‘Champion of the Jewish people,’ Nicholas Lane dies at 84
News ObituaryNicholas Lane

‘Champion of the Jewish people,’ Nicholas Lane dies at 84

Ever the student, Lane considered the past a vital teacher

Nicholas Lane and Theodore Mann attend a National Conference on Soviet Jewry event, July 1981. (Photo courtesy of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives)
Nicholas Lane and Theodore Mann attend a National Conference on Soviet Jewry event, July 1981. (Photo courtesy of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives)

Nicholas David Jeremy Lane, a well-read, well-traveled “good man,” died on April 9. Remembered by friends and family for his wit and devotion, Lane was funny but not uncouth, intellectual but not pedantic.

Born in London on Feb. 9, 1940, to Zena and Ben Lane, Lane attended the Highgate School, a prestigious London-based institution founded more than 450 years ago.

“He was a very gifted student,” said Adam Lane of his father. “He did very well.”

In fact, Lane did so well at Highgate that he earned a merit scholarship to Christ Church, University of Oxford.

“His parents didn’t want him to go but they couldn’t really argue with him getting a merit scholarship,” Adam Lane said.

At Oxford, Lane studied languages and “dabbled in theater,” his son continued. “I think it really broadened his horizons and broadened his mind.”

Lane’s worldview further expanded after university. While traveling Europe, he met Pittsburgher Eileen Halpern. Lane and the young American woman maintained a courtship via correspondence. They eventually married and began a life in London, then Pittsburgh, and raised two children.

Communally minded and globally aware, Nicholas and Eileen Lane were involved in several causes throughout their 55-year marriage.

Nicholas and Eileen Lane. (Photo courtesy of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives)

Along with his dedication to the Soviet Jewry movement, Lane chaired Pittsburgh’s chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the Community Relations Council of the then-called United Jewish Federation and the board of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Lane was a “champion of the Jewish people,” according to David Harris, former CEO of the AJC.

His fascination and curiosity about a variety of subjects “made him so very interesting,” Rodef Shalom Congregation’s Rabbi Sharyn Henry said. “Above all, he was a good man.”

For more than a decade, Lane discussed current events on WTAE’s Shalom Pittsburgh.

Adam Lane recalled traveling to the television studio with his father several nights a week: “Just watching everyone sort of greet him, and be so impressed by him, I thought I had the coolest dad in the world.”

On screens, in classrooms, in print and even on transport, Nicholas Lane shared insights and observations.

Jeff Finkelstein, the president and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, recalled Lane’s bus tours of Jewish Pittsburgh.

“He brought history to life,” Finkelstein said. “His passion for history was palpable.”

In 1997, Lane helped organize a conference to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of the Vilna Gaon, an 18th-century titan of Jewish thought.

For years, Lane lectured at both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.

He amassed a collection of travel guides — many of which are held in the Rare Books and Special Collections of the University of Pittsburgh’s Library System.

Ever the student, Lane considered the past a vital teacher.

He was appointed by the presidents of Estonia and Lithuania to their historical commissions to record each country’s history during the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and was decorated in 2007 for his work on the historical commission by the President of Estonia.

Lane also served as a trustee of The Claims Conference and worked with the organization to negotiate, disburse funds to individuals and organizations, and secure justice for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

Nicholas Lane accepts the Shirley M. Szabad Award on behalf of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. (Photo courtesy of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives)

The Pittsburgh transplant not only mined bygone days for present understanding but also understood the bond between those periods.

As a trustee of the AJC, he was part of the Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations. In its 1991 report, the group concluded that “the American Jewish community will become more diverse as the current generation shapes their Jewish identity. The individualistic Jews are not as attached to Israel or as moved by the Holocaust as are the cultural pluralists and traditionalists. Most of them are seeking spiritual meaning. They are attracted to activities which can provide them with opportunities to build an inner spiritual life and to engage in social action programs. They need to be shown that they can find these opportunities in the Jewish community.”

Lane’s activity followed traditional patterns. In childhood, he received a classical education. As an adult, he turned to newspapers to share his concerns.

After author and political commentator Peter Beinart proposed boycotting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Lane used a 2012 review of Beinert’s “The Crisis of Zionism” to call the position a “hopelessly impractical proposal.”

“[Beinart] has left himself open not just to opposition, but also quite probably to ridicule. And it will make the solution to the crisis of Zionism that much harder to find,” Lane wrote.

Two years later, Lane cautioned against American Jewish support for Azerbaijan.

Writing in PJC, Lane noted, “The relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan is clearly one of ‘convenience.’ But given Israel’s increasing problems with her reputation in the world, American Jews must recognize that the risks of this relationship far outweigh the benefits.”

Both a logophile and linguaphile, Lane often used his wit for entertainment, his son recalled.

After a humorous spat emerged between The Jewish Chronicle, a London-based Jewish newspaper, and Pittsburgh’s Jewish weekly, Lane wrote to the British publication: “Like you, we publish bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah photos, but we do so before the event so that people can know what they aren’t invited to…”

“He loved words. He loved language,” Adam Lane said. “He was always making quips.”

But good-spirited rhymes and excerpts weren’t merely punchlines.

Before putting his son to bed, Nicholas Lane often told the child, “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.”

The Shakespearean line continues: “The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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