It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Richard Siegel, Director Emeritus of the HUC-JIR Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, on July 12 in Los Angeles.
Richard Siegel was a transformative force in the Jewish world, through his commitment to strengthening professional education, enhancing Jewish culture, and advancing contemporary Jewish identity formation. His expertise in nonprofit management, entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity were vital resources for the Zelikow School and its role as one of the premier centers of Jewish professional education. He was dedicated for over four decades to strengthening Jewish American life as an educator, an author, an advocate of Jewish culture and arts, and as a leader.
“Richard Siegel always exhibited the highest qualities of character, vision, and menschlichkeit,” stated Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., HUC-JIR Interim President. “His contributions to American Jewish life and culture as Hillel Director, as author of The Jewish Catalog, as head of the National Foundation of Jewish Culture, and as Director of the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management were legendary. The College-Institute was blessed by his leadership. He will be sorely missed.”
As Interim Director (2007-2009) and Director (2009-2015) of the Zelikow School, Siegel led the transformation of HUC-JIR’s School of Jewish Communal Service, which was established in 1968 as the first Jewish communal service graduate program in America to address the need for more highly trained and Jewishly committed professionals in Jewish life. He created a new strategic plan for the Zelikow School that envisioned a dynamic center for Jewish professional leadership, both in the school’s traditional masters degree graduate program, as well as in a newly conceived program of professional development for Jewish communal professionals already working in the field. He was responsible for its transformation into the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, renamed with a major gift from Marcie and Howard Zelikow that would enable it to broaden its impact, both geographically and across the range of Jewish professional fields, in preparing nonprofit professionals for leadership careers in the Jewish community. Furthermore, as a teacher and a mentor for countless students, Richard played a pivotal role in ensuring the Jewish future by helping to foster the next generation of Jewish leaders.
At the dedication of the Zelikow School on February 8, 2015, he stated, “Now more than ever, Jewish organizations, whether start-ups or legacy institutions, need business-savvy, Jewishly educated, and visionary professional leaders to help them address both the enormous challenges and significant opportunities facing the Jewish world and the broader society.”
Siegel had a distinguished career as a Jewish communal professional, editor, and cultural entrepreneur. He was the Executive Director of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (renamed the Foundation for Jewish Culture) for 16 years and served 28 years at the organization (1978-2006). His work at the Foundation was credited with putting Jewish culture, in general, and the arts, in particular, into the conversation about contemporary Jewish identity. He created the Jewish Endowment for the Arts and Humanities to provide funding support for artists, scholars, and cultural institutions, and he initiated such programs as the Fund for Jewish Documentary Filmmaking, the Fund for New Play Commissions in Jewish Theater, and the 6-Points Fellowships in the Arts. He also organized major national and international conferences and festivals in theater, dance, music, literature and visual arts, and produced several award winning National Public Radio programs. Previously, he was the first Hillel Director at the SUNY at Stony Brook (1974-1978), where he founded the Long Island Jewish Arts Festival, which became the model for similar festivals around the country.
Siegel received an M.A. in Contemporary Jewish Studies (now the Hornstein Program) at Brandeis University in 1972 and an M.A. in Jewish History from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1974. His master’s thesis at Brandeis on “A Theoretical Construct for a Jewish Whole Earth Catalog” was subsequently developed into The Jewish Catalog (JPS, 1973), the best-selling guide to the Jewish counter-culture of the 1960s. His other books included The Jewish Almanac (Bantam Books, 1981) and The Writer in the Jewish Community: An Israel-North America Dialogue (Associated University Press, 1993). He wrote numerous chapters and articles on contemporary Jewish culture, as well as several strategic plans and field studies, including “The Commission Report on the Future of Jewish Culture in America” (2002).
Among his awards and honors were the Bernard Reisman Award for Excellence in Jewish Communal Service from Brandeis University (2002), the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in Cultural Leadership from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (2004), the Career Achievement Award from the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California (JCPSC) (2015), and the Certificate of Recognition at HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles Graduation in 2015, where he presented the Graduation Address.
The HUC-JIR community extends heartfelt condolences to his beloved wife and our esteemed alumna Rabbi Laura Geller ’76, Senior Rabbi Emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, and their children, Andy, Ruth, Josh, and Elana.
The funeral will take place on Sunday, July 15 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90021.
Messages of condolence may be sent to:
Rabbi Laura Geller
10552 Putney Road
Los Angeles, CA 90064
May Richard Siegel’s family find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and may his memory be a source of blessing.