article appeared in the June 27, 2014 Jewish Advocate.
by his family’s past, a state rep looks to the future
to the Advocate
parents’ life stories affected my life very much.”Frank
Frank Israel Smizik does double duty as a state representative and as
president of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action ( JALSA).
he been a member of JALSA’s Advisory Committee for many years, he
took on the top job at the organization last year. And for 14 years,
Smizik has been representing Brookline at the State House, where he
has sponsored numerous petitions and legislative measures.
he joined the Legislature, Smizik had long been active in his
hometown. From 1992- 2000, he served as a member of the Brookline
School Committee and as its vice chair. For a decade earlier, he
worked with the Brookline Housing Authority where he eventually
became commissioner and chairman. Smizik has also worked on the
town’s Democratic Town Committee and has been a town meeting
two and a half decades, Smizik served as a legal services lawyer at
the Massachusetts Law Reform
Institute where he assisted low-income clients with housing and civil
issues. During his tenure, Smizik forged litigation that established
rights for residents who were displaced from their homes by urban
renewal projects; he also worked on litigation strategies to avoid
JALSA, he has worked on campaigns to raise the minimum wage, support
gun control and increase earned sick time. “I was pleased to be
able to shepherd JALSA until Frank took it over,” said Smizik’s
predecessor Andrew M. Fischer, a Boston attorney.
“He has been a champion of the Jewish values of justice and civil
rights and of tikkun olam, or caring for the earth.”
concern for social justice for the disadvantaged was inspired by
Smizik’s own family history. “My concern for the poor and equal
rights resulted from my mother’s experience in coming to the U.S.,”
he told The Jewish Advocate in an e-mail. “I heard the story many
times how my mother’s family escaped from the Ukraine during
the early 1900s, when pogroms were prevalent,” he wrote. “My
grandfather and grandmother and their five children were able to
escape to Poland. There, they lived
in a Catholic church for a year because a Catholic priest was
day, Smizik recollected, the children needed to remain disguised to
protect their safety. “ They went outside wearing outfits that made
them look like Catholic children,” he explained. “If people found
out they were Jewish, they would have had trouble in Poland.”
a year, they were able to leave for the United States, but here, they
had to separate. “Some of the family went to Pittsburgh and New
York, and a smaller contingent went to Toronto,
Canada,” he said. “ This story was a revelation to me as a
youngster and helped me understand the problems of Jewish people
around the world.”
father also experienced prejudice, when he went looking for a job.
“He was young and applied to an electricians’ union so he could
work on electrical jobs,” Smizik recounted. “In the 1930s, their
answer to my father was that no Jews were allowed in the union.”
was moved by that rejection of his father to protect others from
discrimination. “I felt I had a responsibility to fight
anti-Semitism and to support civil rights,” Smizik said. While
living in Pittsburgh, Smizik worked
for eight years at a neighborhood legal services organization. Then,
in 1978, he moved to Massachusettsand
was offered a job with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.
in 1944, Smizik attended Peabody High School inPittsburgh and
received a bachelor degree from theUniversity
of Pittsburgh in 1966 and a law degree from Duquesne
University in 1971.
has been married to Julie Johnson since 1981 and they have two
children, Emma and Hallie. The family has belonged to Temple
Sinai in Coolidge Corner for 25 years.
been especially helpful to have Frank Smizik at the helm,” JALSA
Executive Director Sheila Decter said of Smizik’s leadership at
JALSA. “In addition to his long record on economic and social
justice, his expertise on climate change is essential for any group
wanting to work on today’s most significant problems,” she said.
Smizik is focused on the development of renewable energy on a smaller
scale, through the usage of net metering, and he is also exploring
the facilitation of larger, local renewable energy sources, in New
England. Improving public education and affordable housing are
other issues that have his attention.
for Smizik, the activism and concern for the welfare of others
started long ago. “My parents’ life stories affected my life very
much,” he said.