On June 3, former AIPAC president and champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship Lionel (Lonny) Kaplan passed away at the age of 69.
Kaplan began his involvement as an AIPAC activist in 1988 as co-chair of the Princeton, New Jersey chapter with his wife Gail. He later served as member of the Princeton area’s executive committee and the New York regional council before undertaking his first national position at AIPAC as development chair in 1994. He went on to serve as AIPAC’s president in 1998-2000 and then as chairman of the board.
Lonny’s commitment to the pro-Israel cause motivated and inspired all who worked with him. In the halls of Congress, Lonny was well known by senators and congressmen from both parties as a persuasive and effective pro-Israel activist. He would always go the extra mile, make the additional phone call and take yet another meeting to further the alliance between America and the Jewish state. His effective leadership helped grow and expand the influence of our movement.
Born in New Jersey, Kaplan was known for his kindness, passion and strength. During his college years at Harvard University, he played varsity football with actor Tommy Lee Jones—who subsequently introduced Kaplan to his roommate, the future Vice President Al Gore. Kaplan continued his friendship with Gore for decades thereafter.
"Lonny Kaplan was revered for his dedication to promoting the relationship between the United States and Israel and supporting the American Jewish community,” said Gore. “I cherished our close personal friendship, which dates back to our time as college classmates. All of us who were privileged to be friends with Lonny will deeply miss him.”
Lonny later received his law degree from Rutgers University and became the managing partner of Joseph D. Kaplan and Son, a law firm founded in 1939 by his grandfather.
With his extraordinary dedication and indefatigable spirit, Kaplan played a major role in deepening the U.S.-Israel relationship. In the process, he built strong bonds with political figures in Congress and other key decision-makers, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and former Sens. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
“Lonny Kaplan was a very passionate supporter of Israel and a very effective advocate of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Lieberman. “Personally, I could not have asked for a better friend or more steadfast supporter than Lonny. I will miss him and always be grateful to him.”
Speaking at his funeral, Sen. Menendez hailed Kaplan as “a man who lived the life he wanted to live, with passion and conviction, humility and loyalty, and a dedication to the causes he believed in.”
“He was a very close friend from my first days in office until his final days, a true defender of the U.S.-Israel relationship and a true believer in the promise of America. He loved his family immensely, and loved life to its fullest. I will miss him tremendously,” said Sen. Menendez.
AIPAC Chief Executive Office Howard Kohr hailed him as a “force of nature.”
“He was a truly revered and transformational leader, and AIPAC grew tremendously under his presidency,” said Kohr. “He was 49 when he became president and led a younger generation of lay leadership.”
Vice Chief Executive Officer Richard Fishman said he had “led by example” and “would travel across the country” to support AIPAC’s mission.
“He was one of the nicest people you would ever meet, and he always wanted his fellow board members to succeed. Future AIPAC presidents would come to him for advice,” said Fishman.
Former AIPAC president Amy Friedkin and Kaplan worked closely together as the two became more deeply involved in pro-Israel activism at AIPAC.
“I would say that in one word, Lonny was fearless. Also, strong, persistent, single-focused,” said Friedkin. “I learned from Lonny that ‘you never get, if you don't ask.’ He taught me to assert myself, ask for what I want, and ‘just go do it.’ He was a consummate political animal. He had such strong relationships with pro-Israel elected officials. He was a loyal friend, above all. Being about the same age, we shared '60s music. This California Girl will miss her Jersey Boy friend.”
AIPAC board member and Let There Be Water author Seth Siegel also praised Kaplan’s political contributions, stating that the “passing of Lonny Kaplan, former president of AIPAC, is a great loss for the pro-Israel movement. He taught and inspired so many of us.”
Lonny is survived by his wife, Gail; his brothers Robert and Richard; his daughter Shana and son-in-law Josh; his three granddaughters, Hannah, Ellie and Eva; and his countless friends and fellow activists.
May his memory be a blessing.
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