Phil Baum, longtime AJ Congress leader

Phil Baum, the former executive director at the American Jewish Congress, died at home in Riverdale, N.Y., on March 26. He was in his 90s.

Baum served in senior positions at the AJCongress for more than five decades. He began at the Jewish advocacy organization in the late 1940s shortly after earning his law degree from the University of Chicago, taking over as executive director in 1994. He retired from the post in 2002.

During his lengthy tenure, when the AJCongress was among the most prominent American Jewish advocacy groups, Baum was a leading champion in the U.S. Jewish community of Israel, Soviet Jewry and other causes. For two decades he organized the American-Israeli Dialogue, an annual conference in Israel bringing together American Jewish intellectual leaders with their Israeli counterparts.

Marc Stern, a senior staff member at AJCongress for 33 years and now general counsel at the American Jewish Committee, said that Baum “was the single brightest, most incisive guy I ever met in the organized Jewish community.”

Baum, the son of immigrant parents, served in the U.S. military in World War II.

He is survived by his wife, Bette. — jta


James Schlesinger, U.S. defense secretary during ’73 Yom Kippur War

James Schlesinger, the Jewish-born U.S. defense secretary who played a role in the emergency shipment of arms to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, has died.

Schlesinger, of Arlington, Va., died March 27 of complications from pneumonia in Baltimore. He was 85.

Schlesinger was born and raised in a Jewish home in New York but converted to Lutheranism after a visit to Germany in 1950.

He rose through the Nixon administration to become CIA director and then defense secretary, a role he had just assumed when the Yom Kippur War erupted. Egypt and Syria launched the war on Oct. 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, with surprise attacks.

The United States airlifted arms a week later. Schlesinger was blamed for the delay, a charge he vehemently denied.

Schlesinger did not get along with President Gerald Ford, who succeeded Nixon after his 1974 resignation. Schlesinger quit in 1975 and became a critic of Ford’s policies on a number of issues, among them Israel, telling AIPAC in 1976 that Ford and Kissinger were wrong to blame Israel for not advancing toward a peace agreement. — jta