Memories flood through me as I remember Bernard “B.” Rapoport and his extraordinary life and passion.I first met B. a half century ago at the home of Sam Rubin on 64th Street in Manhattan. Immediately, we were deep in conversation about the need to support groups vital to a vibrant democracy, like the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Both of us put a priority on sustained practical action. Both of us admired many of the same people. Two, like B., had an astuteness for business and independent radical politics: Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate who served as vice president under FDR, and F. Palmer Weber.
For the next 50 years, B. and I talked often, meeting at the St. Regis Hotel every time he came to Washington. Part of what made the visits memorable were that B.’s remarkable wife, Audre, and often their accomplished son, Ronnie, and his family. B. would often phone me at 5 or 6 a.m., discussing those on the front lines of the struggle against poverty and inequality.
B. and I were intertwined as he was with many others, perhaps too many to count. We worked on common projects for the common good. He was a mensch whose task was to make the lives of people one degree better, so long as they were committed to human dignity.
B. identified deeply with those who suffered most. He remained passionate about labor unions even in times when some liberals shunned them. He never forgot his roots, some of which were communist and humanist.
Through his long life, B. retained his passion for independent projects, such as the Texas Observer, and the Institute for Policy Studies, which I co-founded and he supported for almost 50 years. He had great affection for my colleagues at IPS, including writer Barbara Ehrenreich and former director Robert Borosage, who went on to build the Campaign for America’s Future.
B. was a man of ideas. He was nimble to adapt to the times, and understood that today’s movement for the 99 percent had its roots in many earlier social movements.
B.’s vision lives on in Audre, Ronnie, and Ronnie’s family, wonderful people about whom B. never tired of sharing stories. B.’s granddaughter Abby, an unusually perceptive journalist, interned at IPS the summer before Barack Obama’s election and helped IPS assemble a detailed “Mandate for Change” for the Obama presidency.
A few months ago, I played the piano at the home of Ann Janss in Los Angeles. One piece that I performed was the second movement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. To B., our beloved friend, I dedicate my rendition of this Concerto.