New Jewish Agenda founder Roublev dies at 69

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Ellie Shapiro was still in high school when she first met Michel Roublev, a professor in her hometown of Pittsburgh, who taught a class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I had just come back from my first time in Israel, and I was trying to understand what I had learned,” said Shapiro of Roublev, who was also a Russian historian. “I knocked on his door one day and we just started talking… Michel was definitely part of opening my head.”

Roublev, an Oakland resident who was a founder of New Jewish Agenda, died suddenly of a heart attack on Wednesday, May 19, in Berkeley. He was 69.

Roublev was born Dec. 7, 1934, in Casablanca, Morocco, to refugees from the Soviet Union. His parents were both physicians, and first went to France, but were unable to work there, so they chose Morocco.

Roublev moved to Israel with his fiancée, Haguit Serfaty, in 1953, and they married in 1954. They divorced in 1968.

They lived on Kibbutz Bet Keshet, and Roublev served in the Israel Defense Forces, and attended Hebrew University.

Though Roublev was a Zionist, and had encouraged other Jews in Morocco to move to Israel, once there, he became very disillusioned with what he saw.

“He had gone there with great ideals, and believed in it very strongly,” said his partner Dore Slutzker of Oakland. “He was dismayed by the fact that the kibbutz was willing to hire Arab laborers and treat them like second-class citizens in this supposedly new kind of socialist society.”

Roublev left for Paris to attend the Sorbonne, and got his Ph.D. there in Russian medieval history He then returned to Israel, but the Six-Day-War was the last straw for him, and he believed he could no longer stay in Israel. He came to the United States in 1968, teaching for eight years at the University of Pittsburgh.

While there, he became an outspoken voice on the Mideast conflict, and later believed it prevented him from getting tenure.

In 1976, he moved to Cotati, where he began studying for a master’s degree in psychology and working with Vietnam veterans. He finished a second doctorate in 1986 at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. He subsequently directed a halfway house for schizophrenics and worked for Battered Women Alternatives, running group therapy sessions for violent men.

Roublev’s Middle East activism continued when he helped found the left-leaning New Jewish Agenda in 1980. He also was a founding member of the International Jewish Peace Union, one of the first organizations to call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“He was an outstanding organizer,” said Jae Charlin of Berkeley, who met him around 1980. “Being a historian who had lived in Israel, he always gave the reports at our meetings, and was in touch with many Israelis in the peace community.”

For the past 16 years, he worked as a mediator for Family Court Services in San Francisco, helping people in the midst of divorce to reach agreement over custody and visitation for their children.

“He was one of the deepest humanists I ever knew,” said Shapiro. “His belief in humanity, that was his spirituality.”

Roublev was predeceased by a daughter, Hagar Roublev, a founder of Women in Black, in 2000. In addition to his partner Slutzker, he is survived by his daughter Dror Lâm of Paris, and two grandchildren.

Donations can be made to KPFA, 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704; Bat Shalom, P.O. Box 8083, Jerusalem 91080 Israel; or the Middle East Children’s Alliance, 901 Parker St., Berkeley, CA 94710.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."