.
Pam’s father, Harry Weinsaft, was a Holocaust survivor. He was born in 1923 to parents who owned a textile and clothing shop in Vienna. When Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, Harry was expelled from school. The family business was confiscated. As anti-Semitism increased and Jews were shipped to concentration camps, Harry and his parents were temporarily protected by an SS Lt. Colonel, who’d worked in the family shop. A Kansas City relative contacted then Senator Harry S. Truman, who expedited Harry’s move to America. (His parents went to Cuba; one sister to England; the other, Palestine.)
After high school, Harry enlisted in the army and served during several campaigns in Italy in WW2. After, he was assigned to Gen. Mark Clark’s headquarters in Vienna as a translator. There he encountered former inmates of concentration camps, including Simon Wiesenthal, who would become a legendary Nazi hunter. (Burton and I recently invested in the superb one-man play, “Wiesenthal.”) In 1947, Harry joined the crew of the ship Exodus. He was aboard when more than 4500 Jews, unwelcome elsewhere, were also turned away by Palestine. Weinsaft was featured by the NY Times’ Ruth Gruber, a journalist and photographer who was on and wrote books about the failed voyage.
Harry went on to become a painter and art dealer in Michigan and to father 3 children, including Pam. Like her daughters, this apple didn’t fall far from the Weinsaft tree. Pam is active in several charities. Husband Kenny, a tax attorney and investment advisor, is on AIPAC’s national council. Pam says, “We’re passionate about Israel and about giving back. Some of our passion must be genetically transmitted from my father.”
On our last night in Washington, Natalie was as upbeat on stage, surrounded by some 18,000, as she’d been in the members’ lounge when we first met. Along with 21 other Hillel students, she accepted the Duke Rudman Award for activism on campus. She concluded, “When we stand here, we remember that we are not alone and we are reminded that when we gather, the world watches.”
I’m always impressed by families in which all the offspring not only excel but reflect their parents values. (Burton and I are likewise blessed.) Thanks, Bloom family, for sharing your story. And for practicing tikkun olam (improving the world).