We have lost one of the great Jewish leaders of our generation... Being in his presence was a joy; hearing him speak was a delight. His soaring vision brought us to new heights, and he will be sorely missed."
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations On the death of Rabbi Alexander Schindler
Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler Dies at 75; Past President of the UAHC Changed the Face of Judaism
NOVEMBER 15, 2000 - Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the last half of the 20th century, died of a heart attack early Wednesday morning at his home in Westport, Connecticut. He was 75.
The immediate past president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Schindler served as President of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and Vice President of the World Jewish Congress at the time of his death.
As President of the UAHC from 1973 to 1996, Reform Judaism's main governing body, Rabbi Schindler built the movement into one of the most vigorous forces in American religious life. He was renowned for his unrelenting commitment to issues of peace, social justice, and equality.
"We have lost one of the great Jewish leaders of our generation," said Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, Rabbi Schindler?s successor as President of the UAHC. "Alex Schindler was an Ohev Yisrael?a lover of the people of Israel.
"Many disagreed with Alex, some from within his movement and many outside of his movement, Yoffie said. "But Jews everywhere, liberal and conservative, Orthodox and Hasidic, American and Israeli, loved and cherished him. Being in his presence was a joy; hearing him speak was a delight. His soaring vision brought us to new heights, and he will be sorely missed."
Viewing Judaism as a dynamic faith that evolves through its dialogue with tradition, Rabbi Schindler insisted particularly on the necessity of recognizing the full equality of women in Jewish religious life. He was an outspoken proponent of the rights of gays and lesbian Jews to full participation in the synagogue, including the right to rabbinical ordination. His concern for those who are disadvantaged has led him to encourage Reform congregations to provide facilities for the hearing impaired and other physically challenged congregants.
In response to the increasing rate of intermarriage among American Jews, Rabbi Schindler devised his controversial "Outreach" program, which has been on-going since 1978 and which challenges Jews to become "champions of Judaism," reversing the 500 year-old tradition that discouraged Jewish missionary activity. Rather than banish the Jew who chooses to marry a non-Jewish spouse, Rabbi Schindler argued that the Jewish community should welcome that spouse into the synagogue through programs designed to encourage the intermarried couple to embrace Judaism as a spiritual path and way of life. Similarly Rabbi Schindler broke with the age-old tradition of considering only the children of Jewish mothers to be Jews; for Schindler, patrilineal descent may be considered equal to matrilineal descent so long as the children of the marriage are reared as Jews. His stance was endorsed by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), and has become normative for the preponderant majority of America's Jews, cutting across all denominational lines.
Rabbi Schindler's achievements in the political arena were also impressive. From 1976 to 1978 he served as Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the representative coalition of leading Jewish secular and religious bodies which functions as liaison between the governments of Israel and of the United States. He became a confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who hailed him in for his "courageous and outstanding leadership" and as one "who has written his name into the pages of the Jewish people's story of freedom, dignity and strength." His dedication to this work led to his being awarded the coveted Bublik Prize of Hebrew University, an honor bestowed previously on Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Harry S. Truman, among others.
Rabbi Schindler?s religious commitments and insight were captured in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, a major work published under his aegis when he served as the UAHC's National Director of Education. It is the first Torah Commentary to have been written from a Reform perspective. Acting on his belief that the Jewish people face a mandate to seek the peace and betterment of the communities in which they live, he consistently buttressed the extensive work of Reform Judaism's social action program and its Religious Action Center in Washington D.C. His lifelong efforts to secure equal rights for Liberal Jews in Israel culminated in the establishment of ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America), the Zionist arm of the Reform movement.
Since retiring from the UAHC, Rabbi Schindler served as the lay leader of the Memorial Foundation, an international body dedicated to the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life around the world after the Shoah, and as Co-Chairman on the Commission on East-West Relations for the World Jewish Congress.
Born in Germany in 1925, Schindler fled the Nazis with his family, arriving in the U.S. when he was 12. As a corporal in the U.S. Army, he earned the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and three combat ribbons for bravery in action as a ski-trooper in Europe. After his discharge from the army, Schindler resumed his education, graduating from the College of the City of New York in 1949. He studied for the rabbinate at the Hebrew Union College ? Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where he graduated as a Master of Hebrew Letters and with a rabbinical ordination in 1953.
From 1953 to 1959, Rabbi Schindler was the rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1959, he left the pulpit to become director of the UAHC New England regional office and in 1963 he became the national director of education of the UAHC. In 1967, Rabbi Schindler became the vice president of the UAHC and in 1973 its president.
Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin hailed him for his "courageous and outstanding leadership." For his services to the Jewish people, he was awarded the Bublick Prize by the Hebrew University in 1978.
Rabbi Schindler has also received honorary doctorates from several American colleges and universities, including the University of South Carolina, Lafayette and Hamilton colleges, and the College of the Holy Cross. In Israel, 500,000 trees were planted by the Jewish National Fund in the Schindler Forest.
Funeral services will be held at Temple Israel in Westport at 11 a.m. Friday, November 17.
Rabbi Schindler is survived by his wife Rhea and their children Elisa, Debra, Joshua, Jonathan, and Rabbi Judith Schindler, and nine grandchildren, as well as, his sister, Eva Oles, of Highland Park, NJ.