Pursuing justice with Art Abramson

Art Abramson
Art Abramson (Haydee M. Rodriguez)

Six years ago, Art Abramson retired as executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council — the community relations and political arm of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore — which blossomed under his leadership for 26 years.

Abramson has not retired quietly in the intervening six years. In fact, in August of 2018, he launched skepticart.com, a blog titled “Skepticart: Really!: Government, politics and current issues,” in which he tackles key issues of the day.

Abramson lives with his wife in Baltimore County, and they have been members of Chizuk Amuno for 30 years. They have one daughter.

Abramson’s blog, he said, “allows me to express myself and be beholden to absolutely no one. I always worked for a nonprofit, and you of course can’t express yourself politically. Now, for the first time in 40 years, I can take part in positions on some issues.”

The 40 years Abramson references were spent teaching foreign policy in Los Angeles, Houston and Baltimore and leading key organizations in those states, from the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles, to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, to the Baltimore Jewish Council.

In Houston, as community relations director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, Abramson enhanced and grew the Mickey Leland Kibbutzim Internship Foundation, which in turn provided the inspiration for the foundation of BJC’s Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel.

Abramson said that he was brought into BJC to make changes, enhance programs and build bridges.

He enhanced relationships with various communities through the creation of inter-ethnic and interreligious dialogues. The efforts yielded stronger ties between the Jewish and the African American and Muslim communities and saw the start of a Jewish–Hispanic dialogue.

In addition to the establishment of the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel, under Abramson’s leadership, the BJC enhanced its relationship with Holocaust survivors through various programs still in existence. And the work didn’t stop there — policy development was one area of growth, accompanied by the influx of significant funding to various community organizations. Abramson’s work also placed him in close contact with many key leaders in other communities, as he enjoyed a close relationship with, among others, the late Catholic Archbishop William Keeler.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in a public housing project until he was 9 years old, Abramson recalls those formative years as key not only to his understanding of others, but also to his ability to be at ease with people from different backgrounds. Those early years also planted the seed of his desire to bring people of different backgrounds together.

Abramson obtained his B.A. in political science from Queens College of the City University of New York, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from UCLA.

Abramson continues to be passionate about foreign policy — his doctoral thesis, in fact, explored the formulation of American foreign policy in the Middle East during the Truman Administration, and he is passionate about Israel.

“That Israel was created is a God-given miracle,” Abramson said, “but it was created on a lot of tragedy, in the end. One of the reasons I love going to Israel is that it has, ideally, been built on social justice.”

He has visited Israel over 60 times in his lifetime and spent time there while in college.

But, Abramson remarked, “Jewish survival depends upon us being able to develop relationships with others. That has not always worked out.”

Abramson emphasized that the essence of Judaism is justice — tzedek, tzedek tirdof, which translates as “justice, justice shall you pursue.” If there is one thing he cannot stand, Abramson said, it is racism anywhere, but particularly in the Jewish community.

Abramson said he lives by the words of Hillel, “that which you do not want done unto you, do not do unto others: the rest is commentary.”

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