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Nussbaum, Max


NUSSBAUM, MAX (1908–1974) U.S. Reform rabbi and Zionist leader. Nussbaum was born in Suczawa, Bukovina, and was ordained in 1933 at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau, Germany, where he also earned a Ph.D. He served as a rabbi in Berlin until 1940, when he came to the United States at the invitation of Stephen S. *Wise, who had been introduced to the young Zionist activist by Chaim *Weizmann. Immediately upon Nussbaum's arrival in New York, Arthur *Sulzberger dispatched him to Washington, d.c., to brief Secretary of the Treasury Henry *Morgenthau on the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Nussbaum's first position in the United States was as rabbi of Temple Beth Ahaba in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In 1941, he was invited to join the faculty of Oklahoma State University in Norman, where he also founded the Jewish Students' Center, which was converted into the campus Hillel organization; Nussbaum was installed as its first director by Abraham *Sachar.

In 1942, he was appointed rabbi of Temple Israel in Hollywood, California, where he remained until his death. An admirer of Mordecai Kaplan, he formed a Reconstructionist group within the temple, which grew considerably during his tenure. His eloquence also shifted the orientation of the congregation from non-Zionist to pro-Zionist. As the charismatic rabbi of a high-profile congregation in the center of the movie industry, Nussbaum conducted numerous celebrity weddings (including that of Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher) and funerals (Samuel Goldwyn, Al Jolson, Edward G. Robinson, and more). He was one of the first West Coast rabbis to hold the highest offices of major national Jewish organizations, including vice president of the *American Jewish Congress (1946), chairman of the National Executive Committee of the *Zionist Organization of America (1958–62), president of the zoa (1962–65), chairman of the *American Zionist Council (1964–66), and chairman of the American Section of the *World Jewish Congress (1964–68). He also served as president of both the Southern California Association of Liberal Rabbis and the Western Association of Reform Rabbis. A board member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Nussbaum was an active supporter of the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King shared the pulpit with him at one memorable Temple Israel service.

Nussbaum was instrumental in establishing the Los Angeles campus of huc–jir, serving as its first vice president. He was the first West Coast recipient of both the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award (from the State of Israel Bonds Organization) and the zoa's Brandeis Award – shared with his wife Ruth, who became a Zionist leader in her own right as one of the founders of arza (Association of Reform Zionists of America) and a member of the boards of Hadassah, the Jewish National Fund, and the State of Israel Bonds. She was also a leading activist in Youth Aliyah.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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