Polish, David

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POLISH, DAVID (1910–1995), U.S. Reform rabbi, Zionist leader. Polish (pronounced like the household product, not the country) was born in Cleveland and received a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1931. In 1934, he was ordained at Hebrew Union College, where he earned a D.H.L. in 1942 and was awarded an honorary D.D. in 1959. Already an outspoken Zionist at the time of his ordination, Polish was told by a Reform movement then indifferent (if not hostile) to Zionism that he would not be employed. Nevertheless, he became the rabbi of Congregation of Judah in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1934–39), where he formed a statewide Zionist organization. After serving as director of the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation at Cornell University (1939–42) and rabbi of Temple Israel in Waterbury, Connecticut (1942–47), he assumed the pulpit of Temple Mizpah in Chicago, Illinois, where he introduced *seliḥot services to the congregation, sparking interest in a traditional practice that was soon adopted by other Reform congregations. Polish became influential in the so-called neo-traditional movement, in which Reform Jews recovered many traditions and customs that the movement had earlier discarded; his 1957 book Guide for Reform Jews emphasized the importance of mitzvot in Reform Jewish observance.

In 1950, the still controversial Polish left Temple Mizpah to form Beth Emet – The Free Synagogue in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, named and modeled after the original Free Synagogue in New York City and conceived in the principle that the pulpit was free, i.e., the rabbi could sermonize about whatever he wanted to without fear of being dictated to by the lay leaders. Polish went on to reorganize the Chicago Rabbinical Association into the Chicago Board of Rabbis, serving as its first president (1958–60) and doing the same for the Chicago Board of Reform Rabbis. He was the first rabbi in Chicago – indeed, one of the first rabbis in the country – to invite Martin Luther King, Jr., to address his congregation: in early 1958, King, then 29, dined at the rabbi's home, spoke on the "Desirability of Being Maladjusted" and then slept at the temple, because he could not find a suitable hotel. In 1965, Polish joined King in his march for peace from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Polish enjoyed the support of his congregants not only for his civil rights activism but also for his energetic advocacy of Zionism. At the urging of Stephen S. *Wise, he served as national chairman of the Committee on Unity for Palestine (1947), as well as president of the Chicago Zionist Federation (1975–76). He furthered the cause of Zionism in the *Central Conference of American Rabbis as a member of the executive board (1945–47; 1967–69; 1973–75), as well as chairman of the ccar Committee on Projects for Palestine (1948). He also chaired the Committees on Liturgy (1959–61), Rabbinic Training (1967–69), the Future of the Rabbinate and the Synagogue (1969–72), Jewish Organizations (1973–75) and the Rabbi's Manual Committee (1986). He represented the ccar at the Prime Minister's Conference in Jerusalem in 1968, where he delivered an address in Hebrew, and planned the first ccar conference in Jerusalem in 1970. Symbolic of the triumph of his many years of lobbying the organization on behalf of Zionism and embracing tradition, he was elected vice president (1969) and then president of the ccar (1971–73). During his tenure in office, the ccar became a member of the World Jewish Congress (1972) and embarked on a series of dialogues with the *kibbutz movement in Israel, resulting in the establishment in the *Aravah of kibbutz Yahel (1977) and kibbutz Lotan (1983), both comprising young American olim and sabras and affiliated with Reform Judaism. As president, he testified before the U.S. Congress in favor of home rule for the District of Columbia (1972); he was later cited in the Salt II Treaty of 1979. In 1977, Polish was a founder of the Association of Reform Zionists of America and author of arza's Statement of Principles.

In 1980, Polish retired from Beth Emet, retaining the title founding rabbi, which he preferred to emeritus. He taught that year at the Los Angeles campus of huc-jir and subsequently at Northwestern University, where he was instrumental in establishing the Philip and Ethel *Klutznick Chair of Jewish Civilization in 1986. The senior editorial writer for the Chicago Jewish Sentinel, Polish was the author of nine books, including Higher Freedom, which won the Frank and Ethel S. Cohen Award from the Jewish Book Council of America in 1966 as an outstanding work in the field of Jewish thought. His major works are A Guide for Reform Jews (with Doppelt, 1957), The Eternal Dissent (1961), The Higher Freedom: A New Turning Point in Jewish History (1965), IsraelNation and People (1975), Renew Our Days: The Zionist Issue in Reform Judaism (1976, based on his 1973 monograph "Are Reform and Zionism Compatible?"), (1989), and Abraham's Gamble: Selected Sermons for Our Times (1988). He also edited The Reform Rabbi's Manual (1988) for the ccar.


The Nearprint Files of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]