Gottschalk, Alfred

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

GOTTSCHALK, ALFRED

GOTTSCHALK, ALFRED (1930– ), chancellor emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Gottschalk was born in Oberwesel, Germany, and immigrated with his family to the United States in August 1939, just weeks prior to World War ii. His parents had been comfortable in Germany as wine, grain, and hide dealers. His grandmother had been one of the first woman mayors in the Weimar Republic. Upon arrival in the United States, his parents worked in the garment industry for seven dollars a week so young Alfred had to peddle newspapers. He entered school without speaking English. By the time he graduated high school, he was a football player, playing semi-pro. Though offered a scholarship to Brandeis and Brown, he chose to stay close to his recently widowed mother. After graduating from Brooklyn College he studied at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, first in New York and later in Cincinnati, where he was ordained in 1957. He was appointed dean of the newly established California School of hucjir in 1959, which served the rapidly expanding Jewish community of Los Angeles and all of California. Concurrently, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Southern California (1965). Gottschalk served as dean until 1971, when he was appointed president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, succeeding Nelson Gleuck, as the sixth president of the college, which had become a four campus facility. Headquartered in Cincinnati, the college has thriving programs in Los Angeles, New York and Jerusalem. He was also the John and Marianne Slade Professor of Jewish Intellectual History. Under his leadership, the college was set on firm financial footing. He ordained the first woman rabbi of the contemporary era in Sally Priesland and opened both the Rabbinical and Cantorial School to women. He established the first school of Jewish Communal Service and also was the first to train Israelis for the Reform rabbinate in Israel. The first Israeli woman Reform rabbi was ordained in 1992.

Leadership of the Reform movement is divided between the congregational arm, which was the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union of Reform Judaism) and The Hebrew Union College. Together with Rabbi Alexander Schindler, another German-Jewish refugee, Gottschalk provided stable and innovative leadership for Reform Jews, which has overtaken the Conservative movement as the allegiance of choice for a plurality of the American Jewish community.

Deeply sensitive to good fortune to be a refugee from Nazi Germany and thus to escape the Holocaust, Gottschalk was appointed in 1979 to the President's Commission on the Holocaust and then in 1980 to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He chaired the council's Academic Committee and stepped in as acting chairman of the council when Elie Wiesel suddenly resigned as chairman in 1986. He brought administrative skill and much needed stability to his brief service. After his retirement from Hebrew Union College in 1996, he served for a time as president of New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. He participated in the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan's second term but was not hesitant to criticize the President over the Bitburg issue.

Gottschalk's main interest is modern Jewish thought, particularly its relation to earlier Jewish sources. He was a leading authority on Aḥad Haam, the leader of cultural Zionism. He contributed articles on this subject to various publications. In addition, he has published Your Future as a RabbiA Calling that Counts (1967; 1989) and Aḥad Ha-Am as Biblical CriticA Profile (1970).