Pressman, Jacob

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PRESSMAN, JACOB (1919– ), U.S. rabbi. Pressman was born in Philadelphia and received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 and began rabbinical studies at New York's Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1944, while still a Seminary student, Pressman assumed spiritual leadership of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, whose rabbi, Ben Zion Bokser, was serving in the war-time chaplaincy. Jacob was ordained in 1945, and in 1946 he relocated to Los Angeles, where he would emerge as one of the key pioneering rabbis in what was to become the second largest Jewish community in the United States.

After serving as assistant rabbi at Sinai Temple after the war, in 1950 Pressman accepted an invitation to become rabbi of a small congregation near Beverly Hills which eventually became Temple Beth Am. With Pressman at the helm, by the mid-1960s the synagogue had grown to become the largest synagogue on the West Side of Los Angeles, with a membership in excess of 1,300 households. He served the synagogue until the 1980s.

As he was establishing himself as one of the leading congregational rabbis in America, Pressman was also playing a significant role in the founding and development of a number of key institutions that served the growing Conservative movement in Southern California, such as the University of Judaism; Camp Ramah in California; the Los Angeles Hebrew High School; the Herzl School, a non-Orthodox junior/senior high school; Akiba Academy, the first Conservative day school in Los Angeles; and a day school at Temple Beth Am, later renamed The Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy, following his retirement.

All the while Pressman remained active in a leadership capacity on a variety of boards and commissions of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council and served as president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and of the Western States Region of the Rabbinical Assembly. Maintaining his commitment to the State of Israel, he moved Temple Beth Am into the forefront of the national Israel Bonds synagogue campaign and eventually became chair of the Southern California Israel Bonds campaign.

On a national level, in the 1960s Pressman helped to create the Save Soviet Jewry movement that brought the plight of Soviet Jewry to the attention of the American public and helped create the program that eventually enabled tens of thousands of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. And, as a supporter of the civil rights movement, in 1965 he joined a group of 293 Southern Californians who walked with Martin Luther King, Jr., to the state capitol building in Montgomery.

In July of 1985, Pressman assumed the title of rabbi emeritus, as he relinquished the reins of spiritual leadership of Temple Beth Am to Rabbi Joel Rembaum. Thus began two decades of continuing community service, including two years as executive director of the local Israel Bonds office in the late 1980s. He remained involved in the affairs of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, serving as chair of its board of governors, among other activities.

Known for his brilliant oratory and penetrating wit, Pressman welcomed the 21st century by embarking on a number of writing projects. In 2002 he published a collection of his sermons on the seminal historical moments of the 20th century, titled Dear Friends. He became a regular columnist for the Beverly Hills Courier.

[Joel Rembaum (2nd ed.)]