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Gloria Kolker Hack, an activist for Soviet Jewry and a local Hadassah leader, dies

Gloria Kolker Hack was an adult education teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools for 15 years.
Gloria Kolker Hack was an adult education teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools for 15 years.

Gloria Kolker Hack, an activist for the Soviet Jews and president of local Hadassah chapter, died of congestive heart failure Aug. 31 at her Atrium Village retirement community home in Owings Mills. She was 96.

Born in Baltimore, she was the daughter of Benjamin Kolker, a lumber merchant, and his wife, Miriam Alter, a homemaker. Her parents immigrated from Ukraine in 1887.

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She was raised at 821 Lake Drive facing the Druid Hill reservoir. A 1942 graduate of the Park School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in art history at Goucher College.

She attended Chizuk Amuno Hebrew School and was her class valedictorian.

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“She was the only female member of her class,” said her daughter, Nancie Grossman of Mission Viejo, California. “How she loved reading and writing in Hebrew. Her love for Judaism lasted her entire life.”

She later attended the Johns Hopkins University and took graduate courses in psychology. She studied with Dr. Leo Kanner.

“My mother was known as the mitzvah [good deed] queen,” said her daughter, Mrs. Grossman. “She called on family and friends on their special occasions with her famous phrase — ‘I have a singing telegram for you’ — and then sang in her lovely voice.”

Her daughter also said, “She would always say that it is important to do at least one mitzvah daily.”

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She became an active volunteer in local Jewish circles and was a past Hadassah president. She was a past Fallstaff Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association president. She was a past Chizuk Amuno Congregation Sisterhood president.

She was an adult education teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools for 15 years. She also taught a course at the Maryland Center For Public Broadcasting.

Mrs. Hack was an activist for Freedom for Soviet Jewry and traveled to Russia and Israel, with her older brother, Fabian Homer Kolker.

“They were born the same day, 10 years apart. My mother was the younger and they became inseparable,” said her daughter. “They frequently traveled together.”

Her brother, who died in 2000, was an international activist who brought Jews out of the former Soviet Union, according to his Baltimore Sun obituary. He spent 30 years defending the rights of Jews in the former U.S.S.R. and was a founder of the American Conference on Soviet Jewry.

She and her brother also accompanied the Baltimore-born novelist Leon Uris to Russia. Mr. Uris wrote the 1958 bestselling novel, “Exodus,” an account of the formation of the State of Israel.

In 1945, she married Morton Hack, a World War II veteran who landed in France on June 6, 1944. He and his family owned the Westminster Shoe Co. He died in 1991.

Her daughter said her second love was James Zellick Ross, co-founder of the Naron Candy Co. and also a decorated World War II veteran.

Her daughter said her mother came from a close-knit family and involved herself in their activities.

“The family owned the Maryland Lumber Co. and was called upon by other Jews to retrofit the steamship President Warfield after World War II. This was the vessel that became known as the Exodus,” said her daughter.

In a 2017 Baltimore Jewish Times article, Mrs. Hack recalled how her father handled his part in outfitting the President Warfield.

“One day, my beloved father, Benjamin Kolker, was sitting at his desk, … He received a phone call from a friend, Mose Speert, whom he greatly respected. Mose said, ‘Ben, I have a special favor to ask of you. I would like to put in a request to deliver enough lumber, nails and other building material to increase space on a ship to accommodate 4,500 people. The ship was designed to carry 400 to 500 passengers. The materials must be delivered under cover of darkness.’

“My father asked, ‘To whom shall I send the bill?’ Mose responded, ‘Send the bill to God, and don’t ask any more questions.’”

The ship ultimately carried 4,500 Jewish immigrants, many of them Holocaust survivors. The ship was not allowed to disembark its passengers in what was then Palestine and the incident captured international attention.

As part of her activism, Mrs. Hack accompanied her brother to assist Soviet Jews. She visited Israel and met with state officials and met Golda Meir in Brussels, Belgium.

She also attended a dinner with Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who hunted Nazi party members.

In the course of working with her brother, Mrs. Hack assisted dissident Anatoly Natan Sharansky.

“My mother never changed. She had beautiful skin. She dressed in tasteful and tailored clothes and wore white pearls and white pearl earrings. She only had one hairdo her entire life,” said her daughter.

Services were held Friday at Arlington-Chizuk Amuno Cemetery.

Survivors include two daughters, Nancie Grossman of Mission Viejo, California and Joanne Hack of Baltimore; a son, Steve Hack of Easton; two granddaughters; and a great-grandson.

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