Aaron Gabriel Blum, 76, leader of Zionist organizations

December 14, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Aaron Gabriel Blum, a Baltimore native who became a torchbearer for Zionism in Maryland and Israel, died in a Tel Aviv hospital Thursday from complications of cancer. He was 76.

For 43 years, Mr. Blum held leadership positions with Zionist organizations founded to build support for the state of Israel and strengthen its ties with the United States.

From 1949 to 1982, he was executive director of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) Seaboard Region -- known for the past two years as the Baltimore Zionist District. From 1982 to 1992, he was executive director of the Israel ZOA office in Tel Aviv.

While head of the Baltimore district, which has 2,500 members, he was given the ZOA's Distinguished Service Award in 1985 for working tirelessly in pursuit of "justice and peace for Israel and the Jewish people."

"He was one of those legend-in-his-own-time personalities," said Murray Slatkin, honorary president of the Baltimore Zionist District and lifelong member of the ZOA. "His strong presence, ++ erudition and commanding oratory garnered him admiration, respect and affection."

W. James Schiller, chairman of the board of the American Zionist Movement and former Baltimore Zionist District president, said Mr. Blum set an example for many others with his community service and dedication to the cause.

"It wasn't a job for Aaron; it was a life," Mr. Schiller said. "He taught me well, and I owe my public service career to him."

Mr. Blum was born and raised in Baltimore and graduated from City College in 1939. He attended the University of Maryland, College Park for three years, then was drafted into the Army during World War II. He served as a sergeant in Germany and Britain.

After the war, he returned to Baltimore and worked in the private sector for several years. In 1949, he became executive director of the Baltimore district of the Zionist Organization of America, a position that launched him on his career as a champion of Zionist causes.

Mr. Blum's 1943 marriage to the former Miriam Phederson ended in divorce in 1980.

In 1982, he married the former Shoshana Rajawan, an artist and guidance adviser, and moved to Israel.

During his career, Mr. Blum created a cadre of local ZOA members who maintain leadership roles in the Baltimore Zionist District. Two members, Mr. Schiller and Baltimore attorney Alleck A. Resnick, became national presidents of the Zionist Organization of America.

Hundreds of ZOA members were introduced to Israel on the annual missions led by Mr. Blum, and thousands of young people got a chance to spend summers there on youth programs conducted under his direction.

At annual Justice Louis I. Brandeis Award banquets in Baltimore, Mr. Blum honored numerous local, national and international luminaries who played significant roles in the establishment of Israel. The award is ZOA's highest honor.

Services were held Friday in Tel Aviv.

In addition to Mr. Blum's wife of 16 years, survivors include two daughters, Sheila Blum of Silver Spring and Carole Cohen of New York City; a sister, Sadie Bounan of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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