Former President (1971-1996), Chancellor (1996-2000); Chancellor Emeritus;
Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Bible and Jewish Thought;
John and Marianne Slade Professor Emeritus of Jewish Intellectual History
at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Rabbi Dr. Alfred Gottschalk (1930-2009)
Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, former President and Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, passed away on Saturday, September 12, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The funeral took place on Monday, September 14, 2009 at the Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati, OH.
A child refugee from Nazi Germany, Dr. Gottschalk rose to head Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the seminary for Reform Judaism, the largest growing denomination of Judaism in North America. For five decades, he conceived and guided the development and expansion of HUC-JIR’s four campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York into vibrant resource centers of academic excellence for both scholars and laity. His visionary efforts positioned the College-Institute as a preeminent institution of higher Jewish learning for the training of rabbis, cantors, educators, communal professionals, and scholars.
“As a child of the generation of the Holocaust and as one who witnessed the onset of the destruction of European Jewry, I knew that I would devote myself to rebuilding Jewish life,” he wrote. “This has been the key motivation of my life, and my work to advance HUC-JIR as a successor to the great centers of learning destroyed during the Shoah has enabled me to contribute to the regeneration of the Jewish people.”
Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President, stated, “It is with an infinite sense of loss that we mark the passing of our beloved mentor and teacher, Dr. Alfred Gottschalk. He was a builder and pioneer of Reform Judaism and a champion of the Jewish people. An advocate for women’s rights in Judaism, he ordained the first women rabbis in America and Israel. He was the architect of the College-Institute’s campuses in Los Angeles, New York, Jerusalem, and Cincinnati. As a refugee from Nazi Germany who had witnessed the onslaught of the Holocaust, he devoted his life to regenerating Jewish life and learning, and dedicated his energies to the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. An ardent Zionist, his support for Israel was unwavering. His enormous contributions to the shaping of contemporary Judaism for over six decades will endure as a sacred legacy and a source of inspiration.”
Born in Oberwesel, Germany in 1930, Dr. Alfred Gottschalk grew up in a modern, traditionally observant home, attending services with his father, Max, who was the Torah reader, and grandfather, Gustav Gerson, while his mother Erna and grandmother sat in the upstairs women’s section. He was named after an uncle who had fought and died as a German soldier in World War I. Their family’s several hundred-year-long settlement in this small Rhineland area came to an abrupt end with the Nazi onslaught. His father escaped arrest by the Gestapo in 1938, and made his way to safety to New York. Gottschalk and his mother immigrated to America in 1939 after obtaining a special “above the quota” visa to rescue children out of Nazi Europe.
Settling in Brooklyn, Gottschalk attended Boys High School and after graduation helped to support his family as a semi-professional football player when his father succumbed to illness. Gottschalk’s decision by the age of fifteen to become a rabbi was influenced by Rabbi Ralph Silverstein and Cantor Matlin at his Conservative synagogue and the impact of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise’s anti-Hitler orations at meetings of the American Jewish Congress.
He earned a Bachelors degree from Brooklyn College, simultaneously attending the Jewish Institute of Religion’s pre-rabbinic courses, entered HUC-JIR in New York in 1952, and transferred to the Cincinnati campus in 1954. Following his ordination and graduation with honors in 1957, Rabbi Gottschalk joined the faculty and administration of HUC-JIR, becoming the Dean of the California School in 1959. He earned his Ph.D. degree in 1965 from the University of Southern California.
As Dean of the Los Angeles campus (1959-1971), he pioneered the establishment of innovative programs: the School of Jewish Communal Service (the first of its kind in America), the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, the Skirball Museum (the second largest Jewish museum collection in America), and the Magnin School of Graduate Studies.
In 1971 succeeded Dr. Nelson Glueck as President of the College-Institute and for the next twenty-five years led HUC-JIR’s exponential growth of campuses, programs, and enrollment. In 1996 Gottschalk was named to the newly created position of Chancellor, a position he held through 2000.
Gottschalk’s tenure as President (1971-1996) and Chancellor (1996-2000) effected historic milestones. He ordained the first woman rabbi in America (1972), the first woman cantor in America (1975), the first Reform rabbi in Israel (1980), and the first woman rabbi in Israel (1992). The Year-In-Israel program of study in Jerusalem for all first-year rabbinical, education, and cantorial students was made a requirement. The Jerusalem and Cincinnati campuses were renovated and expanded, while the New York campus was relocated and enlarged. The holdings of the American Jewish Archives and the library (the second largest Judaica library in the world) flourished. Through the School of Graduate Studies in Cincinnati and the Doctor of Ministry Program in New York, the College-Institute became a major center for study and research for students of all faiths. HUC-JIR’s network of museums, including the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum in Los Angeles, inaugurated in 1995, greatly extended the HUC-JIR’s cultural outreach. The Jerusalem School, renowned for its archaeological programs, grew into a vibrant center for Progressive Judaism in Israel with the establishment of the Israel Rabbinical Program, advancing religious pluralism throughout the Jewish State. The HUC-UC Ethics Center was designed to serve as a national research center for the application of the Jewish ethical heritage to contemporary problems. Gottschalk forged strong ties between HUC-JIR and its nearby secular academic partners: the University of Southern California, New York University, Hebrew University, and the University of Cincinnati.
Gottschalk was a founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and its Museum since its inception, with appointments by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, President Ronald Reagan in 1993, and President Bill Clinton in 1996. He served on the Executive Committee of the Council and was founding Chairman of both the Education and Academic Committees. Most recently, he served on the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
He served as President of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York (2000-2003), where he initiated and planned the sixty- thousand square foot Robert M. Morgenthau Wing and continued to serve as a Senior Fellow and Trustee.
Professor Gottschalk wrote, edited and translated several books and over one hundred and fifty essays, articles and translations. A recognized authority on the life and philosophy of Ahad Ha'Am who articulated the philosophy of cultural Zionism, one of Gottschalk’s major works was Ahad Ha'Am and the National Spirit, (Hebrew) published in Jerusalem in 1992.
An active participant in civic and religious organizations, Professor Gottschalk served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and the International Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization in Jerusalem. He was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, sitting on its National Advisory Board and Executive Committee. He served on the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
He won numerous honors and awards, including fifteen honorary degrees from colleges and universities, an honorary Fellowship of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the St. Francis Xavier Medal from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio in recognition of his leadership in interfaith activities.
Dr. Alfred Gottschalk conferred with religious leaders and heads of states. He encouraged, taught, and guided the students and faculty members of the College-Institute for nearly sixty years. His leadership of Reform Judaism was characterized as an era of new beginnings, of progress, and of solid academic achievement.
Dr. Gottschalk is survived by his beloved wife, Deanna Zeff Gottschalk. He is also survived by his son Marc and his wife Devora, and their children Atara, Dania, and Sara; and by his daughter Rachel Brenner and her husband J.B. and their children Ethan and Evan. He is also survived by his stepson Charles Frank and his wife Amy Snyder and their children Sam and Avery; and by his stepson Andrew Frank and his wife Dawn Frank, and their children Teddy and Lydia. Dr. Gottschalk is also survived by Marc and Rachel’s mother, Gina Gottschalk, and by beloved extended family and many friends around the world.
Personal Reflections by Dr. Alfred Gottschalk
“As a child of the generation of the Holocaust and as one who witnessed the onset of the destruction of European Jewry, I knew that I would devote myself to rebuilding Jewish life. This has been the key motivation of my life, and my work to advance HUC-JIR as a successor to the great centers of learning destroyed during the Shoah has enabled me to contribute to the regeneration of the Jewish people.
I have truly been fulfilled by my almost sixty years of association with HUC-JIR, as it has flourished as the academic center of Reform Judaism, nourished generations of spiritual and professional leaders, and fostered a liberal Judaism, consonant with modernity, in which the traditions, ethical values, and prophetic message of our faith have meaning in the present and for the future.
From the outset, it has been my intention to transform the institution into a place of warmth and creativity with academic freedom -- to give students the freedom to express their Judaism fully, provide faculty the opportunity to experiment with new course offerings, and to establish a climate of free inquiry in which all members of our community could find maximum expression in the service of our Reform Movement.
My mission has been to be proactive, to anticipate the emerging needs of the Reform Movement and the Jewish people. My goals have been to develop new programs and venues that would embrace a generation whose roots are tenuous, who are “appreciative” Jews rather than committed Jews, who superficially choose between things they “like” or “dislike” in Judaism but who lack a grounding in text, practice, and belief.
HUC-JIR is a complex institution, born out of the “wissenschaft” tradition, the yeshiva heritage where we “learn to teach,” and professional concerns to impart skills and “learn to do.” Between our classical Jewish studies, engagement with modernity, and concern for continuity, our greatest challenge has been to bring all of this together into a vibrant future.
It has been my privilege to encourage women to become Jewish spiritual and professional leaders and to enable them to enjoy full equality in the service of God. I look upon the ordination of Sally Priesand in 1972 as the first woman rabbi in America, investiture of Barbara Ostfeld in 1975 as the first woman cantor, and Naamah Kelman Ezrahi as the first woman rabbi in Israel as historic turning points in the Jewish religion.
Over the years, I have taken pride in the enlarged numbers and enhanced quality of students admitted to all of our programs. I have sought to strengthen our faculty through the appointment of brilliant young scholars distinguished for both their scholarship and their commitment to the life of the Jewish mind.
I have supported the strengthening of HUC-JIR’s text-based core curriculum by innovations addressing the emerging needs of the Reform Movement. New initiatives have included the growth of practical skills training, mentorship programs, chaplaincy and CPE training, the enrichment of students’ spiritual lives and leadership skills, and the application of new technologies towards classical Jewish studies. The goal has always been to strive for academic excellence and cherish the qualities of humaneness and integrity within an environment grounded by reason, faith, and trust.
The future of Reform Jewry and Jewish life in America, Israel, and worldwide depends on the leadership HUC-JIR prepares today. The pressing issues of Jewish literacy and communal participation are central to the maintenance of Jewish consciousness. The universal teachings of Judaism possess great relevance – our traditions of ethics and social justice can inspire tikkun olam, the mending of our world.
I am thankful to all those who have been my partners -- my friends and colleagues in all the arms of the Reform Movement, our alumni, my administration, deans and directors, staff, faculty, students, and Governors and Overseers who have contributed so much. I am grateful to my children Marc and Rachel and their families, for their unfailing support, and my helpmate Deanna Gottschalk, for her devotion, love, and profound belief in HUC-JIR and its great work. The blessing that best expresses my gratitude for these fulfilling, meaningful years is: “I thank you, O God, in that you have set my portion among those who study Torah.”