In memoriam: Rabbi Dick Hirsch z"l

With great sadness, the UPJ mourns the passing of Rabbi Richard G Hirsch z"l. We are grateful to Dr John S Levi AC, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne, who wrote the following memorial tribute:  We met first in Washington in 1968. I had read and heard of the Reform Movement's Social Action Center and, after seven year's experience as a rabbi in Australia, I needed to catch up with my colleagues in America and see where we were lacking.

I knew of Dick Hirsch by way of the rabbinic grapevine. We had never met. I arrived in Washington DC as the city was burning. It was the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Embassy Row, where the Social Action Center was to be found, was unapproachable. I spoke to its Director who immediately invited me to stay at his home and to meet Bella his remarkable wife and his children. Those were memorable days. I don't remember finding out about Jewish social action, but I do remember meeting one of the most remarkable rabbinic dynamos I would ever meet.

Dick was a dynamo. He loved people. He loved to be challenged. The week Dick became gravely ill the Torah parashah includes the words "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof Justice Justice you shall pursue". The Torah doesn't waste space and when it repeats the word for justice twice you know its emphasis is not be ignored. Justice is the basic condition for civilised life. And it doesn't say "You shall follow it". It says "You shall pursue" and that is how the Hirsch family ended up in Jerusalem and the World Union for Progressive Judaism joined the World Zionist Movement. And Dick Hirsch built our Israel Movement, our World Movement and the Zionist Movement. And it wasn't easy.

I was lucky enough to be in London when the World Union met at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, next to Lords Cricket Ground in St John's Wood when we voted to join the World Zionist Movement. On that day we made history. To put it mildly the Liberal Jewish synagogue in London was never very enthusiastic about Israel and Zionism. It had been the spiritual home of the Hon Lily Montagu, Dr Claude Montefiore and Rabbi Israel (!) Mattuck. On that day as Arye Dultzin, chairman of the WZO, stood on the bimah and welcomed us into the Movement the angels that sing on high must have been struck dumb. Dick became the rabbi of the Jewish Agency and an office was designated for his use. An office, a Youth Movement, a Theatre and a branch of the Hebrew Union College were built on King David Street.

And Rabbi Hirsch travelled. He brought the Executive of the World Union out to Australia when we formally opened the King David School in Melbourne. With Bella's Russian background he was vitally involved in the creation of the Progressive Movement in the former Soviet Union. He remembered everyone and everything.

His children were his pride and joy and, if you want to see a younger Rabbi Hirsch in action, just look on Google and enjoy the sermons preached by Rabbi Ammi Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Synagogue in Manhattan.

Dick was a loving and loyal friend. He brought us into the Jewish world of tomorrow. His memory will always be a

Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

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