On Wednesday, March 26, at its annual Founders’ Day Ceremony in the S.H. and Helen R. Scheuer Chapel on its Cincinnati campus, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion recognized Dr. Michael A. Meyer, as he prepares to retire, for his fifty years of service as a member of its faculty. During his address to the over 100 faculty members, students, and distinguished guests present for the event, Dr. Meyer explained how during his tenure he has come to see that his field of study, Jewish history, serves by bringing “ us all to a profounder sense of our as yet unrealized humanity.”
“History contains life in all its varieties and contradictions, its actors' multiple sins and their occasional virtues. The immediate goal of the historical enterprise may be to learn of the past, but its ultimate aim is to know ourselves and our potential. For we will not know who we are until we know who we were and therefore also who we can be,” said Dr. Meyer.
“The history of the Jews is a current within the stream of world history, at times rippling within one eddy at times within another. But we can also envision it from within, as a force thrusting through time with energies that may sometimes flag, but … manage to renew themselves again and again.”
Professor Meyer was born in Berlin, Germany, and grew up in Los Angeles, where he received his B.A. (with highest honors) from University of California, Los Angeles. His earned his doctorate at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati. He taught at HUC-JIR's Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles for three years before moving, in 1967, to join the faculty of the Cincinnati campus. A fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Dr. Meyer’s research interests include the histories of Reform Judaism, of Jewish historiography (methods of research), of Jews in Modern Germany and of the academic study of Judaism. His books have won three Jewish Book Awards and, in 1996, he received the National Foundation for Jewish Culture's Scholarship Award in Historical Studies for major influence on colleagues and students in his field. He currently serves as the Adolph S. Ochs Professor Emeritus of Jewish History.
The College-Institute’s Founders’ Day ceremonies celebrate the vision of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of Hebrew Union College in 1875 in Cincinnati, and of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1922 in New York. Participating in the program this year were Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, President; Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Dean of the Cincinnati campus; Dr. Nili Fox, Director of the School of Graduate Studies; Rabbi Kenneth A. Kanter, Associate Dean and Director of the Rabbinical School; and Cantor Yvon F. Shore, Director of Liturgical Arts and Music.
Along with its recognition of lay leaders for a lifelong commitment to the College-Institute, such as Dr. Meyer, HUC-JIR honors during its Founders’ Day distinguished rabbinical alumni for 25 years of service as teachers of Judaism – its faith, its culture and its communal ethics. This year, the College-Institute presented honorary doctorate degrees to Rabbis Leonardo Alanati, Deborah R. Bronstein, L. David Feder, David Joel Burstein Fine, Edwin Cole Goldberg, Glenn M. Jacob, Scott Looper, Richard Steven Rheins, Beth J. Singer and Jonathan L. Singer.
This year, the College-Institute also recognized representatives from congregations who have been a part of Cincinnati campus student pulpit program for the past 130 years.
“I do believe in the sanctity of our past,” said Dr. Meyer at the conclusion of his address. “For beyond all else, our history is a tale of men and women who sought to fulfill what they perceived to be a divine will that forced them to look beyond their petty desires for power and domination, that called upon them to love, not hate. From a religious perspective, Jewish history is an ever renewed response to a divine imperative that calls upon us to rise from animal to human being, to realize what we believe to be the godly in our lives.”
His words underscore the commitment found among the students and faculty of HUC-JIR—and celebrated at events such as Founders’ Day—to fulfill the mission of a Judaism responsive to modernity as inspired by their legacy.