Rita Lasar, a longtime East Village resident and business owner, died of cancer on Sunday in her Village View home. She was 85.
Her son, Raphaël Lasar, told me more about his mother:
She was a peace activist and retired businesswoman who moved to the neighborhood in 1965. She had filled her prescriptions at Block Drugs all those years and ate at Three of Cups more often than just about anyone and brought them numerous new customers. She and my father ran an electronics manufacturing business at 59-61 E. 4th St. from 1967 to 1989.
She sold the business, the Electric Eye Products Company, which made electrical security devices for retail stores, in 1989 after her husband Ted suffered a stroke. He died in 1991.
On 9/11, her younger brother Abraham Zelmanowitz died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Instead of leaving the building, he stayed with a quadriplegic co-worker until firefighters could arrive.
Her brother's death inspired her to become an activist.
From a remembrance written by her other son, Matthew Lasar:
Three days later President George W. Bush cited Abe’s courage in a speech before the National Cathedral, but Rita began to fear that her brother’s sacrifice would be used as justification for recklessness abroad.
On September 17, she sent a letter to The New York Times that expressed this concern. “It is in my brother’s name and mine that I pray that we, this country that has been so deeply hurt, not do something that will unleash forces we will not have the power to call back,” she wrote. The letter attracted widespread attention. Dozens of spouses, children, and siblings of victims of the attack called or wrote to her to share their concerns.
Not long after this statement, Rita travelled to Afghanistan with three other victim family members to protest the US/NATO bombing of civilians. As the US deployed forces across the Middle East in the name of a “war on terror,” Rita chose another mission and path. “I will stay behind just as my dear brother did” she promised audiences. “I will stay behind and ask America not to do something we can’t take back.” In February of 2002 she became a co-founder of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
There will be a short gathering in her honor at The Riverside Memorial Chapel on 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue tomorrow (Jan. 13) at 11 a.m.