Dr. Gary P. Zola Inaugurated as the Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Eddie and Beth Ackerman (second and third from right) with (from left) Andrew Berger, Chair, HUC-JIR Board of Governors; Rabbi Howard A. Berman, Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism; Dr. Gary P. Zola, Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor; and Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D., Dean of HUC-JIR/Cincinnati 

The Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professorship of the American Jewish Experience and Reform Jewish History was dedicated at a special program and dinner on December 10, 2014 at the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  Established with a landmark gift from the Edward and Wilhelmina Ackerman Foundation, this new chair was launched with Dr. Gary P. Zola is the inaugural recipient of the Ackerman Professorship. Dr. Zola also serves as the Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives on the Cincinnati campus.

The inaugural ceremony featured remarks by Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D., Dean of the Cincinnati campus; Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., HUC-JIR President; Edward Ackerman, Jr., representing the Ackerman Family; Rabbi Howard Berman, Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism; Andrew Berger, Chair, HUC-JIR Board of Governors; Michael Lorge, American Jewish Archives lay leader; and Dr. Richard S. Sarason, Chair of the Cincinnati faculty. Dr. Zola presented a lecture, entitled “Profiles in Reform Jewish Courage.” Read Dr. Zola's lecture. Faculty and students performed “Ma’oz Tzur/Rock of Ages” in celebration of Hanukkah.

As the Ackerman Professor, Dr. Zola will also direct newly created programmatic initiatives that will provide HUC-JIR with academic resources to bring the historical legacy of American Reform Judaism to students studying at the school’s campuses in the United States and Jerusalem.  The Ackerman Professorship will play a key role in conceptualizing and implementing these initiatives that will further illuminate the heritage of American Reform Judaism to HUC-JIR students, faculty, alumni, and the community at-large.

Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., HUC-JIR President, stated, “We are enormously grateful to the Edward Ackerman for his generous support for the next ten years of the Ackerman Professorship and new educational and programmatic initiatives on the history and heritage of Reform Judaism. Our commitment to sustaining this heritage has been significantly enriched by the College-Institute’s partnership with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism (SCRJ). Jointly-sponsored programs have highlighted the history and core values of American Reform Judaism and have promoted the development of a strong Reform Jewish identity among our students by emphasizing Reform Judaism’s enduring contributions to America as well as to the American Jewish community.”

Edward Ackerman said, “HUC-JIR will be capable of shedding new light on a shared heritage that belongs to all Reform Jews, while affirming the pluralism of interpretation and observance within the contemporary Reform Movement, by elucidating the core principles and liturgical traditions that continue to characterize the Classical tradition in American Reform Judaism.”

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D., Dean of the Cincinnati campus, added, “HUC-JIR’s historic Cincinnati campus is unquestionably the proper site for the establishment of this particular faculty chair.  The first site of rabbinical learning in the Western hemisphere – now in its 140th year – the Cincinnati campus is inextricably linked to the emergence and history of the Reform Jewish Movement in America. With its world renowned Klau Library and The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA), the Cincinnati campus is today one of the richest and most comprehensive research centers in the field of the American Jewish experience and the history of American Reform Judaism. Over the past century, the Cincinnati campus has become the primary repository, research, and teaching center in the field of the American Jewish experience in general and, specifically, of the Reform Movement’s history and heritage.” 

Rabbi Howard A. Berman, Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, will serve on the Advisory Council on Reform Jewish History and Heritage that will guide the development of programmatic opportunities.  Rabbi Berman noted, "Since the inception of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, our partnership with HUC-JIR has been a priority for our work and a major interest of our devoted Board member, Edward Ackerman. The relationships we have built and the impact we have made on our students over the past five years, has enabled a new generation of our future leaders to affirm the diversity within our Movement today, and to explore our shared heritage as Reform Jews. The Ackerman Chair and new programmatic initiatives illuminating the heritage of American Reform Judaism will further integrate the Society's programs into the culture, curriculum, and spiritual life of the College-Institute."

Edward M. Ackerman has been a member of Temple Emanu-El of Dallas for over fifty years. He is one of the founders of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism and serves on its Board of Directors. He also strongly supports the Holocaust Studies Program at the University of Texas at Dallas.  Ackerman was the founder and general partner of Ackerman Capital Management, Dallas' first hedge fund.

Dr. Gary Phillip Zola is the Executive Director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) and The Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati.  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 founded the AJA in 1947 and defined the field of American Jewish history.

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. Prior to joining the Commission, 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.

Dr. 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. 

Dr. Zola has recently authored a new volume titled We called him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry, A Documentary History (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), and he has co-edited with Marc Dollinger a volume titled American Jewish History: A Source Reader (Brandeis University Press, 2014).He also serves as editor of The Marcus Center’s award-winning semi-annual publication, The American Jewish Archives Journal.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu