Partners for Progressive Israel mourns the death of Moshe Kagan, who passed away on Thursday, May 3, 2012, 11 Iyar 5772.
Moshe was a giant of progressive Zionism in the United States. He co-founded Americans for Progressive Israel (a predecessor to Partners for Progressive Israel) in the early 1950s, and was one of the founding presidents in 1998 of Meretz USA, as our organization was then called. He will be very deeply missed.
Please find below a short biography of Moshe written by journalist Doug Chandler in May 2009 when Meretz USA bestowed upon Moshe our “Lifetime Achievement Award”.
Moshe Kagan: Dor L’Dor [Generation to Generation]
Moshe Kagan’s closest friends and colleagues have always regarded the man as reserved and modest, reluctant to talk about himself or to place himself in the spotlight. But they also know that what applies to many people of modesty also applies to Moshe: his vast reservoir of experience, his repertoire of talents, his practical wisdom and, perhaps most important to an organization like Meretz USA, his willingness to share those qualities.
Indeed, generation after generation of progressive Zionists have learned from Moshe and been inspired by him.
Now 89, Moshe Kagan came to this country in 1940 from the small town of Keidan in Lithuania, where his parents were both progressive Zionists. He lived with an uncle for a while in the Bronx, but not more than a year passed when Moshe, then 20, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Quick to see his brilliance, the Army sent the young Kagan to Oklahoma, where he and other recruits developed a complicated system to locate enemy artillery guns, and later to England and France. As many of his generation did, he also learned about man’s huge capacity for evil during the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of his parents and his two older sisters.
The same brilliance shined again in the late ‘40s, when Moshe found work at a small electronics firm after earning his degree in electrical engineering from the City College of New York. In only a few days at the firm, he designed a battery that eventually powered rockets and missiles for the Navy, the Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The invention propelled the growth of his company, Yardney Electric, which promoted Moshe to vice president and, by the early 1960s, president.
Moshe’s career also included work as a consultant for Armand Hammer, the American-Jewish industrialist known as a friend to many of the world’s leaders, and a role in designing the model for America’s fleet of nuclear submarines.
Just as Moshe’s professional life thrived, so, too, did his involvement in the Jewish world. He joined Hashomer Hatzair at the age of 11, following one of his sisters into the Zionist youth group, and came to know many of the movement’s guiding lights while still in his teens.
In the early 1950s, he and three other giants of the Zionist left—Valia Hirsch, Avraham Schenker and Richard Yaffe — felt the need to create an organization in the States that would support Israel’s Mapam party, a part of the same socialist orbit as Hashomer Hatzair and the Kibbutz Artzi Federation. Acting together, the four launched Americans for Progressive Israel, one of the predecessors to Meretz USA.
During those years, Moshe became a leader in the Zionist world, joining the boards or executives of such organizations as the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Zionist Movement and the Jewish National Fund. He has also been involved in the vast constellation of Jewish groups, including the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee, and his friends have included many of Israel’s public figures. Among the groups that have recently honored Moshe is the World Zionist Organization, which named him a life fellow.
In addition to that involvement, Moshe enjoys spending time with his partner of more than 20 years, Betty Taylor; his two children, David and Lori; and his grandchildren, Talia, 17, and Noah, 14.
Meanwhile, his knowledge of the Jewish world and his range of contacts continue to be a rich resource for Meretz USA, where Moshe remains a board member, and at Hashomer Hatzair, Inc., where he has served as president for many years. And it’s at both those organizations where generations of active members consider themselves mentored and inspired by Moshe.
Moshe “helped me understand the arcane nature of organizations in the Jewish world, especially the Zionist movement,” says Arieh Lebowitz, an officer of Meretz USA and formerly a founder of API’s young-adult circle in the late 1970s. He also introduced Lebowitz to colleagues in a number of countries.
Charney Bromberg, a past executive director of Meretz USA, says few people have taught him as much about politics in general as Moshe has. He calls Moshe “a Renaissance man of Jewish politics” and a figure whose very presence made Meretz USA a respectable player in various umbrella organizations.
Yotam Marom, who, as a young leader of Hashomer Hatzair, is an up-and-coming activist, says Moshe is a role model for members of the group and “a reminder that the things we fight for are truly meaningful.”