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Memorial for Pauline Bilus in Manhattan Beach
A memorial service will be held for longtime Jewish activist and community leader Mrs. Pauline Bilus (1935-2015), on Sunday, May 29, at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center (60 West End Avenue) in Brooklyn at 2 p.m.
Mrs. Bilus and her late husband, Ira, were the founders, in 1970, of the Oceanfront Council for Soviet Jewry in Brooklyn, NY a grassroots organization that publicized the plight of oppressed Jews behind the Iron Curtain. They helped to organize some of the earliest Soviet Jewry freedom demonstrations in New York City, working closely with the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, as well as the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry. Pauline and Ira were effective public advocates on behalf of ‘Refusenik’ Prisoners of Conscience and helped mobilize public support which eventually resulted in the emigration of more than one million Soviet Jews.
When freed Soviet Jews began arriving in New York City in significant numbers, Pauline was chosen by UJA-Federation to found and direct Project ARI (Action for Russian Immigrants) and left her teaching job in the New York City public school system. For more than 20 years, Project ARI, a program of the Shorefront YM-YWHA of Brighton-Manhattan Beach, helped to resettle and acculturate tens of thousands of Soviet Jewish immigrants to Brooklyn.
Pauline and Ira raised substantial funds for the Israel Emergency Fund in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. They were also active over the years in support of UJA-Federation and State of Israel Bonds.
At the suggestion of the late Rabbi Dr. Joseph I. Singer, spiritual leader of the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center (MBJC), Pauline and Ira helped to organize the community’s first Yom Hashoah commemoration, which led to their founding of the Holocaust Memorial Committee (HMC) along with community leaders. In 1985, New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch signed the Holocaust Memorial Law. It paved the way for the city’s first Holocaust memorial which was created by the HMC. It was the Holocaust Memorial Park, which is located at the foot of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. Pauline went on to direct the HMC, and along with Ira, spearheaded 30 years of Holocaust memorial programs at the Park.
Pauline was the daughter of Polish immigrants, Phillip and Jeanette Billet, z”l, who settled in Brooklyn when she was a young girl. She attended Abraham Lincoln High School and graduated Brooklyn College with a B.A. in Education.
Pauline’s husband, Ira, z”l, was also raised in Brooklyn, and was one of the first students at the Yeshiva of Brighton, later graduating from the Yeshiva of Flatbush, and Talmudical Academy of Yeshiva University. Inspired by the Hashomer Hadati (Bnei Akiva) movement, he spent three years in Israel building a religious Kibbutz before returning to serve in the US Army during the Korean War. He and Pauline were married in 1958. They settled in the Manhattan Beach community in 1963, and became active in the “Sociables,” a young leadership group of the MBJC. Both were to serve the synagogue as officers in various capacities, with Pauline rising to become the chair of its Board of Governors, the only woman ever to hold that position. Pauline and Ira were the guests of honor at the synagogue’s 2004 dinner, and were honored by many other Jewish organizations. In 2008 Pauline was honored by Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes as one of “Brooklyn’s Extraordinary Women”.
Pauline and Ira raised two children and were dedicated parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Pauline never had the benefit of a day school education, but was a proud and devoted religious Jew who dedicated her life to the service of her faith and her people. She is also survived by a devoted sister.