Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, a native of Cleveland and a decades-long spokesperson for the international reform movement, died Aug. 16 in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 94 years old.
Hirsch was the founding director of the Religious Action Center of the Social Justice Division of the Reform Movement in Washington, DC from 1962 to 1973, and walked with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama. He contributed to the adoption of the revolutionary laws of 1964 and 1965 on civil rights.
In 1973, Hirsch moved to Jerusalem and became executive director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. This helped him organize and build the Hebrew Union College campus on King David Street in Jerusalem. He led the International Reform Movement for 26 years and was named Honorary Life President when he retired in 1999.
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch told Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 18. His father was heavily influenced by Cleveland’s leading reformist and staunch Zionist rabbi Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver in the early 20th century.
“He founded two great… ideological institutions of Reform Judaism in the second half of the 20th century,” his son said. “He established the Religious Action Center and advanced the reform movement’s social justice agenda. One of the key decisions of the reform movement in the 20th century was to move the international headquarters of the reform movement to Jerusalem. It was a decision .. “
Born September 5, 1926, son of Bertha (Gasman) and Abe Hirsch, he graduated from Cleveland Heights High School and the University of Cincinnati. He was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
At the age of 13 before the founding of Israel, he competed in and won a national speech competition for the young people of Judea. He was one of the youngest candidates.
“I saw a little cutout of it in the 1939 Cleveland newspaper,” Hirsch said. “He won the first prize and Abahirel Silver was very happy. The subject of his speech was … why the Jewish world should invest in Palestinian settlements.
Additionally, his son said he found a letter Silver wrote to Hirsch in 1949 while Hirsch was studying abroad in Israel at the Hebrew University.
“He was the first student rabbi to study in the new state of Israel,” Hirsch said of his father. “We are pleased to offer a $ 500 scholarship to continue our research at Hebrew University,” Silver said in a letter.
Hirsch was in charge of Camp Schwader in Denver in 1954, and when looking for a nurse to hire, he met his wife, Bella Rosenkweig. She emigrated from Russia to Israel and later came to Denver to see the remains of her family who survived the Holocaust.
“He hired his invisible sight, just the idea of having a nurse from Israel,” Hirsch said of his father. “Six weeks later, they got married.
He called Hirsch an “exciting father”, saying that “there were always people in our house” and that the discussion at the dinner table was “remarkable”.
Rabbi Richard Bloch, who took over Hirsch from the World Union for Progressive Judaism, called Hirsch “one of the most monumental rabbinical figures of the 20th century.”
Brock told him and his wife Susie “warm hospitality” while Hirsch lived in Israel.
“They had a very intimate, loving and respectful relationship,” writes Brock, who heads Temple-Tiferes Israel, where he is the honor of the rabbi. “Bella was an intuitive, thoughtful, straightforward, and kind person in her own right.”
Hirsch sometimes returned to Cleveland for a lecture at the local synagogue.
Rabbi Daniel Roberts, an honored rabbi at the Temple of Emmanuel, now in Orange, University Heights, said he first met Hirsch while a student rabbi in Jerusalem.
“He was a man with a deep sense of vision and social justice,” Roberts told CJN Aug. 17 from his residence in Denver. “The fact that he created the Center for Religious Action in Washington is just one example of the two. Justice is its deep commitment to be the center of Judaism and the center of life itself.
He said Hirsch believed that: So I had a lot of positive feelings about Richard. I knew him, but many others too. I have a lot of praise for him. “
Hirsch maintained a relationship with those close to Cleveland and attended the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for three of the four boys in the Haas family in Shaker Heights for a child who missed out because he was in Russia at the time. I have made similar arrangements.
Jordan Haas said Hirsch spoke about his family at the 1991 Balmitzwa in the chapel of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.
“He spent a lot of time talking about his family and talking about his life and relationships,” Haas told CJN on Aug. 18.
Haas told his family that when Hirsch was a child, his family played a game “on the way to Jerusalem.” He said each person would add an item. The Haas family spent a trip to Israel playing the same game, Haas said, adding that it was a way to attract his younger brother. “It all started when my cousin Dick talked about it during my Bar Mitzvah. “
Hirsch’s wife, Bella, died in 2019. He left four children behind. Dr Ora Hirsch (Dan Walsh) Pesovitz from Detroit, Dr Rafael (Jody) Hirsch from San Francisco and Dr Raviamiel (Alison) Hirsch from New York. Emmet (Arica) Hirsch of Chicago; 11 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren.
Hirsch will be buried in Israel at a later date.