A great thinker and teacher

Seymour Fox died suddenly on July 10. Friendship doesn't depend on the frequency of meetings but the depth of feelings.

By DAVID FINN
July 13, 2006 12:45
3 minute read.
A great thinker and teacher

Seymour Fox 88. (photo credit: )

Seymour Fox died suddenly on July 10. He had gotten up early in the morning, as he often did, went for a walk as he liked to do, returned, had a sudden heart attack and died. That morning I lost one of my closest friends for more than 40 years. We met when Seymour was the head of Camp Ramah and the assistant to the Chancellor Jewish Theological Seminary, my uncle, Rabbi Louis Finkelstein. Seymour had graduated from the seminary's rabbinical school and had a Ph.D from the University of Chicago. He was a few years younger than me but I knew him to be one of the most brilliant men I had ever known. We soon became the best of friends and remained so through all these years, despite the distances between Jerusalem and New York. Seymour rightly said that friendship doesn't depend on the frequency of meetings but the depth of feelings. After Seymour decided to move to Israel he became the chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Soon after, he met Mort Mandel and became the major intellectual leader of the extraordinary Mandel Foundation education programs in Israel and the US. Together with his brilliant three sons and his devoted wife, Sue, his personal as well as his professional relationships were a model of a profoundly meaningful life. ONE OF the most challenging projects for which Seymour was responsible was organizing activities in the early 1980s to re-examine the state of Jewish education in North America and to project a new plan on how to revitalize it. It was an unprecedented enterprise, and I had the privilege of working with Seymour and Annette Hochstein (who upon his retirement a short time ago succeeded him in his leadership position), to produce the historic publication called A Time to Act. A commission had been set up with Mort Mandel as chairman, that consisted of 43 Jewish intellectual and lay leaders, including the heads of Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, as well as the heads of major foundations, and key scholars from different universities. The basic issue the commission was set up to address was Jewish survival and relevance. How could a deep knowledge and appreciation of great Jewish thinking best be taught to the next generation? At a time when increasing numbers of Jews were unaffiliated with any of the four movements, could a serious understanding of Jewish thought and commitment ensure the future of the Jewish people? With intermarriage in America rising to unprecedented heights, what new initiatives could be taken so that young people would understand the significance of Jewish continuity? How could the level of teachers in Jewish schools be raised to new heights? SCHOLARLY papers on the state of Jewish education had been prepared and a series of conferences by the participants met several times to discuss show these issues could be addressed. The discussions at the conferences were recorded and transcribed. Seymour, Annette and I spent several weeks going over hundreds of pages of materials to put together a summary of what took place. The report presented a detailed plan on how the remarkable Mandel Foundation could create models that could change the course of Jewish education in North America and enable it to rise to much greater heights in the years ahead. A Time to Act was published in 1984, and in the following 22 years, under the guidance of Mort Mandel and the intellectual leadership of Seymour Fox, unprecedented activities were launched to achieve the goals that had been formulated. One of Seymour's most remarkable and rare characteristics was his extraordinary modesty. His friends and colleagues knew him to be one of the most brilliant scholars and thinkers of our time, and yet he never sought the fame he deserved. His modesty was like those ancient great rabbis who wanted their works not their names remembered. Typically, in A Time to Act and many other outstanding scholarly works for which he was responsible, his name only appears in small print or in appendices. Seymour, among many other blessings he bestowed on me, also found the time to be a positive influence on my children. His amazing approach in reference to Jewish continuity helped my family and I believe in the Jewish People as a whole. Seymour's contributions to creating the understanding and methods to ensure Jewish continuity are a part of his great legacy that will live on for many years to come. The writer is a public relations professional.


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