DISTINGUISHED PHILANTHROPIST ADVANCED ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH, REFORM SEMINARY’S CAMPUS AND PROGRAMS IN ISRAEL, AND JEWISH ART
Richard J. Scheuer, Chairman Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and the Jewish Museum in New York, died November 7, 2008 at the age of 91 years. The funeral took place at Larchmont Temple on November 10, 2008.
“Richard Scheuer’s mission to advance liberal Judaism in a pluralistic, Jewish State of Israel – a mission grounded in his passion for biblical history and archaeological research and publication – shaped his vision for the expansion of our Jerusalem campus, the growth of our Israeli rabbinical and education programs, and the launching of the Tali school system for pluralistic education in Israel. His devotion to the College-Institute, commitment to the State of Israel, and love for the Jewish people as well as his intellectual curiosity, generous spirit, and warm and kind heart will endure as an abiding source of inspiration,” said Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President.
Born prematurely on July 14, 1917 in Long Lake, New York, where his parents were vacationing at the Sagamore Hotel, Dick Scheuer was a prominent figure in Jewish communal and cultural affairs. A real estate management, construction, development, and rehabilitation executive associated with City and Suburban Homes Company of New York City who served as Chairman of the Board of the East River Management Corporation, he devoted much of his time to philanthropic work. He graduated from the Fieldston School and Harvard University, Class of 1939, where he majored in classics. Thirty years later, his interest in ancient history led him to earn an M.A. at N.Y.U. During World War II, he enlisted and served as an officer in the Army in the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces Signal Intelligence Service, where he worked with a British squadron in Southern Italy to intercept and decode enemy messages.
Scheuer served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion from 1983 to 1990, sustaining his family’s multi-generational association with HUC-JIR. A member of the Board of Governors since 1962, he chaired the Jerusalem School Building Committee for nearly forty years and also chaired the Library, Archives, and Museum Committee. Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, former HUC-JIR President (1971-1996) and HUC-JIR Chancellor Emeritus, wrote about Scheuer, saying “Richard Scheuer was deeply concerned about the Jewish people and its destiny, and about Israel and its relationship to the Diaspora, and cared deeply about Zionism and its implications for education.”
His association with the Jerusalem School began in the 1960s, at the request of then President Nelson Glueck. In 1970, as Chairman of the Jerusalem School Committee, he initiated efforts to acquire three acres adjoining the original campus at 13 King David Street. Together with Moshe Safdie as architect, he was the principal figure in developing the master plan and expansion of HUC-JIR's Jerusalem campus. He presided over the dedication ceremonies in 1986 of its multiple buildings, arcades, and courtyards of Jerusalem stone overlooking the Old City which encompassed a new library, classrooms and student lounges, an archaeological museum and research facilities, and a youth hostel. The campus was featured in the Venice Biennale of 1991 as one of the preeminent architectural achievements of that period. ”Working with Richard Scheuer on Hebrew Union College was an enduring and unique experience, for he set the standard for what a proactive client and friend can achieve. He was above all a warm, enthusiastic, always youthful, inquisitive human being,” said Moshe Safdie.
In 1970 he supported the initiation of HUC-JIR’s “Year-In-Israel Program,” which enabled all first-year rabbinical students to spend their first year of study in Jerusalem. He supported the creation of a kindergarten on the campus in 1987, which grew to an off-site elementary school and high school, and helped launch Israel’s Tali network of over 120 public-secular schools and preschools committed to providing a pluralistic education to Israel’s non-observant majority, for which he was honored by the Jerusalem Municipality in 2005. He established the Richard and Joan Scheuer Prize in Jewish Art and Architecture for original research in these disciplines at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, and also provided the funds for that campus’s outreach education on Judaism and Islam, Hebrew and Judaic ulpan for immigrants, continuing education, and training for teachers in the Israeli school system.
Scheuer sustained the Interfaith Fellows Program at HUC-JIR’s School of Graduate Studies in Cincinnati, which had been established by his father, S.H. Scheuer, a member of the New York Board of Overseers of HUC-JIR; this program supported the doctoral studies of interfaith students at HUC-JIR preparing to teach at Christian theological seminaries, colleges, or universities. He also supported the 1977-79 construction of HUC-JIR’s New York campus designed by Max Abramovitz, adjacent to New York University, when it moved downtown from its original building on West 68th Street.
Scheuer’s interest in biblical archaeology was sparked by his experience as a member of an expedition to Israel led by Dr. Nelson Glueck, President of HUC-JIR from 1947 to 1971 and a renowned archaeologist. Scheuer was active in archaeology for four decades, supporting the work of HUC-JIR’s Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology and serving on the boards of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. He funded HUC-JIR’s important digs at Tel Gezer and Tel Dan, among others, and archaeological publications on these and other excavations. “Dick Scheuer’s dedication to the publication of archaeological excavations is a legacy that will continue to have a major impact on archaeological research in Israel far into the future,” said Sy Gitin, Dorot Director and Professor of Archaeology, Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. “Inspired by his good friend Nelson Glueck, he believed that if it wasn’t published, it was as if it was never excavated. Scheuer’s long-term support of the publication of the Tell Gezer excavations is but one example.”
An ardent lover of scholarship, Scheuer helped create the Nelson Glueck Chair at HUC-JIR and provided research travel grants for faculty. He served as Special Assistant to the President of HUC-JIR for the Jerusalem Campus during 1996-2000.
Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek awarded him the highest tribute, Ne’eman Yerushalayim (Honorary Fellow of the City of Jerusalem), for his many services to that city, on March 10, 1988. In the citation, Mayor Kollek lauded Scheuer for “enriching the cultural and recreational life of Israel and Jerusalem,” “for having endowed and established in Jerusalem a center of formal and informal education serving rabbis, cantors, educators, and youth from Israel and abroad,” for enhancing “the status of Jerusalem as the spiritual center of world Jewry,” and for enabling “generations of Jewish students and Jerusalemites and visitors from every corner of the world to participate in educational and cultural programs which enrich their lives and perpetuate Jewish tradition.”
He received the Doctor of Humane Letters degree from HUC-JIR in 1991, for his “devotion to the Jewish people, dedication to learning and scholarship, loyalty to liberal Judaism, and nurturing of the roots of Reform Judaism in Israel,” and was honored with the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s International Humanitarian Award in 2002. When he received the Doctor of Humane Letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1984, he noted “Both the Reform and Conservative movements are working to adapt tradition, practice, and education in ways that will enhance Jewish identity and Jewish community as we move towards the 21st century. There are very positive aspects to the competition between our two trends. Non-orthodox Judaism is stronger and more innovative than it would be if it were monolithic. We have common interests in seeking to bolster the position of our rabbis working in the land of Israel and in trying to hold back some of the more destructive pressures of Jewish religious extremism. Our common presence in Israel has given heart to those working for greater religious tolerance and understanding.” This spirit led him to be an early supporter of the Abraham J. Heschel School, a pluralistic Jewish day school in Manhattan, supporting the vision of Peter Geffen and Rebecca Shahmoon Shanok for a school building when the school was only in its second year and had approximately twenty-eight students, including his eldest grandson.
Scheuer’s love for Jewish art and architecture, and support for Jewish cultural institutions was based on the belief that “In a world of flux, Jewish museums help young and old build a sense of history, a sense of self, and a sense of direction.” As Chairman of the Jewish Museum in New York (1971-1979), he was instrumental, with its director Joy Ungerleider, in reorienting the museum toward a focus on Jewish art and history. Under their stewardship, the museum assembled an outstanding staff of curators and educators who contributed widely to scholarship in Jewish cultural and social history. Subsequently, as its President and under the leadership of Joan Rosenbaum, he helped invigorate that institution’s physical expansion and public outreach. He was a supporter of HUC-JIR’s Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, initiated the Art Committee for HUC-JIR’s New York campus, and served on the HUC-JIR Museum Advisory Committee until his death, supporting exhibitions of contemporary artists expressing Jewish themes. In 1979 he helped launch the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), linking Jewish museums throughout North America.
He served on the Visiting Committee of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at Harvard. Israel President Chaim Herzog appointed him as Chairman of the Board of Regents of the International Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization, which develops curricula and textbooks for college level courses, and he served in that capacity for many years. As a long-time resident of Larchmont, N.Y., he helped build the local Democratic Party and served as Village Trustee. He was also a member of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council in New York City. He served as HUC-JIR’s representative on the Rabbinic Placement Commission of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
A member of Beach Point Yacht Club, Scheuer and his wife, Joan, raced a 210 class sailboat on Long Island Sound, and spent many summers sailing the New England coast. He leaves his wife, Joan, their sons Daniel and Jonathan (Debra), their daughter Marian Sofaer (Abraham), and eleven grandchildren, Michael, Helen, Joseph, Aaron, Raphael, Benjamin, Adam, Simon, Matthew, Alexander and Hannah. Their daughter Barbara died in 1952 at the age of seventeen months. Their son, Richard Scheuer, Jr., who was married to Sylvia Bezem, died in 1996. Richard Scheuer was the eldest of five siblings, James, a 13-term New York Congressman, and Walter, who predeceased him, and Steven and Amy Scheuer Cohen, who survive him.
For Rabbi David Ellenson’s eulogy, visit http://www.huc.edu/newspubs/pressroom/article.php?pressroomid=37.
For Rabbi Naamah Kelman’s eulogy, visit http://www.huc.edu/newspubs/pressroom/article.php?pressroomid=39.