Gerald C. Lasensky, 72, of Irvine, passed away on January 22, after a long battle with melanoma. Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, to parents who immigrated to the United States from Russia, Lasensky was deeply involved in Jewish and community affairs.
He held senior professional positions in Jewish communal affairs in Atlanta, Georgia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Orange County. Prior to his retirement, in 2002, he served with the national arm of the UJA/UJC, where he led community efforts in places as diverse as Hawaii, New Mexico, Cape Cod, and Washington State.
Lasensky was a “change agent in the Jewish world,” said Russell Robinson, a former colleague, now CEO of the Jewish National Fund. “(His) professionalism and passion gave me the pride” to enter the field.
“Jerry dedicated his life to the Jewish community and to Israel,” said Dr. Stanley Mayberg, a longtime community leader and past president of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, now part of Jewish Federation & Family Services. “Jerry made the concerns of the Jewish people our concerns,” said Mayberg’s wife, Annabelle.
In contrast to his small-town upbringing, Jerry lived in Southern California for the past thirty years. His Iowa experience shaped him the most — overhearing the kitchen-table tales of Holocaust survivors; growing up in a Yiddish-speaking household; and experiencing both the joys of a close-knit, Midwestern Jewish community and the sting of anti-Semitism. He later learned of the persecution his parents and family faced in Czarist Russia, the Soviet Union and the Nazi Genocide.
“Jerry was a tzadik (a righteous person) and a shem tov (a person of high reputation),” said Rabbi Haim Asa, Orange County’s senior rabbi. “He never hesitated to show his chutzpah and his righteousness in speaking out for what he believed in, even if it put him in jeopardy.”
In addition to his work in the Jewish community, Lasensky served as the founding director of development for the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda. Former President Nixon noted Lasensky’s “vision, talent, and energy” in the Library’s early phase of operations. Lasensky also produced a public affairs program, Insight Orange County, on community cable television and volunteered at the Irvine Great Park. He lectured on a wide variety of subjects, traveled extensively through the U.S. and to nearly 100 countries, and was a film and photography enthusiast.
“One of the keys to successful fundraising is to motivate donors by offering them a sense of ownership,” Lasensky wrote in the Los Angeles Times. One of his proudest moments came when he orchestrated an impromptu meet-and-greet for the Jewish community of Hawaii with President Bill Clinton during a Presidential stopover in Honolulu.
Lasensky was a passionate supporter in the campaign for Soviet Jewry, leading protests in a number of communities and lobbying national leaders beginning in the late 1960s. In a 1986 Op-Ed in the Orange County Register, he demanded that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev release Jewish political prisoners and allow Jews to emigrate. He was a proud and vocal supporter of Israel and traveled there regularly for more than 40 years. Lasensky also had a strong interest in connecting with people from many faiths and participated in numerous inter-religious and ecumenical holiday and life cycle events.
Lasensky is survived by his wife of 46 years, Dorothy; three children, Steven Lasensky (Jodi) of Carlsbad, Susan Levin (Jordan) of San Diego and Scott Lasensky (Elise Pressma) of Silver Spring, MD; two sisters, Betty Kolnick, of Omaha, Nebraska, and Myrna Nemzoff of Tamarac, Florida; and six grandchildren.
The family requests contributions to Hadassah: c/o Gerald Lasensky Honoring Gift, Long Beach/Orange County Resource Center, 3151 Airway Ave, #F-105B, Costa Mesa, CA 92626-4623 (Michelle Shahon, t:714.545.7162, firstname.lastname@example.org)