Remembering Alvin Gray

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We are saddened to share the loss of Alvin Gray z"l, a community philanthropist and Jewish activist.

Al served as an Officer of the Federation from 1987 to 1989, and was the chair of the Community Relations Committee in the mid 1970’s. He also served in various capacities with many local and national organizations including American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Family Service Association, Jewish Vocational Service, Mandel Jewish Community Center, Mandel Jewish Day School (Agnon), the National JCC Association, ORT Cleveland, ORT America, and World ORT.

Al was passionate about the cause of Soviet Jews and dissidents. He participated in the First and Second World Conferences on Soviet Jewry in Brussels. He made six trips to the Soviet Union to visit refusniks, twice being detained by the KGB. He was the past chairman of the Resettlement Task Force for Soviet Jews and was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and Chairman of the Cleveland Lawyers for Justice for Soviet Jews.

Our thoughts are with the entire Gray family. May Al’s memory be for a blessing.

Alvin L. Gray: Feb. 3, 1928 to March 31, 2020

Please read the Cleveland Jewish News article, reprinted with permission. Text provided below:

by Jane Kaufman | Staff Reporter

Alvin L. Gray, an early champion of Soviet Jewry, who met with prominent refuseniks including Nathan Sharansky and with Israeli leaders, died March 31 at 92.

Born in Cleveland on Feb. 3, 1928, he graduated from Cleveland Heights High School. He served in the U.S. Navy and graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 1949 and its law school in 1951. He was admitted to the Ohio bar that year.

Gray traveled to the Soviet Union six times and spoke widely upon his return about the plight of Soviet Jews. He worked in local and national Jewish communal organizations, holding key leadership positions at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and its community relations committee, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Family Service Association, Jewish Vocational Service, Mandel Jewish Community Center, the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School, the National JCC Association, ORT Cleveland and ORT America and World ORT.

“Al was passionate about the cause of Soviet Jews and dissidents,” J. David Heller, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, wrote in a March 31 statement, in which Heller described Gray as a “community philanthropist and Jewish activist.”

Gray was a past chairman of the resettlement task force for Soviet Jews and was a member of the board of directors of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and chairman of the Cleveland Lawyers for Justice for Soviet Jews.

When he traveled behind the Iron Curtain in 1966, Gray submitted a four-part series to the Cleveland Jewish News in which he shared observations of conditions he found in the Soviet Union and its republics. He wrote of the anti-Semitism and oppression he found there as well as the sights. He also wrote of his experience being followed by authorities in Riga in the fourth part of the series.

“It was here also that scrutiny of our group by police (plain clothes) was most obvious,” he wrote. “The same persons were at the airport as were at the hotel when we arrived. They did not interfere with our activities but were quite in view on a number of occasions during our short stay. At the airport on departure I almost felt like shaking hands with one of these gentlemen.”

He was detained twice by the KGB.

“I knew my personal safety was going to be in jeopardy each time I traveled to Russia, but the cause was so great, I was willing to take the necessary risks,” he told the CJN in 2006.

He observed Natan Sharansky’s 1978 trial, playing a significant role in revealing the plight of Soviet Jewry to the U.S. government.

Gray also served on the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and chaired several committees, supported and participated in the work of the psychiatric division of the Center for Family and Children.

He was an amateur military historian with particular interest in World War II. He supported the restoration of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Aviation and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Hawker Hurricane and was honored by the Smithsonian Institute for his philanthropy.

He sponsored “Wall Street Week” and “Washington Week in Review” on PBS. He became an expert in Japanese stocks in the 1960s and visited more than 70 countries.

“Alvin was a doer,” said Stephen H. Hoffman, who was president of the Federation for 35 years before retiring in 2018.

He initially met Gray when he was interviewed for his first position at the then-Jewish Community Federation in 1974.

“He was generous with his resources,” Hoffman recalled. “He was generous with his time. He was a brilliant lawyer, and his ability to analyze situations was unusual, and he had a big heart. He just loved his family as well.”

Michael Hyman, president and CEO of the Mandel JCC, told the CJN, “Alvin was just a classic example of a Jewish volunteer in his generation. … He could be counted on. he did that his whole life.”

Greg Marcus, president of ORT America-Ohio Region, who knew Gray for many years, said in a statement, “Al’s significant contributions to ORT students around the world have made life-changing differences for thousands. His decades of commitment to ORT will be his legacy, as the students he helped have become important members of their communities who are able to give back.”

Larry Kadis, ORT America’s immediate past president, who worked with Gray over the years, said in the statement, “He will be missed, but the results of all he worked for will remain as a testament to his life.”

When Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood honored Gray, he said, “Religious labels or categories never interested me. As Jews and as human beings, we are all connected. What is important is establishing your standards early in life and abiding by them to the best of your ability. If you find yourself careening in the wrong direction, you make every effort to minimize your losses, learn from them, set an example, and move on. My philosophy is ‘never look back.’”

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