Mr. Smukler took up the cause, cofounding the Soviet Jewry Council and helping many Jewish "refuseniks" - people who were not allowed to emigrate - get out of the Soviet Union.
His wife used the Hebrew expression tikkun olam, which she defined as "saving the world," to describe Mr. Smukler's work.
"He just really wanted to do good," she said.
Mr. Smukler also was an ardent supporter of Israel. Together, they had visited more than 50 times since 1969.
"It's been a great love of ours," his wife said. "We adore Israel."
Mr. Smukler was born in Philadelphia in 1928 to parents who had emigrated from the Soviet Union several years earlier.
He grew up in a Jewish section of Strawberry Mansion, and his upbringing was steeped in Jewish traditions.
Mr. Smukler attended Central High School and went on to obtain scholarships to Kenyon College in Ohio, Harvard Law School, and Oxford University.
He was classmates at Kenyon with Paul Newman, and he used to say he got dates for the future movie star, a claim his wife lightheartedly found dubious.
Mr. Smukler served as a first lieutenant in the Air Force before returning to Philadelphia to practice law.
In 1957, Mr. Smukler, then 29, was set up on a blind date with Constance Lasch, who was 19. He was late, she recalled, because he had been attending a meeting of the Allied Jewish Appeal.
When she came home from her date, her mother was waiting up. "I said, 'I'm going to marry him.' She said, 'He's too old for you.' "
Constance Smukler added, "I was never sorry."
In 1979, Mr. Smukler suffered a heart attack, the first of many, she said. He had open-heart surgeries in 1980 and 2004.
Nonetheless, she said, "he never let his heart history define him."
He was a tennis enthusiast and played until last year, his wife said. That first blind date, she said, was arranged though "friends of my parents who knew Joe through tennis."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Cindy H. Dorani; sons Andrew and Kenneth; and nine grandchildren. One, Shoval Dorani, 20, is a paratrooper in the Israeli army.
A funeral service will be held at noon Sunday, July 15, at Har Zion Temple, 1500 Hagys Ford Rd., Penn Valley.
Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.