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Israel, Richard J.


ISRAEL, RICHARD J. (1929–2000), U.S. rabbi. Israel received his undergraduate education at the University of Chicago and was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1957, having spent a year of study at a yeshivah in Israel, long before study in Israel was a requirement for Reform ordination and long before Reform Judaism was that open to tradition. He then served as rabbi of the Bene Israel Congregation in Bombay, India. For most of his career Israel worked on college campuses as a *Hillel Foundation assistant director; at ucla and as a director at Yale for 12 years (1959–71). In 1971 he came to Boston as executive director of the Hillel Council of Metropolitan Boston, a position he held for 14 years. He was the director of the Rabbinic Program for the College Campus of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He was also president of the National Association of Hillel Directors and of the Yale Religious Ministry.

In the last years of his life he directed a bureau of Jewish education, the Judaica program of a group of Jewish community centers, and taught at the Jewish communal service program at Brandeis University. He wrote for the Jewish Catalogue. A man of diverse interests and talents, his work The Kosher Pig and Other Curiosities of Modern Life (1994) is a collection of essays on the challenges of living in the contemporary world as a fully committed Jew. He was also a marathon runner and a beekeeper for three decades, which provided the honey he needed for Rosh Hashanah.

His writing used humor to mask its seriousness. Israel's essays are often pragmatic and nonetheless profound. He offers hints on keeping a skullcap (yarmulke) in place on bald heads and writes on the problem of worshipping near people chanting to themselves at different speeds. "It is in the tension between privacy and community," he writes, "that Jewish prayer is located." Other books of his include Jewish Identity Games: A How-To-Do-It Book (1978); The Jewish Mission to the Jews: The Context and Practice of Outreach (1985); The Promised land of Milk and Date and Jam: The Problems of Bee-ing in the Bible and Talmud (1972).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

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