Brickner, Balfour 1926-

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BRICKNER, Balfour 1926-

PERSONAL: Born November 18, 1926 in Cleveland, OH; married Barbara Michaels, June 20, 1954 (divorced); married Doris Gottlieb, February 20, 1976 (divorced); children: (first marriage) Barnett, Adam, Elisa (deceased, 1973). Education: University of Cincinnati, B.A. (philosophy), 1948; Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, M.H.L. (rabbi ordination), 1952. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, downhill skiing.

ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Author Mail, Little, Brown & Company, 1271 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020.

CAREER: Rabbi, activist, author, and radio program host. Temple Sinai, Washington, DC, founder and rabbi, 1952-61; United Jewish Appeal, international lecturer, 1952; Jewish Chautauqua Society, American University, Washington, DC, resident lecturer/instructor, 1955-61; National Commission on Social Action, Union of American Hebrew Congregation, co-director, 1961-78; National Department of Religious Affairs, Union of American Hebrew Affairs, director, 1978-c. 97; Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, New York, NY, member, beginning 1980. Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, founding member, 1966-73; New York Clergy—Interreligious Coalition, founding member; Interreligious Coalition for Health Care, member; National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, former board member; Planned Parenthood Federation of America, former board member; Interreligious Affairs Commission, Synogogue Council of America, former chairman; National Religious Cabinet, State of Israel Bonds, member; Religion in American Life, past chairman of mass media committee; International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, member of steering committee; Upper Park Avenue Community Association, cofounder. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1943-46.

AWARDS, HONORS: Merrill Foundation grant, 1961-62; Ohio State award for outstanding religious broadcasting, 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968; Religious Heritage Foundation award, 1968, for broadcasting; Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters, Simpson College, Indianola, IA, 1969; Lilly Foundation grant, 1976-77; honorary doctorate, Tougaloo College.


As Driven Sands: The Arab Refugees, 1948-68, revised by Marc Superstein, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, (New York, NY), 1969.

An Interreligious Guide to Passover and Easter, Commission on Interfaith Activities (New York, NY), 1969.

(With Albert Vorspan) Searching the Prophets for Values, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (New York, NY), 1981.

Finding God in the Garden: Backyard Reflections on Life, Love, and Compost, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.

Author of pamphlets and numerous articles for journals and magazines.

SIDELIGHTS: A longtime Reform Rabbi and social activist, Balfour Brickner has participated in the civil rights, the Vietnam anti-war movement, and abortion rights movement. As a civil rights demonstrator in the South during the 1960s, he was jailed several times. Although he became involved in the Zionist movement while still a teenager, he has been a dove in speaking out against Israeli expansionism and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His many writings—from books to pamphlets to magazine and newspaper articles—focus on activist issues and on religious and philosophical themes. In his book Finding God in the Garden: Backyard Reflections on Life Brickner interweaves talk about his love of gardening with discussions of theology, philosophy, and contemporary issues.

Named after Lord Arthur Balfour and the Balfour Declaration, which was the British government's official declaration that Jewish people could establish a home state in Israel, Brickner grew up in a strong Zionist household. His father was a Reform rabbi in Cleveland and a leading Zionist during the 1920s and 1930s, and his mother was bilingual in Hebrew and English. "I was born with a Zionist spoon in my mouth," Brickner told Andrea Barron in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, adding that, although his parents did not want to live in Palestine, "they wanted to establish a state where all Jews could go if they wanted to." As a result, Brickner became involved in the Zionist movement when he was a teenager.

After serving in World War II, he earned his degree in philosophy and became an ordained Reform rabbi. He eventually founded the Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., and later was voted Rabbi of New York City's Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. In the early 1960s he became involved in the civil rights movement and marched in numerous demonstrations in the South. An opponent of the Vietnam War, he traveled to Paris and secretly met with Viet Cong leaders; he followed up by visiting Vietnam as a member of an interreligious peace delegation. Brickner also hosted the syndicated radio program Adventures in Judaism for several years beginning in the 1960s.

As pointed out by Barron in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, the Brickners fostered a bilingual household and instilled in their children the belief in "the renaissance of the Hebrew language." Despite his years of supporting the Zionist movement, Brickner raised the ire of some Zionists when he spoke out against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June of 1982. Brickner called Lebanon and Palestine "Israel's Vietnam" and, despite criticism from some Jewish factions, has remained on the side of peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Barron pointed out, "if anything Balfour Brickner has demonstrated, it's that he will not take 'marching orders' from anyone."

After his daughter Elisa's death in a car accident in 1973, Brickner experienced a crisis of faith and took up gardening. The hobby eventually renewed his faith: he focused on the wonders of nature while writing down his thoughts in ways that paralleled the struggles of life and the struggles of gardening. Although Brickner's published writings focus primarily on activist and religious issues, he turned his pen toward the general public when he gathered scraps of what he had jotted down while gardening, expanded on them, and published Finding God in the Garden: Backyard Reflections on Life in 2002. Throughout the book, Brickner uses such gardening experiences as the death of a flower to explore a wide variety of topics, from death and God to nature and sex.

A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Brickner can be heavy handed at time, but found him "at his best when extracting gentle parallels between gardening and the spiritual life." The reviewer also noted, "Those who love the natural world and enjoy digging deeper in Jewish Theology in a logical, reasoned way will find much to ponder here." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews said, "Brickner has sharp things to say about patience, memory, and loss, the role of miracles in an orderly universe, and about the interplay of moral, ethical, and factual truths in the pseudo-debate of science versus religion." Carol Haggas, writing in Booklist, commented, "Brickner, as both rabbi and gardener, provides counsel that is scholarly, eloquent, and eminently down-to-earth."



Booklist, August, 2002, Carol Haggas, review of Finding God in the Garden Backyard: Reflections on Life, Love, and Compost, p. 1890.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of Finding God in the Garden Backyard: Reflections on Life, Love, and Compost, p. 780.

New York Times, June 19, 1980, "Wise Free Synagogue Elects Brickner Rabbi," p. D19.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002, review of Finding God in the Garden Backyard: Reflections on Life, Love, and Compost, p. 71.


Time Warner Bookmark, (October 15, 2002), "Rabbi Balfour Brickner."

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, (October 15, 2002), Andrea Barron, "Personality: Rabbi Balfour Brickner."*