Dr. William Cutter's Eulogy for Dr. Gottschalk

Thursday, October 15, 2009

As we welcome Marc Gottschalk, and Rachel Brenner Gottschalk, I want to open by saying to you, Marc and Rachel, we all share the simple sympathy that is due your family—above all, Alfred Gottschalk was your father, grandfather and friend. 

But today is also a public—indeed—a state occasion.  The Gottschalk family will forgive us this intrusion on their private mourning. 

For many people in this room, the spirit of Alfred-Fred- Gottschalk hovers as the father of our California idea, and as a personal spiritual mentor and advisor. We bear the legacy of Fred Gottschalk’s having carried us from Shai Zeldin’s early initiatives to the reality which has become our advantage.    Our memory is very physical and very specific about a campus and a man. He taught and counseled, and shaped us as professionals.  The campus was, for years, Alfred Gottschalk; but as a man, he was much more than the campus.  He was a kind of father or older brother to many of us.  We stand second to the family in intense private memory.

For others of you here today, younger men and women, Alfred Gottschalk may be mostly institutional spirit and public figure, the man who propelled HUC-JIR towards our new and troubled century with the vision to build in three locations and to enhance a fourth, to ordain women, to create startling academic programs in Jewish Studies, Communal Studies and Education, to bring us together with our great university mentor-colleague to the south, and to deepen roots in our ancient much claimed land with startling buildings and surprising new reach.

It is in the clash of those two understandings of Alfred Gottschalk that his memory is with us today, and in that harmony of a proposed joining of personal moments with institutional monuments --where clash becomes collaboration, that my few remarks will be made this morning.  For Fred Gottschalk built a school that brings us to remember this loss—both institutional and personal, as the institutions he built were for people, and he never forgot that.   All that was received personally, but was involved in institutional greatness, as Dr. Ellenson reminded us in his eulogy-hesped.

It is about the personal that I will comment this morning, Dr. Ellenson has spoken a bit more of the monumental and institutional achievements of the individual human—the great public man who surely had a rich personal side; of the man who led with images of Priest and Prophet before his eyes;  the man whose simple Holocaust story became monument.  So I want to say some more words about the intimate features of the monument.  Having lived through the retrieval of shards of sacred paper from a river, he could never understand those who treated that legacy –that sense of destiny--lightly.  But, having learned the value of mentoring, he also prized the most individualized and practical guidance he could offer any single individual.  Destiny in those cases gave way to concerns for personal growth.

I remember still with great embarrassment and warmth the number of mistakes I managed during my first weeks at work in 1965.  I will brush them lightly only insofar as they tell you about him.  With each mistake or mis-step—whether it was the typewriter I dropped down two escalator flights at the airport when I arrived, or my walking through a glass door on my second day at work, Alfred Gottschalk laughed with me, worked with me, educated and supported me and fearlessly sent me on tasks for which I may not yet have been ready.  One of those tasks was instructing a Hebrew course at USC in my first days here, a course which became the kernel of this great relationship we celebrate even in mourning.  Fred Gottschalk dreamed of the relationship that Dean Barth and President Ellenson executed, and which Reuven Firestone continued; but he was willing to entrust its future to a young man who dropped typewriters and walked through glass doors.  His joy in caring for me as a fledging professional was the equal of the attention he paid in those days to each student.   He had been mentored, too, and he never forgot those mentors:  Whether they were named Stephen S. Wise or Rose Warren. Jeannie Kaufman or Shirley Lasdon—the three executives at our old campus who showed this young man a thing or two, from which he showed me a thing or two.

His caring for individual students and for the welfare of the institution had an interesting consequence that I think should interest you here today.  In the earlier days of Los Angeles—not ancient history, but surely 50 years ago—rarely a famous Jewish intellectual came to town who didn’t make an appearance at our little campus on Appian Way.  Heschel and Kaplan, AMichai and Pagis, Yehoshua and Oz, Cahana-Karmon, Father Berrigan and Elie Wiesel, left and right….Marthe Feuchtwanger the doyenne of the German American community here or her husbaned the writer, Lion; Nachum and Anne Glatzer.   Somehow the greats came to our little lotus scene on the Appian Way, and helped us to aspire to some of their greatness: Band and Funkenstein, Leslau and Ruth Blum.  Gottschalk insisted to his assistant dean that the students could aspire to leadership and excellence only if they saw it in person.   And then there were the little people: Tema and Avrum Zygielbaum, brands from the fires, and Ben Zion Wacholder, genius wrapped in Nazi torture….these were people whom Gottschalk insisted on saving.  And he became their friend, not just their patron.

He taught us the meaning of little things in the serious business of learning; of the importance of a simple cup of coffee in the morning supplied by the school; of caring for the personal lives of each student.  As he became increasingly important on the American Jewish scene, he may have lost some of his comfort with the intimacy of a former time, but by then we were already hooked; we were his fans, and it was too late to give that up. Too many of us loved him and too many of us could not forget what he had given us in that intimacy.   But he was now the President—the object of lese majeste, of  our troubled relationships to leadership, of struggles with siblings.  That gap—between our memory and the reality—sometimes pained him, and he longed to recapture it in his more senior years. Just before the journey that took him to this horrible outcome in Cincinnati [to see his ailing wife], he called me with the simple invitation to take a walk and have a cup of coffee during a trip to New York that I was scheduled to take in December with my wife who had business in the city.  Yet another free cup of coffee awaited me, but -- Fatefully, he never returned to New York from this trip, and we did not meet that December morning.

He returns to us today—both in his institutional glory and in his sweeter private intimacy; and all of us here today fulfill the obligation as we receive the consolation of joining together for our separate memorial tones.  We share the appreciation of father, friend and institutional giant that too often is uttered only when life is gone from the body; a neglect that can be salvaged by our enduring institutional strength, and our constant recall of personal meaning.  We are obligated to recall each important aspect of the Gottschalk who stroke the earth and to thank his family for sharing their portion of him with us.  Because:  His memory belongs to all of us here. 


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