Gary Phillip Zola is the Executive Director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) and Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience and Reform Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati, Ohio. The AJA is the world’s largest free-standing research center dedicated solely to the study of the American Jewish experience. He received both his rabbinical ordination (1982) and his Ph.D. in American Jewish History (1991) from HUC-JIR. Professor Zola became the AJA’s second director in 1998, succeeding his teacher and mentor, Professor Jacob Rader Marcus (1896-1995), the prodigious scholar who first defined the field of American Jewish history. It was Marcus who founded the AJA in 1947 and served as its director until his death in 1995. Under Professor Zola’s leadership, the AJA began a new phase in its development. Its renowned collection has grown and is housed in a world class complex of three interconnected structures including the Edwin A. Malloy Education Building. Zola’s interest in enlarging the public’s access to the AJA’s holdings has spurred dramatic growth in The Marcus Center’s programmatic activities, its website and online resources. Dr. Zola also serves as editor of The Marcus Center’s award-winning biannual publication, The American Jewish Archives Journal.
Professor Zola is a historian of American Jewry who specializes in the development of American Reform Judaism. His published volumes include The Americanization of the Jewish Prayer Book and The Liturgical Development of Congregation Ahawath Chesed, New York City (New York: Central Synagogue, 2008); A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish Camping in America (co-edited with Michael M. Lorge and published by the University of Alabama Press, 2006); The Dynamics of American Jewish History: Jacob Rader Marcus’s Essays on American Jewry (Brandeis University Press, 2004); Women Rabbis: Exploration and Celebration (HUC-JIR Alumni Press, 1996) and Isaac Harby of Charleston (the University of Alabama Press, 1994), a major biographical study on the life of one of the founders of the first organized effort to reform Judaism in the United States of America. He is currently completing a new volume on Abraham Lincoln and the Jews as well as a Primary Source Reader on American Jewish history. In addition Zola has published several articles, monographs and book reviews and has lectured at several academic conferences and colloquia.
In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Zola to serve as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, an independent agency of the Federal government. Established by Public Law in 1985, the Commission exists to foster the preservation and protection of the cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings associated with the foreign heritage of United States citizens. Although HUC-JIR presidents have received such distinctions over the years, Professor Zola is the first regular member of the College-Institute’s faculty to serve on a standing Commission of the United States Government in the history of the school.
Prior to joining the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Dr. Zola served as the organizer and chair of the congressionally recognized Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History, a consortium of leading research institutions established to promote the study of American Jewish history during the 350th anniversary Jewish life in America (2004-2005). In 2006, Dr. Zola became the first American Jewish historian to receive appointment to the Academic Advisory Council of the congressionally recognized Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
In addition to these national activities, Dr. Zola has been actively involved incommunity relations in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2012 he was awarded both the Bridges for a Just Community “Distinguished Service Award” and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center “King Legacy Award.” In addition he has received the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission “Bishop Herbert Thompson, Jr. Outstanding Humanitarian Award” in recognition of his service to the people of the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area as well as the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s “Distinguished Leadership Award” for service to Cincinnati’s Jewish community.
Dr. Zola and his wife Stefi reside in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have four grown children: Mandi, Jory, Jeremy, and Samantha.
We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry, a Documentary History (edited with Introductions by Gary Phillip Zola and published by Southern Illinois University Press, 2014).
“The Americanization of the Jewish Prayer Book and the Liturgical Development of Congregation Ahawath Chesed,” New York City (New York: Central Synagogue, 2008);
A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish Camping in America (co-edited with Michael M. Lorge and published by the University of Alabama Press, 2006);
Isaac Harby of Charleston (the University of Alabama Press, 1994), a major biographical study on the life of one of the founders of the first organized effort to reform Judaism in the United States of America.