Isaiah Minkoff (1901-1983) served for 31 years as executive director, later executive vice president, of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC). He directed it from its founding in 1944 until his retirement in 1975. Prior to his work at NJCRAC, Minkoff served as executive director of NJCRAC’s precursor, the General Jewish Council, from 1941 to 1944. Before that, from 1936 to 1941, during the heyday of the Jewish labor movement, he was executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee.
He led efforts that resulted in the creation of the World War II-era Fair Practices Employment Commission and the postwar Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the central coordinating body of American civil rights organizations. He also led the long-term campaign that resulted in the 1965 reform of American immigration laws, the Immigration and Nationality Act, ending the notorious national-origin quota system.
Before American entry in World War II, Minkoff was active in gaining American asylum for European labor and socialist leaders who were threatened by Hitler’s advance in the war’s early years. He served as unofficial liaison with the State Department in securing visas, passports and means of escape.
Minkoff began organizing Jewish labor union support, and support of the general American labor movement, on the issue of combating Nazism, through a “counter-olympics” held at Randalls Island in 1936, in protest to the holding of the regular games in Nazi Berlin during that year. This activity led to leadership in a labor-backed effort to boycott Nazi goods imported into the United States.
Born in Warsaw in 1901, Minkoff became involved in Jewish and socialist organizations as a teenager through war refugee relief work, in Moscow, during World War I. After the Russian revolutions of February and November 1917, he continued as a student activist in the Russian Jewish Social-Democratic movement, which eventually led to a one-year term in Soviet prisons.
After fleeing the Soviet Union in 1922, Minkoff attended the University of California at Berkeley, earning a B.A, in Slavonic Languages in 1926. After his retirement from NJCRAC in 1975, Minkoff remained an active lay leader in many Jewish organizations.
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