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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

In Memoriam: Naomi Lauter

Naomi Lauter opened AIPAC’s Bay Area office in 1983, and after 16 years there she became the organization’s community consultant. (Photo: J. The Jewish News of Northern California)

There is a reason why Naomi Lauter was known as “the mother” and “grande dame” of the pro-Israel movement: For more than 50 years, Lauter worked tirelessly to educate the nation on the U.S.-Israel relationship.

On Dec. 4, Lauter passed away at the age of 87 in San Francisco from congestive heart failure. She had retired from AIPAC only eight years earlier.

Born in San Francisco, Naomi Ets-Hokin was raised a proud Zionist. Her father served on countless Jewish communal boards, and her Hungarian-born mother volunteered with Hadassah.

Lauter’s relationship with AIPAC began in the 1950s when AIPAC founder I.L. (Si) Kenen recruited her to cultivate the organization’s volunteer base. Naomi was a dedicated AIPAC leader long before she considered joining AIPAC’s staff. In 1983, she opened AIPAC’s first regional office in the San Francisco Bay area, becoming AIPAC’s first employee outside of its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Lauter traveled extensively throughout the Pacific Northwest region to educate activists and elected officials about the issues affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship.

In a press release, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote: “Naomi Lauter was my cherished, close friend and an inspiring force in our community for civil rights, justice and meeting the needs of all people…Naomi’s lifetime of energetic, tireless activism in support of Israel is an important legacy. As a pillar of the San Francisco Jewish community, she worked tirelessly to uphold and enhance the strong U.S.-Israel relationship not just in California but around the country.”

After 16 years as a regional director, Lauter became AIPAC’s national community consultant. As part of her work, she traveled to more than 100 cities throughout the United States building local councils and providing training to the regional AIPAC staff. In addition, her work on behalf of the U.S.-Israel relationship brought her to Israel more than 35 times.

“When AIPAC made the strategic decision to move beyond the walls of Washington D.C., to expand into the regions, Naomi was the person to whom we turned,” said AIPAC’s Managing Director for National Affairs Elliot Brandt. “In an organization comprised of passionate Zionists, she was the most passionate among us. She was one of the few long-serving professionals who remembered the dark world before there was an Israel, and the joy when there was, and both of those worlds drove her determination and her perseverance.”

“She had this very sweet, angelic face,” said former AIPAC President Amy Friedkin. “She looked like your favorite bubbe, but she was tough. We use the term ‘mentor’ a lot, but it was really true in her case. She really taught us so much.”

In 2010, Lauter retired from AIPAC, but she remained fully engaged with politics and the pro-Israel community.

“Few people are more passionate, committed or dedicated to U.S.-Israel relations than Naomi Lauter,” said Rep. Pelosi in 2010, when Lauter announced her retirement from AIPAC. “She is one of the most effective advocates in the country, and someone who fights for the values, ideals and issues she holds most dear.”

“But she was more than the mother of our movement. She was a mentor to us all, one of the roles she cherished most,” said Brandt. “There was not one single person at AIPAC, activist or staff, who didn’t learn from Naomi. She helped launch many of our careers and all of us are better professionals as a result. And we are better people as well.”

She was predeceased by her husband of 61 years, Robert (Bob) Lauter and is survived by four children, David, Jonathan, Sarah and Sam Lauter; daughters-in-law Liz, Deborah and Stephanie Lauter; 10 grandchildren and four great-granddaughters.

May her memory be a blessing. 

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