Lipman, Eugene Jay

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LIPMAN, EUGENE JAY (1919–1993), U.S. Reform rabbi. Lipman was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A traditionalist and a Zionist, Lipman would have attended the Jewish Theological Seminary but an interview with its chancellor who asked him only about the nature of his religious observance, and nothing more, alienated him. He went instead to the Hebrew Union College where he was ordained in 1943 and served for a year at Temple Beth-El in Fort Worth, Texas. As a chaplain in the U.S. Army (1944–46, 1950–51) he was instrumental in aiding the flight of Jews from Eastern Europe through Czechoslovakia. Together with such rabbis as Abraham Klausner and Herbert Freidman, Lipman provided enormous support for the seemingly clandestine escape of Jews – Holocaust survivors – into the American and British sectors. He worked with the Russians to transfer the last survivors in Theresienstadt to the U.S. occupation zone. He organized transports of survivors from Prague through Pilsen to Italy, en route to Palestine. He returned as a civilian as liaison officer for the U.S. Army and the Jewish Agency for Palestine, working with the Haganah (1947–48). His role of rescue and his work with the Haganah used to irritate right-wing critics of his more dovish views on Israel in the 1980s, who could not challenge his commitment or match his service. From 1951 to 1961 he was director of the Commission on Social Action and the Commission on Synagogue Activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, where he was instrumental in the establishment of the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C., the arm of the Reform movement in the heart of the American capital where it represents Liberal Judaism and liberalism in the political and social fights of the day. Because of his service in Europe, Rabbi Leo Baeck entrusted the young rabbi with a Megillat Esther that had been read in Theresienstadt. In return he demanded that the megillah be kept in proper order so that it could be read in the synagogue each year and that the story of this megillah – the story of Purim and of Theresienstadt – be told. Lipman complied. Years later when he wanted to make the megillah available for display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, it was for 364 days a year: once a year it had to be returned to a synagogue where it would be read.

From 1961 he was rabbi of Temple Sinai, Washington, d.c., which had been the home of activist liberal rabbis. Lipman was active in every branch of Reform Judaism and also served as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and president of the Washington, d.c. Interfaith Conference, the first interfaith group in the United States which joined Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims. He took pleasure in mentoring young rabbis without regard to their movement or religious affiliation. He wrote Justice and Judaism: The Work of Social Action (1956) and coedited A Tale of Ten Cities: The Triple Ghetto in American Religious Life (1962). A classic scholar, he also edited and translated The Mishnah: Oral Teachings of Judaism (1975).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]