On Sunday morning, the Reform Jewish Movement lost one of our giants. Rudi E. Scheidt Sr. was 95 years old when he died peacefully at home in Memphis, TN.
His life was long, and it was good. Rudi was a leader’s leader, both in Memphis and well beyond – generous, humble, wise, principled, determined, and joyful, with an ever-present, mischievous twinkle in his eye. And his leadership was felt in every part of our Reform Movement, which he loved with all his heart and soul.
Rudi served as president of his beloved Temple Israel in Memphis and began his leadership on our URJ North American Board of Trustees in 1961; he was also one of the forces behind the creation of URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS. Within the Reform Movement, Rudi is probably best known for creating, along with his beloved wife Honey, the URJ Scheidt Seminar for Congregational Presidents and Presidents-Elect, a Reform Jewish leadership bootcamp for those who lead URJ congregations throughout North America.
Rudi once reflected that there was no such resource when he became president of Temple Israel – so, in partnership with the URJ’s then senior vice-president, Rabbi Lennard Thal, Rudi and Honey created this annual seminar to give congregational presidents the tools they need to effectively lead in our ever-changing Jewish world. Since its founding in 1998, more than 1,700 congregational presidents have participated in the Scheidt Seminar, honing the confidence, skills and inspiration to be impactful Jewish leaders in their communities and beyond.
Rudi left us in the middle of Passover, when we gather to tell the timeless story of our people’s journey from bondage to freedom, from degradation to joy, from darkness to light. Indeed, his life story mirrors the story of our people’s courage and determination throughout Jewish history. He came to this country with his family as a child in the 1930s, thankfully finding refuge from Nazi Germany before the gates were closed. By every measure, his life was successful, as he spent his years ennobling the lives of so many.
Rudi is survived by his wife, Honey Scheidt; children Susan Arney, Helen Gronauer, Rudi Scheidt, Jr. and Elkan Scheidt; along with 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A few years ago, his son Elkan attended a Scheidt Seminar in preparation for serving as president of Temple Israel in Memphis; today, Elkan serves on the URJ North American Board and our Oversight Committee, following in his father’s impressive footsteps while forging a path of his own. Our hearts go out to the entire Scheidt family.
Later this week, we will recite yizkor for those souls whose lives have touched and inspired ours. I know our Reform Movement will honor Rudi E. Scheidt’s memory this week and for years to come.
We thank the Holy One for having sent Rudi into our midst, and we know that his memory will never stop blessing us.