The funeral service for Bruce Leimsidor took place the morning of 19 April 2023, at the Obitorio Ebraico del Ghetto in Venice. The service was followed by interment in the Cimitero Ebraico del Lido di Venezia. [the top image is a portrait of Bruce Leimsidor by Maggie Siner]
Bruce Leimsidor was a dear friend and supporter of our magazine, for which he wrote a variety of articles of very valuable articles about the issues that were of greatest interest to him – human rights, the right to asylum, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a conflict which also touched him personally, due to his family ties with the lands of Ukraine and the dense network of friends and relations he had in both Russia and Ukraine.
In the brief biography that accompanied the articles he wrote for ytali, Bruce described himself as follows:
Bruce Leimsidor has, for over a decade, taught European asylum law and international relations at Ca’ Foscari University, Venice. He has been concurrently counselor for asylum affairs in the Venice municipality’s program for asylum seekers. Prior to his positions in Venice, he was a senior resettlement expert at UNHCR’s central resource center in Nairobi, Kenya, covering east and central Africa. He has also served as director of the US State Department’s Overseas Processing Entity in Vienna, Austria, the central office covering US refugee admissions through Central Europe, and was the director of the Central European office of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). He has also taught at the American University, Paris; Oberlin College; Occidental College; and Indiana University and has acted as visiting lecturer in Russia, Ukraine, India, S. Korea, Taiwan, and Mongolia. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles on immigration and asylum and has also published on this topic in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and in major European dailies.
Even just reading these few lines from his resume we can see that the description of Bruce given by his friend Mark McDonald on Facebook after learning of his death is truly fitting: a global citizen. It’s one of many recollections of an extraordinary personality written by the people who learned of his passing and commemorated him with moving words: a mosaic of testimonies that render the figure of “a humanitarian, a scholar, a friend”, as Ramin Farahmandpur wrote.
Among his articles published by ytali, one, written a year ago, is filled with autobiographical passages that help to reconstruct his incredible life, starting from his family roots, and which give an account of his complex relationship with Ukraine and with Russia; as a scholar and, above all, as a person connected to those countries, but also as a gay man, in nations that were friendly to him but have laws hostile to his rights. [Click here to read the entire article]
my immediate family migrated to the US long before the Nazi invasion, but some of my extended family were burnt alive in their local synagogue by Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators. Their names, bearing my rather unique family name, are inscribed on a plaque placed by a Jewish organization on the ruins of the burnt out synagogue containing the names of the many victims there in the town of Veliky Mosty, a short drive from Lviv.
I have, moreover, taught for even a longer period in Russia, principally in Astrakhan, but also in Dagestan and Chechnya. Until it became evident that they were trying to use me as a “useful idiot,” I had ongoing and even close relations in the Russian migration ministry. I had, at a meeting at the University in Astrakhan, commented favorably on the reception and integration in Russia of the mostly ethnic Russian migrants from Ukraine during the 2014 conflict. Encouraged by this, the ministry facilitated my access to several of their projects, but it all came to an end when my contact at the ministry asked me to disseminate trumped up reports of the Covid 19 virus having been developed in a US biological warfare lab. I, of course, refused and cut off all subsequent contact.
[…] my position on the current situation in Ukraine is strongly influenced by my being a gay, Jewish academic specialising in migration law. On one hand, Putin is undoubtedly the most pro Jewish Russian leader in history. He has funded an important Jewish museum in Moscow and financially supported Jewish communities throughout Russia. I have personally visited several of the projects he has funded. He is, if anything, PHILO-semetic.
On the other hand, he is a vehement homophobe, supporting harmful homophobic legislation throughout Russia, and my gay Russian friends, even those in rather good professional positions and whose sexual orientation is known by straight colleagues, live in an ongoing state of anxiety. Most tragically, they do not dare to council gay teenagers struggling with their sexuality who desperately need guidance, because of the Russian laws severely punishing “gay propaganda.”
In like measure, the situation in Russia concerning academic freedom has darkened appreciably in recent years. […]
Quite clearly, I am not a fan of Mr. Putin, nor can I support the Russian side in this conflict. But as a Jew, and also as a legalist, it is difficult for me to be totally enthusiastic about Ukraine. Ukrainians collaborated enthusiastically with the Nazis in their annihilation of the Jews, and several off the major collaborators, such as Bandera, are still celebrated with statues and street names, especially in western Ukraine. Until the present Ukrainian government, there was official Ukrainian government support of an organisation, the Institute of National Memory, that fostered – of Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis in the extermination of nearly the total Jewish population, and Zelensky has not been able completely reverse this orientation. The current Ukrainian national anthem celebrates the Cossaks, who were primary agents of antisemitic pogroms, and towns are named after historic antisemites, such as Khelmnitsky. Until recently, it has been difficult for Jewish communities in Ukraine to gain control of, or even access to synagogues that have been taken over by the local authorities. Even in Odessa, it took years for the Jewish community to gain control and access to the historic main synagogue there. It’s very hard for a Jew to be enthusiastic re Ukrainian culture, even today. I visited and worked in Odessa with pleasure, since it is, in this regard, somewhat atypical. I do not think I would have been as comfortable in Kyiv, and certainly not in Lviv, despite its being one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. […]
The aspects of his multifaceted personal history were not an emotional hindrance in dealing with the different realities that he found himself commenting on – Bruce was also very present, and very intelligently so, on Facebook – but rather prove to be a valuable contribution to truly understanding and entering – for the reader – into the problematic situations that he describes and analyzes.
Bruce had a singular mastery in mixing his wealth of experience and factual analysis, without ever ending up in subjectivism, but rather knowing how to enrich the information and arguments he presented, in conversations as well as in public discussions.
Recently he seemed very concerned about the turn that Israeli politics has taken with the rise to power of a right-wing coalition led by Bibi Netanyahu. Before his health problems, Bruce had been in Israel for one of his last study visits after a period of teaching in Morocco. He loved and knew Israel well, but not to the point of being willing to write about it for our magazine, as we asked upon his return. But the shorter and more informal things he wrote on Facebook allowed him to express himself and to make more than one alarmed and embittered consideration, taking as his pretext, as he often did, articles from the New York Times, the Washington Post or other newspapers. Last 24 February, commenting on an article from the WP regarding the dangers faced by Israeli democracy, he wrote that
Such a disaster is a real possibility. Diaspora Jews may be forced to reassess their commitment or fight to defeat this government and its undemocratic policies. Obviously, the Israelis cannot be depended upon to keep democracy safe.
Unlike all other countries, Israel belongs to the entire Jewish community and not simply those who chose to live there.”
The theme of rights was constantly present in Bruce’s thinking and reasoning. His final comment on Facebook, last 11 March, was a “hurrah” for the sentence by the Supreme Court of India that – as the Bloomberg agency reported
In quick succession, India’s Supreme Court has affirmed a constitutional right to privacy, toppled a colonial-era law criminalizing sex between men and expanded legal protections for “atypical” families, a category that includes same-sex couples as well as blended and intergenerational households.
It was a pleasure and always enriching to read Bruce’s comments, a rare case of an intelligent and stimulating use of the space for debate offered by social media. And, in fact, very interesting discussions always followed his statements and observations, which Bruce knew how to wisely encourage and feed. We will also very much miss that Bruce, the promotor and engine of great discussions on FB.
The management and editorial staff of ytali convey their sincerest condolences to his partner, Marco.
Translated by Paul Rosenberg
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