Marc Raskin died this past weekend. He was one of the great progressive thinker-activists of the 20th and early 21st centuries in the United States, co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies, where I was one of the original Resident Fellows from 1963 till 1977.
I am deeply saddened by his death. Since 1959, Marc had been my friend, my teacher, and one of my heroes, even when we disagreed. When my wife, Rabbi Phyllis Berman, and I visited him in October, the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Siege of the Pentagon, he was gaunt of body and gaunt of words and thought. Truly the lion in winter. Even so, losing him altogether leaves me shaken.
He could not take part in the 50th-anniversary commemoration, and I spoke in his name as well as my own when I spoke about the challenge to the Department of Justice during that action, when we sat side by side, with Benjamin Spock and Bill Coffin, to turn in a thousand draft cards to protest the draft and the Vietnam War. Marc and I were there because we had co-authored the Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority, in support of draft resistance.
My role at IPS gave me the time and freedom in 1968–69 to write The Freedom Seder and to take a vigorous part in my emerging Jewish life, till I left IPS in 1977. It was Marc’s suggestion to the editors of Ramparts magazine that brought them to publish The Freedom Seder in early 1969, giving it its national audience and constituency.
We kept in touch since, and he was somewhat puzzled but always intrigued by my continuing evolution into a prophetic Judaism. (Though a secular person, he remembered with admiration a progressive Reform rabbi from his youth in Milwaukee, respected the Jewish civil-rights activists of the ’60s, and was horrified by the devolution of Israel from what seemed to be a progressive state into one dependent on military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.)
In 1999 I wrote a memoir about him as my mentor. When I shared it with him, I added, “Sheh’hekhianu!—I am glad we both have lived long enough for me to be able to say this aloud.”
[What follows is the text of Rabbi Waskow’s original memoir, from 1999—Ed.]
It’s now 40 years since the fall of 1959, when I arrived in the office of freshman Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin to work part-time as a legislative assistant (while also doing research for my doctoral dissertation on race riots for the University of Wisconsin). I found there another part-time LA—Marc Raskin.
He had grown up in Milwaukee, studied piano at Juilliard under Rosina Lhévinne, finished a law degree at the University of Chicago. Drawn toward both politics and the piano, he found his brain even more nimble than his fingers—and came to live in Washington and make creative political change. In the early days, he and his wife, Barbara Raskin, occasionally sought refuge from the cockroaches in their apartment by sleeping on the couch in a Chicago congressman’s office.