Leonard P. Zakim

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Leonard Paul "Lenny" Zakim[1] (November 17, 1953 - December 2, 1999) was a Jewish-American religious and civil rights leader in Boston. Zakim died in 1999 after a 5-year battle with bone-marrow cancer. Boston's Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge was named in his honor.


Early life and education

Zakim was born in Clifton, NJ and became interested in civil rights and activism after he encountered anti-semitism as a boy. He earned his undergraduate degree at American University in Washington, DC and then graduated from the New England School of Law in 1978. He settled in the Boston area after law school and lived there until the end of his life. In 1978 he worked as the southeast Massachusetts field director for the reelection campaign of then Mass. Governor Michael Dukakis. Paid $50 a week to work on the ultimately unsuccessful campaign, this experience nevertheless formed the cornerstone of his later political involvement. "The campaign was the beginning of an association with Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, that would bring Mr. Zakim to the policy-making level of the national Democratic Party, a standing he retained after Dukakis's political career faded," the Boston Globe wrote in its obituary on Zakim.[2]

In 1979 he was hired by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as its New England Civil Rights director and in 1984 he was named New England director for the organization.[3]

He later married his wife Joyce and had three children, Josh, Deena and Shari.[4]

Civil Rights Advocacy

In addition to his work with the ADL Zakim was co-founder of A World of Difference Institute, an anti-bias educational project formed in Boston in 1986. The project has been adapted in twenty-nine other cities and six counties.[5]

Lenny Zakim and the Rev. Charles Stith founded an annual Black-Jewish Seder in Boston which inspired many interfaith Seders with Catholic, Protestant and Jewish participants in Boston and nationally.[6] At the time of his death it was the largest black-Jewish seder in the US. He also used his "his political connections and friendships with black ministers, Roman Catholic leaders and sports celebrities to establish community organizations and public-service events, including the 12,000-member Team Harmony antiracism rally for teenagers," the New York Times said in its obituary.

During the last years of his life, as he struggled with myeloma, he founded The Lenny Zakim Fund to fight poverty and racism in Boston. Shortly before his death, he organized a Catholic-Jewish pilgrimage to Rome with his friend Cardinal Bernard Law, where he had an audience with Pope John Paul II, prompting the New Jersey native to say: "I've had my picture taken with the Pope, Bruce Springsteen and the Dalai Lama. Now I've got to get the three of them together."[7]

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