Professor Gerald Bubis's Eulogy for Dr. Gottschalk - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Professor Gerald Bubis's Eulogy for Dr. Gottschalk

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tribute To Alfred Gottschalk

Gerald Bubis

          In the 60’s I was the executive director of the Long Beach Jewish Community Center.  Fred and I had never met but had heard of each other.  The summer of the Six Day War proved to be eventful for all of us on many levels.  But it changed my life in unimaginable ways.

          Ruby and I had arrived in Israel a few weeks after the war to attend the first World Seminar for Jewish Communal service professionals.  The program had been organized by Professor Moshe Davis, Director of the Center for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University.  The six weeks seminar proved to be an electrifying one – but that’s another story.  Following the seminar, the first world conference for Jewish communal professions took place at the University. It attracted some 500 professionals from throughout the world.  Fred and I were both in attendance.  We met at an artist’s home in Jerusalem, chatted, compared notes on people we knew, the conference itself and agreed to meet one day in Los Angeles.

          Out of the blue in February, Fred called me.  Over the phone he asked me if I’d be interested in becoming director of a proposed School of Jewish Communal Service.  Intrigued at the thought of a new professional adventure for a few years, I took the job.  Now, forty years later, 21 of which I served as the School’s director, what did I learn from and about Fred Gottschalk?

  • I learned he was a dreamer – schemer.
  • I learned he was a risk-taker. 
  • I learned he protected those he believed in. 
  • I learned of his love and commitment to Jewry, worldwide and especially in Israel.

Let me explain:  In 1964 he had asked a mutual dear friend, Bert Gold, the CEO of all the JCC’s in LA and later CEO of the American Jewish Committee to conduct a feasibility study.  The intention was to demonstrate the need for a School of Jewish Communal Service to be on the LA campus – then a run- down estate in the Hollywood Hills.  It was his vision that the school be open to Jews of any ideology who wished to serve the community in the broadest sense.  Bert’s “study” did not exactly meet the rigorous definition of being a real study.   It really didn’t demonstrate the feasibility of such a program.  It did advocate that a curriculum be developed which would somehow synthesize the study of Jewish values, history and literature while mastering professional skills and methods. The proposed annual“budget”?

$34,000(!!), to cover my salary, secretary and faculty salaries, scholarships, travel, supplies.

          Fred had “sold” President Nelson Glueck on the need for such a program, reminding

him that Isaac Mayer Wise, in founding HUC, had envisioned preparing rabbis, educators and social workers to serve all America Jews.

          I saw the budget and pointed out its unrealistic projections.  Fred’s answer “We’ll worry about that later”.  Not only had he become a bit “duplicitous” but as he pointed out to me at the time, he felt he had a mentor in Shai Zeldin, who had preceded him as dean.  He laughingly recalled that it took him years to recruit the number of students Shai had been reporting as the size of the student body to Nelson Glueck.  He admired Shai for creating “facts” so as to bring a dream into reality.  Fred had “chutzpah” and he took risks, not the least of which was to offer me the position of director..  I had no academic experience.  I had no doctorate.  I was not a Reform Jew.

          He believed in order to “groom” me and give me an opportunity to succeed, that I begin work July, 1968 with a two-week vacation so I would be refreshed.  The biggest and most daring gift followed. Without informing Glueck, Fred asked me to take the following year to build a curriculum, recruit faculty and a student body.  I spent the year reading all I could find about prior schools and programs, traveling to major cities in the U.S. and Canada, consulting with lay and professional leadership as to what they felt a Jewish communal professional should know, value and master by way of comprehensive skills.  I developed a real budget to do all this which he accepted and later once again “sold” to Nelson Glueck.  He urged me to find students for the two summer’s certificate program which I proposed the school begin with. Students were recruited from the field; Secular, Reform, Conservative Reconstructionist, Orthodox one even one Lubavitch.  Money was set aside to give extra scholarship support to observant students for dishes, utensils, Kosher food and the like (at the time for the summer certificate program).  Fred and I agreed on this as matter of principle.  So we began.

                    Early on I wrote an article entitled Brokha Brokers and Power Brokers.  My style was sardonic. The premise was that rabbis possessed knowledge which was portable.  Yet in Jewish public life they had been put into the position of delivering opening and closing blessings at Jewish public events, hence they had become the blessing  dispensers, hence Brokha Brokers.  Federation directors, in turn, were seen as the Power Brokers in Jewish life. It was my premise that they didn’t really understand their power was really institutional more than personal. When they left their positions, that power remained at the job and was not portable.  All hell broke loose. Many rabbis took my article to be an insult to the rabbinate even though my intention had been to demonstrate that the rabbinate were undervalued and underappreciated.  I was accused in print and privately of being a “Trojan Horse”.  By that time our USC-HUC partnership had began to blossom.  Colleagues urged Fred to fire me.  Nelson Glueck pressured him to do so. I did not have tenure, yet Fred resisted all the pressure and supported me unconditionally. There were other situations where faculty and prominent rabbis attempted to close the school, believing it had no place at HUC.  Fred remained resolute.

          He continued to encourage my efforts to educate people to serve in all settings, not just the Reform movement, a practice which continues to this day. When I proposed the Israel Seminar as a required course, he quickly approved the program, even though it was not budgeted. . By the early 1970’s the dual programs with USC began as the first example of the HUC-USC partnership. The partnership of degree programs has since expanded to include five different dual degree options.

          Fred’s passion in raising money for the Los Angeles campus was born of a belief - a strong belief – that HUC needed to be in, and of, the city. When building plans were finalized and the contractor chosen, Fred insisted on sub-contractors from the local community be utilized wherever possible. He wanted to have HUC live the Jewish values of concern for all. When the riots took place, nothing happened to HUC.

          After Fred became president, he continued to support me, the school, my dreams for it.  I know he had many confidants.  I consider myself to be one of them. He shared many of his dreams, concerns, fears and intentions. His passion for the College, for Israel, the Jewish people and the need to help better the world in general never left him. I think his experiences as a football player stood him in good stead. He knew when to stand his ground, make end runs, respect his team mates and his foes.

          Some could say his passion for the College drove him to build physical structures to demonstrate his philosophy. Certainly in Israel, building upon Glueck’s love for Israel, he established a physical presence of substance and permanence. It demonstrated beyond words his belief in Israel and Progressive Judaism.

          Fred gave me the last 40 plus years because he believed in me and dreamed for me far more than I ever dreamed for myself.

          I miss Fred, my friend and fellow dreamer - schemer–

May his memory be a blessing for all of us.

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 leaders to serve 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, museums, 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.