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Herb S. Denenberg, Consumer Crusader and Israel Supporter

March 25, 2010 By:
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Herbert S. Denenberg

Herbert S. Denenberg, a feisty government consumer advocate who used his position as Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, and then media personality, to shift and shape policy, and whose determined defense of Israel against any and all would-be accusers helped forge his fiery reputation, died March 18.

The Nebraska native and Wayne resident was 80 years old.

With his curmudgeonly/ friendly features and Midwest twang that seemed to end each of his sentences in an exclamation point, Denenberg was a prominent figure in state politics in the 1970s, redefining the role of insurance commissioner with a consumer edge and sparking the creation of "no fault" auto insurance.

In subsequent years, after a stint as an appointee to the Public Utility Commission, Denenberg went on to a broadcast career, nailing dozens of local Emmy Awards in his out-there role as consumer reporter for WCAU-TV, which included his trucking in the "Denenberg Dump," a TV "trashfill" in which he would dump products that didn't fit the Denenberg detail of quality.

He extended that provocative trait of head-on confrontation to his political beliefs and love of Israel; he was a familiar figure at protests when Israel's sovereignty was threatened by attackers.

The Omaha native son seemed adept at handling all comers in the wild kingdom that was politics. A committed Zionist, he notably took on The Philadelphia Inquirer during the early 2000s for what he perceived to be its commitment to publish all the news fit to slam Israel.

He was a familiar figure at the corner of the newspaper's building on North Broad Street, handing out pamphlets declaiming their coverage.

But his feistiness and verb-al bombshells had homegrown sites on them too. Last year, addressing a local Tea Party gathering on Independence Day, Denenberg targeted what he perceived to be President Barack Obama's weak foreign policies doing the nation more harm than good.

Sardonic Style

In one lapse of critical judgment, and in typical sardonic Denenberg style, he did admit that he was once impressed by hearing of Obama "killing a fly with his bare hands," this making him eligible for fly-catcher, if not president, he said.

Denenberg also railed against Obama's Mideast policies, twittering in his role as advocate journalist for the online Bulletin that "President Barack Obama's two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a solution, but a formula for disaster," as he added to his well-known position of maintaining a strong Israel without caving in to those who would divide it or terrorize it.

Denenberg's nervy, edgy commentary also showed up in many a letter to the editor published in the Jewish Exponent.

Sporting large thick eyeframes, it was clear that Denenberg had never seen life through rose-colored glasses. Campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania during the Democratic primary in 1974, at a time when Gov. Milton Shapp was the state's chief executive, Denenberg admitted during a pit stop in Center City that he knew his campaign was doomed, if only because the electorate wouldn't stand for two Jews at the top of state government.

With all the railings and his at-times perceived righteous indignation that could border on the obnoxious, Denenberg certainly found time to try and serve a wide range of causes and concerns.

The attorney with law degrees from Creighton University and Harvard, as well as a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, Denenberg served on scores of boards, including Consumers Union, and as adviser to federal, state and local government agencies.

Honored with countless awards, perhaps his greatest triumph in life was the love he shared with his wife, Naomi (Glushakow), for 52 years, beginning at a science class at Johns Hopkins University, where he helped her on a project dissect-ing frogs before sewing up their relationship shortly after.

Indeed, in her role as his research assistant years later at WCAU-TV, Naomi played an important part in his success. The always blunt and outspoken Denenberg interrupted one interview to introduce her as the woman who helped keep him on the right track, both at home and at work.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a sister, Anne Feinberg; and two brothers, Dr. Michael Denenberg and Norman Denenberg.

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