Isserman, Ferdinand M.

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ISSERMAN, FERDINAND M. (1898–1972), U.S. Reform rabbi. Isserman was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and immigrated to the United States in 1906. He served in the United States Army during World War i, volunteering for the infantry despite his exemption as a theology student. He received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1919 and his ordination from Hebrew Union College in 1922. He subsequently earned his M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania (1924). Isserman's first pulpit was as assistant rabbi to Rev. Dr. Harry W. *Ettelson at Rodeph Shalom Congregation in Philadelphia (1922–25), following which he served as rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto (1925–29). He made a big impact in that community, leading a campaign against corporal punishment in the city's public schools and organized the first goodwill dinner among Catholics, Protestants, and Jews in Canadian history as well as the first interdenominational Armistice Day service in Toronto. He was also a contributing editor to the Canadian Jewish News. In recognition of his work, an interfaith prize bearing his name was established at the University of Toronto.

In 1929, Isserman became rabbi of Temple Israel in St. Louis, Missouri, where he remained until his retirement in 1963. He brought his ecumenical and social activism with him, as well as a passion to fight racism, which he denounced during weekly broadcasts on a leading St. Louis radio station for nearly 30 years. He was chairman of the Inter-Racial Commission of the *Synagogue Council of America; chairman and organizer of the Social Justice Commission of St. Louis (1930–31); founder and vice chairman of the St. Louis Seminar of Jews and Christians (1929–35); vice president of the Missouri Welfare Board; a member of the national executive committee of the National Conference of Christians and Jews; and a member of the boards of the St. Louis Community Chest and the Urban League of St. Louis. As chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the *Central Conference of American Rabbis (1942–45), he organized and chaired both the Commission's American Institute on Judaism and a Just and Enduring Peace (1942) and the Institute on Judaism and Race Relations (1945). In 1950, he helped organize the ccar's Institute on Reform Jewish Theology Today.

In 1933 and 1934, Isserman, as chairman of the American section of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, traveled on fact-finding missions to Europe and Germany, returning to warn Jews and Americans of the dangers of Nazism. He took a leave of absence from his congregation during World War ii to serve in North Africa with the First Armored Division and American Red Cross Headquarters. He received citations for his volunteerism from the Treasury Department and the Red Cross.

Isserman was involved in scholarship in Missouri and the Reform movement as well. He served on the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College (1930–38) and was a member of the board of the Bible College of the University of Missouri. As president of the University of Missouri's Jewish Student Foundation for more than a decade, he was instrumental in building a chapel for Jewish students there. In 1950, he was elected first president of the joint huc-jir Alumni Association. In 1967, he was honored with the Religious Heritage of America's Regional Clergyman of the Year Award.

In addition to being an editorial contributor to the St. Louis publication Modern View (1929–41), Isserman wrote five books: Sentenced to Death: The Jews of Nazi Germany (1933, rev. 1961); Rebels and Saints: The Social Message of the Prophets of Israel (1933); This Is Judaism (1944); The Jewish Jesus and the Christian Christ (1950); and A Rabbi with the American Red Cross (1958).


K.M. Olitzky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Source-book (1993).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]