TRAVEL AND RESEARCH IN POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES
Single for many years, while raising daughters Erica and Liza, Leni met Dr. Valenta in 1998 and almost a year later they were married. On their honeymoon they began a series of research trips for book projects and articles. Mixing romance with research, they sought to unearth their Czech-Jewish heritage in the stories of two grandmothers, Rebecca Altschuler, whose parents may have worshipped at Prague's Old Shul, and Holocaust survivor Frantiska ("Fanny") Stein.
They also researched a story which was later published in the Jewish Journal, a South Florida publication, November 12, 2002. As they wrote then, "There is a need for America'a Jewish community to know more about the top secret, Czech massive military aid to Israel at her critical hour... In 1948, Secretary of State George Marshal threatened to resign if President Harry Truman recognized Israel. Truman did so anyway, but the State Department, under British pressure, blocked U.S. arms to the infant nation. With the millions Golda Meir raised from American Jews, only one country would sell arms and planes to them --- Czechoslovakia."
There was one thing which united all of the Jewish and Czech relatives of the Valentas as well as the Jews they interviewed in Prague. They differed in politics, but all of them supported the survival of the State of Israel. As Czech pilot Petr Uruba put it, he and most of the Czechs believed in Israel as "the land promised to the Jews."
Franta Kraus, an Auschwitz survivor, drove the couple to Terezin [Terezinstadt], personally giving them a tour of the concentration camp where he had spent several years of his life. They also interviewed Colonel Bernard Menachovsky, a Czech who had trained Jewish volunteers like him. Then they met with relatives of the late Colonel Vilem Kahan, a Czech Jew and WWII veteran turned liaison officer to the Hagana. In 1968, he had been a key advisor to Czech leader Alexander Dubcek. There was one thing which united all of our Jewish and Czech relatives as well as the Jews we interviewed in Prague. They differed in politics, but all of them supported the survival of the State of Israel. As Czech pilot Petr Uruba put it, he and most of the Czechs believed in Israel as "the land promised to the Jews."
In 2000 the Valentas interviewed various former colleagues of Yeltsin including Yury Afanasyev and Gavriil Popov, as well as other players in Russia's 1991 transcendence of communism and fall of the Soviet Union. Leni also met Mikhail Gorbachev at the initial meeting of his Association of the USA and Russia. Researching a major book on the fall of the former Soviet Union and collapse of communism, the Valentas also took trips to various Russian cities, including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Kislavodsk, and Stavropol. They also performed research in the Ukraine, the Baltic Republics, the republics of the Caucasus and the countries of Central Europe. Living for more than three years in Costa Rica from 2011 to 2014, they studied political and geopolitical events in both the Caribbean Basin and Latin America. In 2007 they also began their small Institute of Post-Communist Studies.
After graduation from Yale, Leni worked on Broadway as a reader and director’s assistant for Bruce and EdgarLansbury on Broadway. She was also employed for over five years as a professional story analyst for Columbia Pictures and National General Corp. in L.A. The job entailed reading manuscripts submitted to the Hollywood studios by known agents, and writing synopses, film treatments and critical reviews.
Married in 1968, Leni and her first husband moved to New Jersey in 1973 and Leni became a a play scout and reader for the Bertha Klausner Agency in New York. Meanwhile, she both acted in and directed regional and professional dinner theater.
While raising two daughters as a single mother after 1984, she became the owner/operator and CEO for 13 years of The Write Stuff, her own writing service, and produced film treatments, commercials, literary/academic editing, marketing letters, executive resumes, business plans and much more.
As a Yale-educated woman facing constant discrimination in the 1960's job market because she was a woman, Leni developed an interest in lobbying her legislators. While living in Westwood, New Jersey in the 1970‘s and 80‘s, she became involved with the Democratic Party. Active as a county committee woman and municipal chair of Westwood, she also served as press secretary to former State Senator, Francis X. Herbert (D). Writing speeches and campaign literature, organizing political fundraisers, serving as the Senator's surrogate and campaigning door to door was part of the job.
In a related endeavor, Leni was honored with the Hannah G. Solomon Award from the National Council of Jewish Women for her work as a community organizer on family planning issues and reproductive rights. .
Leni attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City as an art major and was the winner of an N.Y.U. Painting Scholarship for thirteen students chosen from the city.
Graduate cum laude from Brandeis University as winner of the Theron Bamberger Playwriting Award, 1962.
Three-year MFA in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama and graduated with honors in her field, 1965
Post-graduate work in Theater History at Columbia University under Professor Bernard Beckerman, 1978
Among Leni's plays was The Fortress, a study of Benedict Arnold, whom Leni saw as motivated by the destructive politics of his own time. The play was performed with two different casts in New Jersey, first time at the Winston Towers Palisadium on a grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the second time at Rutgers University as winner of a New Jersey Women’s Play-writing Award. It also received an honorable mention in the national Harold C. Crain contest, 1980. Leni, who researched “treason country” in upstate New York with one of her casts, portrayed the hated traitor as an Aristotelian tragic hero, a superior man undone by a tragic flaw, hubris (pride), his political enemies and his young Tory wife.
Leni’s writing, however, has not just encompassed historical themes. Her family drama, Piece of Mind, about a schizophrenic youth and his parents, was performed in New Jersey and off Broadway at the Riverwest Theater and reviewed as “brilliant and moving." Mentored by the late Dorothy Peron, originator of Salute to Women in the Arts in New Jersey, Leni based her play on her friend, Dorothy's life.
The Changing Stream consists of two one act plays about seniors. One of these was Second Sight, based on her interview of the late vaudevillian, Joe Smith, at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood. The play received a rave review when performed at the Quaigh Theater in New York. It toured for four years with Hospital Audiences of New York and the Seniors Speak Research Foundation and had a separate production at the Foolkiller Theater in Missouri.
Another play, reviewed as “riveting” in The Bergen Record, was The Journal of Everywoman, based on monologues and poems from the journals of real women. Inter-weaving between them was a male dancer who played the man in each of their lives.
Leni also did a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, called Ernest in Love, which was performed at the Firehouse Theater in Oradel, New Jersey,
Besides her plays Leni has also written articles for The Bergen Record, The Miami Herald, the Jewish Journal and The Messenger (Tbilisi, Georgia), The Kyiv Post, and the Tico Times, San Jose, Costa Rica. One of her most moving pieces was a short story, “The Truth Lies Buried,” published in Midstream and based on the death of her mother.
Other articles published by Leni abroad have been of political significance. Her article, "Why is Stalin Still Alive," written for the Tblisi Messenger, Georgia, Iin September 2009, registered disgust that the Stalin Museum in Gori praised the dictator's wartime heroism but said nothing about his crimes. She also deplored the huge statue of the dictator in the main square, hinting that the Russian revolution had begun in part with an organization called "Memorial" dedicated to Stalin's victims. Some time later the statue was removed -- and replaced with a memorial structure.
Her and Dr. Valenta's article in the Kyiv Post, "Arm Ukraine and Impose Energy Sanctions," April 21, 2014, may have been the first article suggesting that the U.S. should provide defensive arms to Kyiv. The Valenta's followed up exactly a year and a day later with "America Must Finally Arm Ukraine." Leni also did a March 5, 2015 review in the Kyiv Post of Alexander Motyl's novel, Vovochka, a hilarious satire based on Vladimir Putin, that has been picked up by may other sites.
Leni has also co-written several articles with Dr. Valenta published in the prestigious The National Interest including: "Great Powers, Rogue States and Terrorism," August 5, 2013, "Russia's Middle East Chess Game," Dec. 18, 2013, "Can Russia and America Work Together to Crush the Islamic State?" August 25, 2014, and "Why Trump Was Right About Bush's 9/11 Record," February 17, 2015.
The couples' articles in the Aspen Review, a prestigious publication of Central Europe, have included: "Divining Putin's Intentions; Why We Must Lose Strategic Patience," March 2015 issue, and "How Would Yakovlev Advise Putin Today on Ukraine and ISIS," an essay review of Richard Pipes first ever biography of Gorbchev's chief adviser, Alexander Yakovlev in the January 2016 issue.
Another groundbreaking article by the Valentas is "Why Putin Wants Syria," in the Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2016, Vol. 23, No. 2, where they presented a new theory about Putin's objectives and highlighted the linkages with the Russian interventions in Georgia and Ukraine.
Leni is a regular blogger with Jiri for the prestigious Russian international 'Affairs Council (RIAC) the primary think tank of the Russian foreign ministry. The Valentas also publish on the Member Wall of the Council on Foreign Relations, N,Y, (Jiri is a member), in Linkedin, Facebook, Google and on Twitter @JiriLeniValenta, and their articles are frequently picked up by other sites.
Leni Friedman Valenta is the co-writer and editor of articles by JVLV (Jiri Valenta and Leni Valenta) which appear in this site. She is also a writer and artist in her own right.
She serves as the CEO of ithe nstitute, combining rare expertise as an accomplished writer and playwright dealing with such subjects as the American revolution and the Civil War as well as psychological drama. She has been a political operator in the Democratic Party as well as the owner-operator of her own writing service, The Write Stuff, for many years. Finally, she is also engaged in not only studying and interviewing revolutionary and political leaders, but in painting some of their portraits
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Jamaica Estates Queens, Leni's grandparents came to America from various parts of the former Russian empire ---which partly explains her present interest in Russia and Russian revolutions. Her maternal grandparents were revolutionaries sought by the tsar's police.
Leni shakes hands with Gorbachev at the first meeting of his Association of the USA and Russia in 2000. She also asked him questions about the upcoming U.S. election and Russia's last revolution.
Leni engages in a long discussion about the foreign policy of post-communist Czech Republic with one of Jiri Dienstbier's successors, former Minister of Foreign Affairs John Kavan, July, 1999.
Leni’s late father, Herbert Friedman, a highly successful Wall Street lawyer and graduate of Brooklyn Law School, passed both his love of Shakespeare and his history buff genes on to Leni. The Valentas are indebted to him for financing their travel and research. Leni painted his portrait left.
In 2000 the Valentas interviewed Alexander Yakovlev, the former adviser to Gorbachev on both domestic and foreign policy. The subject of a first ever biography by Richard Pipes, Alexander Yakovlev, the Man Whose Ideas Delivered Russia From Communism, Yakovlev generously lent the Valentas overnight a copy of his unpublished manuscript, Maelstrom of Memory, From Stolypin to Putin,
Leni has painted portraits of several of the leaders and revolutionaries whose sagas appear in the books on which the Valentas are working including former Czech presidents Vaclav Havel and Russian president Boris Yeltsin.
LENI FRIEDMAN VALENTA
PLAYS AND PUBLICATIONS
Leni's 1988 pioneering study of Clara Barton, published by Chelsea House under her former married name, Hamilton, reflected her keen interest in history. Barton is known as the founder of themerican Red Cross, but Leni’s book also focuses on her career as a Civil War nurse in numerous battles.
Aspects of this book have universal significance. As former Radcliff president Matina Horne, put in her introduction, “We come away from reading about one life knowing more about the social, political and economic fabric of the time.” Ms. Horne also cited the most prominent woman of the American Revolution, Abigail Adams: “Remember the ladies,” said Abigail.
Facing job discrimination as a woman in the 60’s, Leni became involved in controversial issues of her own times -- women’s rights, equal pay and Roe vs. Wade, which she supported after researching all sides of this sensitive and complex issue.