Bookbinder, Hyman H.

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BOOKBINDER, HYMAN H. (1916– ), U.S. social activist, Jewish community leader. Hyman Bookbinder exhibited an interest in civic concerns from an early age. In his own words, "Born into a world that soon exposed me to depression, war, and the Holocaust, I fast acquired an almost compulsive interest in public affairs." His father, Louis Bookbinder, was an avid member of the Workmen's Circle.

In 1934, at the age of 18, Bookbinder joined the Young People Socialist League, known informally as Yipsels. In 1937, he graduated from City College of New York with a degree in social science. He then worked as a clerk for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers from 1938 to 1943 while continuing his work for Yipsel. When World War ii broke out, his socialist-pacifist leanings led him to oppose American involvement in the war and he registered for the draft "with the strongest protest," requesting "conscientious objector status." However, as the news of Hitler's atrocities became known, Bookbinder's conscience roiled. Inevitably, Yipsel's lack of support for the war led Bookbinder to finally withdraw from the party.

After serving in the U.S. Navy, Bookbinder again worked for the Amalgamated Clothing Worker's union (1946–50). Following this, he continued to work on behalf of labor interests. He advocated for the Production Authority (1951–53), represented the Congress of Industrialized Organizations (1953–55), and lobbied for the American Federation of Labor (1955–60).

In his memoir, Off the Wall (1991), Bookbinder recounts the social upheaval of the 1960s and his participation in the civil rights movement and his efforts to further equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or creed. He served on President Kennedy's Committee on the Status of Women (1961–63). The committee was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Known by friends and in Washington political circles as "Bookie," Bookbinder became the executive officer of the President's Task Force on Poverty in 1964. He was also assistant director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (1964) and special liaison and advisor to Vice President Hubert Humphrey regarding the "war on poverty" (1964–67).

In 1968, Bookbinder shifted the focus of his career. A trip to Israel in 1966 (his first) along with the 1967 Six-Day War "stimulated" his "sense of Jewishness." Offered the position of Washington, d.c., representative to the *American Jewish Committee (ajc), he decided to take it. The ajc's dual commitment to Jews and liberalism and the leeway it granted its top staff allowed Bookbinder to both promote ajc's Jewish agenda (i.e., asserting Israel's "right to exist in peace and security with its neighbors" and fighting antisemitism) as well as continue his work on behalf of the poor and victims of discrimination. Through two decades of service, he became one of the most widely recognized and respected advocates for Jewish and liberal causes. In 1986, Bookbinder was made representative emeritus.

In addition, Bookbinder took upon himself a number of other civic responsibilities. He chaired public policy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (1972–77). He was a member of the President's Commission on the Holocaust (1979–80) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council (1980–85). He was also Washington chair of the ad-hoc Coalition for the Ratification of the Genocide Treaty (1970–87) and special advisor to Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988. Bookbinder was also the founding member of the National Jewish Democratic Council. A passionate moderate, he brought to bear the fervor usually associated with extremists and created a dialogue if not consensus around the major issues of his concern.

[Yehuda Martin Hausman (2nd ed.)]