Gerald Bubis, Founder of the School of Jewish Communal Service, now Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, passed away this summer. Jerry taught and mentored generations of HUC-JIR students, altering their professional lives and the field of Jewish communal service. His students and family reflect on his impact:
David and I have been asked more times than we could count, "What is it like to have Jerry Bubis as your father?" As we often would joke, having Bubis as your last name was like being wanted by the mob: you could run but you couldn't hide. Once, years ago, I was visiting a friend in Pittsburgh. He introduced me to someone who, after learning that my name was Deena Bubis, said, "Bubis is a famous name. And I don't mean Martin Buber."
It's been said countless times that dad was larger than life. And it was true. His massive record of achievements and accomplishments testified to his impact and his import. He was awarded honorary doctorates by the Univeristy of Minnesota and by HUC-JIR. He defied criticism and attacks, and fought valiantly for a progressive and peaceful Israel. He hugged King Hussein of Jordan, and to this day I believe that the King hugged him back.
Yes, he was larger than life, and his life was huge. He inspired and led and taught and directed thousands of people in thousands of ways around the world. But to us, his family, his life was small and humble and so magnificently ordinary.
He played clarinet in his high school marching band. He grew up with a Christmas tree in his home. His favorite job in his entire life was directing Council Camp in the woods of northern Minnesota in the early fities - not because he got to plan its significant Jewish content, not because he got to supervise staff, but because he got to lead the singing. He was a great dancer - no small accomplishment for a man with size 13 feet. He introduced me to the genius of Glenn Miller, and Jonathan Winters, and Bob and Ray. (If you're too young to know who they are, Google them when you get home. It's worth it.) And he was a hell of a poker player. Can I get an amen, Norm Fishman?
Ask me what he was like as a father, and the first thing I will tell you is that he was so damn funny. Once when we were kids, we ran into Soupy Sales, who was the King of Comedy in America at that time. (You may have to do more Googling, but again - worth it.) Dad made a characteristically hysterical comment, with his typical spot-on timing, that made Soupy Sales double over with laughter.
In truth, his sense of humor was fundamental to the way that we learned from him. He didn't actually teach us, but we learned just about everything that was imporatnt from him. His humor provided a way for him to bring advice and counsel into our lives in a way that didn't offend or alienate us, but was more powerful and profound than any lecture. Years ago, I was living in Seattle, and shortly after becoming single, I began to receive notices about Los Angeles job openings from dad. There weren't any notes or comments attached, but it was clear that he wanted me to move back to LA. After this went on for a few weeks, I finally called dad and asked him what the deal was with these job notices. In typical Jerry fashion he replied "Who am I to withhold information from you?" That's how he gave me advice and direction, and I know it's not an accident that because of his brilliantly humorous touch, his advice has stayed with me throughout my life, along with his way of delivering it.
And although he was overwhelmingly opinionated about virtually everything in this stratosphere, when we would come to him asking what to do about a certain matter, dad would more often than not answer by saying, "Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle..." As a rule, he didn't even need to finish the sentence, but the message was clear that we would be figuring out the answer on our own. In fact, one of dad's favorite pieces of advice, which was a simple yet profound relfection of his basic faith in the innate wisdom in each of us, was "listen to your kishkes." I use that almost everyday.
The Jerry who belonged to the world - the scholar, the Jewish communal leader, the visionary for Israel - was literally flooded with recognition, accolades, and titles. They all meant a great deal to him, but for the man who belonged to us, the titles that meant the most to him by far were "Jerrilah," as Mom called him; "Dad," as he was to David and me; and the most precous of all, "Zaida," as he was so lovingly called by Molly, Jonathan, and Hannah.
So what is it like to have Jerry Bubis as a father? It started and ended - literally - with being adored by him. Our happiness, our welfare, our well-being always trumped his own. Even when he was dying, he tried to make sure that we weren't worried or distressed. One day in April, when his health had declined so horribly and we knew we would be losing him soon, I stood by the hospital bed, which had been moved into the bedroom a few weeks before. With my heart in my throat, I asked this pale, weak, failing person, "Dad, are you comfortable?" And my dad, Jerry Bubis, answered, "I make a good living."
All of you are here today because he inspired, and challenged, and moved, and taught you. It was incredible, wasn't it? But I must tell you, to have been loved by Jerry Bubis - that was something truly spectacular. I'm so lucky that he raised me, and made me laugh, and made me stretch, and made me think. And I'm so lucky that he loved me. I love you, too, dad.
Deena Libman is the Development Manager, Women's Philanthropy at Jewish Federation of San Diego County and the daughter of Jerry and Ruby Bubis.
Thank you all for being here to honor my dad. Your presence here is a comfort for my family and me. While his passing is a tremendous loss, I want to make sure that we all celebrate his life, his accomplishments and who he was in our lives, and who he will continue to be as we remember him and all that he stood for.
My dad had many passions that defined him. He pursued each of his loves vigorously, with purpose, focus and determination. His accomplishments and many achievements were shaped by those passions. Here are the great loves that stick out for me. He loved the Jewish community. He was shaped by it in his troubled youth in Minneapolis; his connections and relationships within the community supplemented his family life with his sister and mother…and provided him with a second home, which he never left. In a way, he spent his entire adult life giving back to the Jewish community because it gave so much to him in his formative years.
He loved Israel. Ever since his first of 45-plus trips to Israel in the summer of 1967, my dad was hooked. He fully grasped the import, centrality, and permanent bond that Israel held for all Jews the world over. It was where he, on many levels, was most at home. His deep friendships that he and my mother developed over the years with many academics, politicians and activists, as well as artists, community workers and others, gave him a deep sense of both belonging and meaning. It also provided him with the perspective to join the peace camp in Israel early on…and his relationships there provided him with the support and guidance to stick with his principles and continue to be active in that cause throughout his life.
He loved Judaism. The deep set of ethics, values, and morals of Jewish teachings infused my dad’s work and life. The rhythm of the Jewish calendar was followed weekly and seasonally, which helped create the framework of his life and our family’s life. He respected the deep well of wisdom embodied by Judaism and embraced it with a full heart and mind. In turn, he taught his children and grandchildren how to love its numerous gifts.
He loved his students. Besides his family, dad’s greatest pleasure was developing, nurturing, and maintaining deep and abiding relationships with his hundreds of students world-wide. I was so taken in my teenage years watching my dad with his eager HUC-JIR students that I eventually decided to become one myself…while weird on some levels, it was so enriching in other ways. Dad was a terrific teacher in and out of the classroom. Not only did he impart information and wisdom in the more didactic sense, he demonstrated what it means to be a respectful and open colleague. He learned from his students as much as he taught them.
My Dad loved his friends and colleagues. He made time for them, in person, by phone and email. He constantly sought personal and professional guidance, stimulation, as well as just plain fun from many, many people here, around the country and the world. His warmth, genuine caring and interest in others were an example I hold high.
My Dad loved to laugh…loud and long and clear. He had a perverse sense of humor, known by some but not by all. He loved receiving particularly off-color jokes from a not-to-be named co-conspirator, who is here today. He loved the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen and Mr. Magoo. He was able to laugh at the absurdities of life while also maintaining his more serious and engaged side of his personality. I will so miss his laugh and his smile.
My dad loved his family, always and unconditionally. In the latter two decades of his life, in particular, he expressed how important all of his family - his sister, children, grandchildren, and their spouses, as well as the remainder of his extended family were at the center of his life. We were his greatest blessing, as he liked to say. We all felt blessed by his love and his encouragement and wisdom, always.
Dad loved me…certainly not to be overlooked. While he was somewhat absent during my formative years because of his dedication to his work, he realized in his latter years the error of this unbalanced approach to life. He apologized to me repeatedly and came to grips with his mistakes. This took great strength and guts and I was and am so moved by his brave efforts in doing so. Ultimately, we became much closer as a result and for that I am extraordinarily grateful.
Finally, dad loved Ruby – the center of his existence. Ruby was his life-partner in the truest sense of the word. He created the ultimate role model in treating and respecting his spouse as “more precious than rubies.” That relationship will always provide me with an amazing inspiration as to how to comport oneself in a true life-partnership.
My dad will continue to inspire me on too many levels to count because of his deep loves and passions – his indomitable spirit and strength of character. I am deeply blessed and amazingly lucky to have had him as my father. I will miss him every day of my life. May his memory be a source of comfort, strength and inspiration for us all.
David Bubis is President at D.A.Bubis Consulting and the son of Jerry and Ruby Bubis.
August 23, 2015
Although I have known for some time that the time to write this letter could come any time, I am still so sad to find that the time has come. My heart is heavy at the loss of this true giant of a man, but at the same time there are so many things to celebrate in a life lived well and with meaning.
I first met Jerry at a CJF General Assembly when I was a senior in university. There was a session for students who were considering careers in Jewish communal service. Jerry was direct with his advice – take some time before graduate school and get some life experience. It was great advice which I took. Perhaps more important it focused me on the HUC Communal Service program as a serious possibility.
My two years at HUC provided countless opportunities for interaction with Jerry. He was deeply involved with the full scope of the program and with all the students. And through him we were exposed to the breadth of the Jewish communal world – locally in Los Angeles, and literally around the world. These were days when the field of Jewish communal service was still be built as a distinctive field. Jerry was right in the thick of it through his role in creating the HUC-JIR communal service program, by building partnerships with other institutions of higher learning, by publishing, and by providing leadership to the national professional association.
I won’t detail further here his many contributions to the field; others have documented that well. What I can share is what it meant to be one of Jerry’s students. It meant you were noticed by the giants of the Jewish communal field – lay and professional. It meant that people thought you should be taken seriously. It meant you had committed yourself to a life and career of purpose, and had learned from one of the masters.
Traveling with Jerry to Israel opened us up to the complexity of issues related to Israel. He modeled how you could be passionately in love with the country and still critical of specific policies. There was nothing passive about Jerry’s teaching style – he confronted the big issues of the day and encouraged us to do so as well. If you disagreed with him - and many of his students did - he encouraged you to challenge him and argue back.
From Jerry we learned that concepts like ‘Jewish family’ and ‘Jewish community’ are more than social constructs. They are also values that could be lived and modeled for others. What made Jerry such an extraordinary educational leader was how everything he taught, he also modeled personally.
Of course, getting to know Jerry at HUC-JIR also meant getting to know the Bubis family, and most especially, getting to know you. Sharing his relationship with you and your children was part of how he taught about and modeled ‘Jewish family’. You and Jerry were, in every sense, full partners, and we got to learn from you right alongside Jerry. You may not have had a faculty position at HUC-JIR, but I don’t know of anyone who studied at HUC-JIR during Jerry’s tenure who didn’t consider you an integral part of the whole experience.
Maintaining a relationship with the College allowed me to stay connected with Jerry and you over the many years since I graduated. When my family moved to Vancouver we opened a new connection as I met Jerry’s sister and your family, and I had the chance to host you in our home there.
A few years ago, when I was bestowed an honorary degree by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, we had the chance to spend time visiting with you both, this time with my children. The chance to introduce my children to Jerry and you, who had played such a formative role in early professional development, was a truly special moment in my life.
The past number of years took their physical toll but it was extraordinary to me how the essential vitality, passion and intellect that characterized the Jerry I knew was still intact, even in our last visit. He was still excited about the ways in which you and he were connected to community despite your physical limitations. He was still full of critiques about the organized Jewish community. He was still deeply interested in what was going on with me, and what I thought about the state of the world, Israel, our field. He was still teaching and challenging me to be the best communal professional I could be.
I will carry that challenge with me always.
Leah joins me in sharing the deep loss that you and your family, and that our Jewish world feel at this time. Please extend our condolences to David, Deena, and Joyce.
Mark Gurvis is the Executive Vice President at The Jewish Federations of North America.
Da Lifnei mi atah omed- Know before whom you stand ( Brachot 28b), or said as a “Bubisism”- Know with whom you are having the pleasure.
I am humbled to attempt to capture the essence of my teacher and mentor - Jerry Bubis. Much like the second log of the first summer as a first year student in the double masters program of HUC-JIR and USC’s School of Social Work, in 1983, I find that I have thought through a thousand thoughts and experiences and am struggling to pick the right words and examples to illustrate what matters most in honoring Jerry’s memory. I can still remember the profound confusion as to what a log was supposed to be or do and desperately wanted to get it right- whatever “right” meant in such an endeavor. And absolutely, I wanted to make sure to find every typo and grammatical error- and that never happened as my weary eyes and old Smith Corona Selectric with eraser cartridge (yes, a typewriter) would almost always fail me and Jerry would always notice. What I learned through the struggle was that the log was the instrument through which Jerry created an enduring dialogue with us, his students. He inculcated a way of thinking, questioning and hypothesizing that I know has stayed with most of us as we continue to work in community. Jerry knew that as a group of graduate students, we also needed to experience what it was to be part of an inspired community with its complexities and possibilities. A key element in his vision for the SJCS (Now ZSJNM) was to foster such a learning community so that we would fan out across the globe to create and enrich Jews and Jewish life.
Because I was fortunate to work at HUC-JIR from 1992-2007, Jerry and I continued the log format in spoken dialogue up through the last weeks of his life. It never failed that Jerry would ask just the right question that would trigger deeper and increasingly textured thinking. He modeled for me through decades of ongoing conversation that when you strip away all of the trappings from the work that we do- you must know and be true to your values and guard your integrity- and all of this of course, must be in the context of “knowing with whom you are having the pleasure”- that knowing and respecting the “other” was the foundation of any endeavor because for us as Jews, transformation happens in community and through our sense of the holy. He taught me that there is always another path to walk, another intervention to try, another conversation to be had, that this sacred work must always be an elevating factor in our lives and the lives we touch. Together, we discussed, mulled over and yes, very often, disagreed with each other- challenging each other and uplifting each other.
How does one capture the man of so many words, ideas, foresight and who always taught in his stocking feet? One does not, I think. Rather, we carry on the visioning, innovation and inspiration. We carry on the dialogue- with each other and silently with Jerry. We allow his magic of pushing us to unimagined heights with humor and elegance to the point that you don’t realize you have been so encouraged. We mentor each other, we honor ourselves and the work that we do and we try to find that crystal ball that Jerry seemed to have in his back pocket right next to the spare kippah he always carried. Because you see, Jerry captured so many of us- sometimes with incredible intensity and sometimes with great gentleness. Jerry knew before whom he stood and I feel blessed that Jerry really knew me and I, him. May his example perpetually move us to take the extra time and care to get to “know with whom we are having the pleasure,” as in that we experience the Buberian “I-thou” - sensing both awe and transformation in the process - Jerry dreamt of nothing less.
Marla Eglash Abraham is the Director of Development at the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles.
In Fall 2009, Marla Eglash Abraham and Dr. Steven Winmdueller interviewed Gerald and Ruby Bubis. Read their interview, which is published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (Vol. 84, No. 3/4, pg 173-180) and posted on the Berman Jewish Policy Archive.