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Detroit News, The (MI) - July 6, 1999

Deceased Name: Rabbi Hertz led fight for justice: Prominent national and Metro Detroit leader dies at age 82

WEST BLOOMFIELD -- Rabbi Richard C. Hertz was a voice of outrage during the hunt for Nazi war criminals, a voice of hope for Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain and a voice of equality in Detroit race relations.

For more than 40 years, the leader of Temple Beth El was one of the most-prominent voices of Judaism in Metro Detroit.

Rabbi Hertz died Saturday after a 20-month struggle from the complications of a stroke. He was 82.

"He was a brilliant rabbi and a brilliant man," said former congregant Stanley Winkelman. "He was bold, and he was willing to stick his neck out for what he believed in."

Rabbi Hertz's beliefs led him behind the Iron Curtain for a firsthand look at how Jews were treated in the former Soviet Union. They led him to preach a 1957 Rosh Hashana sermon that condemned Arkansas' attempts to block black students from an all-white school, a sermon that raised eyebrows at the time.

Even after retirement in 1982, Rabbi Hertz remained one of Metro Detroit's most-active Jewish leaders, serving on numerous local boards, including the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, the Economic Club of Detroit and the Jewish Community Council. Earlier, he served on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and was among Detroit's leading voices for racial equality during the 1960s, working with other clergy members to end discrimination in housing and hiring.

Donations from his supporters led to the creation of an endowed chair in religious studies in his name at the University of Detroit Mercy, where he taught at least two classes a semester until falling ill in 1997.

Particularly popular were his classes on the Holocaust and modern European Jewish History, said Gloria Albrecht, chair of the university's religious studies department.

"He had a long, rich personal history that really involved the history of the modern world," Albrecht said. "Here he was in his 80s teaching students in their 20s. It was incredible to see the kind of rapport he had with the students."

Rabbi Hertz wrote six books on Judaism and made frequent guest appearances on an ABC Radio program, The Message of Israel.

He came to Metro Detroit from Chicago in 1952, where he had earned his doctorate in religious education from Northwestern University.

He took a short break from his growing congregation when President Eisenhower sent him on a secret mission to the former Soviet Union.

The president was preparing for his 1959 summit with Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev and wanted a true report on how Jews were treated behind the Iron Curtain. He selected the former World War II chaplain for the mission.

"It was the first time we got information on how the Jews were being treated ... I went there to make a difference for my people. It is all I've ever wanted to do with my life," Rabbi Hertz told The News in a 1991 interview.

It wouldn't be the last time a world leader beckoned and Rabbi Hertz answered the call.

In 1963, Pope Paul VI, who wanted to strengthen his church's ties with the Jewish world, summoned Rabbi Hertz to Rome. He was the first American rabbi to visit the Vatican.

"He was very interested in building ties to every part of the community, especially the Roman Catholic Community," said Winkelman, who also served with Rabbi Hertz on the board of the Detroit Economic Club.

As Rabbi Hertz's involvement in Metro Detroit grew, so did his congregation and influence.

In 1977, he called on his congregation to remain focused on the hunt for the people responsible for the Holocaust.

Closer to home, he joined other clergy to speak out against discriminatory practices in housing and hiring practices. The clergy's group called itself "Project Equality."

When a race riot rocked Detroit in 1967, Rabbi Hertz's synagogue remained unscathed.

"I'd like to think it was because of the years we spent opposing racism," Hertz said in an interview.

But he conceded that the riot and other forces led to demographic shifts that forced the move of the synagogue from Woodward and Gladstone to West Bloomfield.

Rena Hertz, who married Rabbi Hertz in 1972, said her husband was insistent that the new temple be unparalleled in its beauty. He sought out Japanese architect Minora Yamasaki, who designed Japan's Kyoto Temple and New York City's World Trade Center to design the new Temple Beth El.

His retirement service was attended by more than 1,300 business and political leaders.

Two years ago, Rabbi Hertz's stroke forced him to use a wheelchair, but he continued to make plans to return to teaching.

His wife said Rabbi Hertz convinced himself he would recover enough to return to the classroom.

"I don't think he envisioned that anything could stop him," Albrecht said. "Up until the end, he talked about coming back. For us, it's an incredible loss."

Detroit News, The (MI)
Date: July 6, 1999
Author: Wayne Woolley The Detroit News
Edition: Final
Page: 1D
Record Number: det3000251

 

 

 

 

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