Richard G. Hirsch
Thursday November 19, 2009
A profound Midrash (Mechilta B'shalach) recounts how during all the forty years the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, they carried two shrines with them. One was the Ark ארון ברית ה" which contained the Covenant of the Living God. The other was the coffin which contained the bones of Joseph. The people through whose territory the children of Israel passed asked in wonder: what is so important about this ark of a deceased man that it should be carried alongside the Ark of the Divine Presence, the ever living God?
To which the children of Israel would respond:
המונח בארון זה קיים מה שכתוב במונח בארון זה
"The deceased person, Joseph, who is enshrined in this ark fulfilled in his life time the commandments enshrined in the Ark of the Covenant.
Like his progenitor, Joseph, our cherished colleague Fred Gottschalk fulfilled in his life time the major commandment assumed by every great Jewish leader.
הנציח את עם ישראל ולשמר את מורשת ישראל
To preserve the Jewish people and to perpetuate the Jewish heritage.
Like Joseph, Fred had the vision to see beyond the good years of plenty following World War II, the superficial success of a rapidly expanding American Reform movement with its emerging synagogues, increasing memberships and intensifying religiosity. He had the vision to see that beyond those good years loomed the spiritual and intellectual famine which jeopardized Jewish existence. A Reform Judaism which is not nourished by Jewish peoplehood, not rooted in affinity for the Jewish state, and not enriched by living experiences in the Land of Israel is in danger of diluting Jewish identity.
I have read the meaningful eulogies of Fred which correctly laud him as the master builder of his generation, initiating and erecting campuses in Los Angeles and New York and expanding the campus in Cincinnati. Speaking as his friend and partner, I do not believe that it is deprecatory of his other achievements to state that for Fred these stones glowing with the Gold of Jerusalem were the most precious of all.
Why? Perhaps because the memories of his childhood in Germany and the impact of the Holocaust propelled him to build here. Perhaps because his distinctive attribute of dogged persistence enabled him to gain so much gratification in overcoming interminable bureaucratic delays and frustrations. But I believe that even more important than memory was Fred's Joseph-like vision of the future. Here in our Promised Land, the cultural Zionist aspirations of Achad Ha-am, to whom he devoted his serious scholarly pursuits, would be realized. Here the miracle of modern Israel would enrich the depth and capacity of every professional Jewish leader to serve creatively in the Diaspora. Here, the evolving corps of men and women leaders of our Israel movement would inculcate the values of pluralism and modernity in Israeli society and thereby guarantee the interdependence of Israel and the Diaspora
Our rabbinic sages declared that Jerusalem is מרכז העולם the center of the universe." Fred and I toured this campus together countless times before, during and after the construction. I will never forget those walks with my comrade and the blessing we experienced enhancing the center of the center of the universe.
When Nehemiah returned form Babylonian exile after the destruction of the First Temple, he immediately issued a clarion call to erect the Second Temple.
נקום ובנינו ויחזקו ידיהם לטובה
"Let us rise up and let us build – so they strengthened their hands for the good work" (Nehemiah 2:18)
That is the enduring message we have inherited from Fred Gottschalk's life and career. "Rise up and build and strengthen your hands for the good work."
יהי זכרו ברוך