Farewell to a mensch

“Fortunately, he retired in the early 1990s,” said his daughter Sivan Maas, “so he had enough time to do so many things.”

July 31, 2019 18:24
2 minute read.
Farewell to a mensch

YAAKOV MALKIN’S most important achievement remains his dedication to creating a local movement fitting his personal identity – that of a secular-humanistic Jew.. (photo credit: PICTURE BY ARTIST FELICE PAZNER MALKIN - 1992; WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Last week, following Yaakov Malkin’s death at the age of 93, friends, former students and family members flocked to the garden of the Malkin house in the German Colony to express condolences to his widow, Feliz, and two children, Irad and Sivan.
Born in Warsaw in 1926, the son of prominent theater and literary critic Dov Ber Malkin, Malkin arrived in Israel at the age of seven. During the War of Independence, he broadcast on the underground radio station “Telem Shamir Boaz,” which became later the Voice of Israel. In 1958, he founded and directed the Beit Rothschild and Beit Hagefen cultural centers in Haifa, which gave rise to the Haifa Cinematheque and later served as the basis for the launching of the Cinematheque in Jerusalem. In 2004, he won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the opening ceremony of the Jerusalem International Film Festival.
Malkin’s most important achievement may have been his dedication to create a local movement that would fit to his personal identity as a secular-humanistic Jew.
“Fortunately, he retired in the early 1990s,” said his daughter Sivan Maas, “so he had enough time to do so many things.” He focused on secular-humanist Jewish culture, publishing a number of books in Hebrew and English on the subject. He was editor of the periodical Yahadut Hofshit (Free Judaism), which was published until 2004, and served as the academic director of the Tmura Institute for Secular-Humanistic Judaism, directed by Maas.
“Secular Jewry knows what it wants,” Malkin used to say, “but it has no clear vision of how to get there. Replacing that confusion with clearly defined principles, objectives and methods is a major task.” For Malkin, secular Judaism was always more serious than a lifestyle choice.
Irad Malkin, his son and an Israel Prize-winning historian, said, “While until the 1967 war we considered ourselves as “Ivrim” (Hebrews) now Israelis define themselves firstly as Jewish – religious, ultra-Orthodox or not. That was not the plan from the beginning. We want to get back to the notion of Ivrim, of Hebrews as a language, a culture, a society – and not reactive the shtetel of the Diaspora.”
At Tmura, Maas trains persons to become secular rabbis, leaders of communities that are not part of the religious stream, but are nevertheless part of the Jewish people, who believe that the human being is at the center, and hence mold new content into old structures. “Synagogues are – etymology at first – a place where people gather together, and that’s what we are talking about” continues Irad.
Interestingly, Malkin had many religious friends and followers who not only were not afraid of his secular world but found in him and his ideology a challenge worthy to listen to.
At the funeral, Orthodox Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg, a close friend of Malkin, said, “I would like to respect Malkin’s memory, a man I love. What is the unique voice of Malkin that I want to preserve and strengthen? It is the voice of a Jew that takes responsibility for his culture, his creation, his identity, his heritage, his future and the future of the coming generations.”

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