Gerard Daniel, a long-time leader of the World Union and a prominent benefactor of Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv, was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) on Saturday, November 3, 2007. The ceremony took place during Shabbat morning services at Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, the recently-opened community center and guesthouse in Jaffa that bears the name of of his wife Ruth Daniel, of blessed memory.
"Gerard Daniel, together with his beloved partner Ruth, z'l, have been among the founding parents of Liberal Judaism in Israel, strengthening the Reform Movement and contributing to its vitality and growth with boundless energy and enthusiasm," said the citation presented by Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President. Noted in particular was his contribution to the development of Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv with the creation in 1991 of Beit Daniel, one of the Israeli Progressive Movement's flagship congregations, and more recently the establishment of Mishkenot Ruth Daniel.
In his acceptance speech, Daniel recounted his studies in the Jewish Orthodox gymnasium in Hamburg, fleeing Nazi Germany for Palestine, and meeting Ruth in the new city of Tel Aviv. "In my youth,'" he concluded, "I discovered the pride of being a Jew. Here I stand proudly very late in my life because this school of great excellence has confirmed to me that I was on the right path all my life."
Supreme Court Justice Hanan Meltzer, former Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo, members of the HUC-JIR Boards of Governors and Overseers, and many leaders from the Reform Movement in Israel and abroad gathered at Mishkenot Ruth to honor Daniel.
Gerard Daniel was born in Hamburg, Germany, into a modern Orthodox Jewish family. After graduating from Hamburg's Talmud Tora Oberrrealschule, he immigrated to Palestine, where he married Ruth Feilchenfeld, whose family had made aliya earlier from Berlin. Their two children, Ralph and Miriam, where born in Tel Aviv. In 1947 the family went to join Gerard's only surviving brother in the U.S, where he and Ruth established a business manufacturing hi-tech filter media for numerous industrial usages, expecially in the aerospace industry, with factories in California, Europe, and Asia, and which was sold in 1986.
Gerard and Ruth Daniel shared a commitment to American Jewish liberal causes: he served as President of Larchmont Temple, where Ruth served as Secretary. In 1980 he was elected President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, serving for two terms until 1988, and Ruth became its Treasurer.
In 1990 Gerard and Ruth Daniel built a Reform Synagogue and Community Center in Tel Aviv, the first of its kind in Israel. Beit Daniel became an instant success and a home for seekers of a modern Judaism offering lifecyle events and an innovative approach to Jewish education. This achievement led the Daniels to build a Reform youth and community center in Jaffa, named Mishkenot Ruth Daniel in memory of Ruth, who died in June 2006 and did not live to see its completion.
Ruth was devoted to caring for underprivileged children, from handicapped children in Israel to day care programs in New Rochelle, NY, and New Town, Sarasota, Florida. She served on the board of numerous organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism, family services in New York and Florida, Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation and Jewish Housing Council, and she chaired the Jewish Conciliation board under the auspices of UJA-Federation of New York. Gerard served on the Board of the Union for Reform Judaism, HUC-JIR, Westchester Jewish Federation,Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation, Sarasota Opera, Temple Beth Israel, Sarasota Jewish Housing Council, and other local organizations. In 2007 the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa conferred upon him the title of Honorary Citizen.
At the Academic Convocation held on the HUC-JIR/Jerusalem campus the day before, the College-Institute ordained five new rabbis -- Nir I. Barkin, Silvana Kandel, Moshe Navon, Ishai Ron and Tatiana Segal -- and also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Eliezer Schweid; honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees to Dr. Paul R. Feinberg, Associate Dean Emeritus of HUC-JIR, and to Walter J. Zanger; an honorary Doctor of Jewish Communal Service degree to David Kurz; a President's Medallion to Rabbi Henry F. Skirball; and a Graduate School Medallion to Dr. Jonathan D. Safren.
In a private ceremony the same day, HUC-JIR awarded the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize in Arts, Letters, the Humanities and Religion to Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel.
"President Shimon Peres's lifelong devoted leadership of the State of Israel and vision for a peaceful future in the Middle East are a source of inspiration and hope," said Rabbi Ellenson, who, along with Ruth O. Freedlander, co-trustee of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, presented the prize to Peres. "It is a privilege to honor his distinguished statecraft and commitment to the values of our tradition." The Heller Prize is an international award presented to an organization or individual whose work, writing, or research reflects significant contributions in these areas.