As many of you know, Dan Cedarbaum spent much of the last ten years running the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood. Dan was a co-founder of the Center and its Executive Director. In truth, he was the center of the Center; the force that made the work possible.
We, the members of the Board of Directors, had the pleasure of working alongside Dan in the planning and execution of the Kaplan Center’s work. Along the way, we gained some insight into Dan as well.
Dan was, at heart, a Jewish studies scholar. His interest in Jewish classical text, Mordecai Kaplan, and modern Jewish life was boundless and he pursued his study of these with energy, seriousness, devotion and passion. Yes, passion! There was true joy and excitement in his voice when he called to share and to discuss something that he, or someone who he hired, found in one of the many Reconstructionist-related archives that Dan explored.
Dan was also, at heart, a lawyer. We’d go back and forth with him on a document and then see that the final version was so much more elegant and precise than what we had suggested. Dan would begin all of our on-line programs by informing participants that the program was being recorded and that their “asking a question or otherwise speaking will be deemed to constitute consent to our recording of what you say and posting it to our website.” He would preface that statement by apologizing for being so “lawyerly”—but the apology was never convincing. The Kaplan Center benefited greatly from Dan’s being so “lawyerly.”
Dan had a gift for networking. When he encountered an article, book or organization that interested him, he reached out to the author or institutional leader and engaged with them. And he often found a way to incorporate that person in a Kaplan Center project. So much of our work was made possible and enriched by the relationships that Dan built.
Dan was open-minded. He was always willing to adapt his vision of a program when shown a convincing argument for approaching it differently and he would seriously consider ideas for projects that were not previously on the Center’s agenda. Dan had not personally engaged much with Jewish educational thought when Jeffrey Schein proposed to him that the Kaplan Center help to initiate and sustain a project to formulate and proliferate a 21st century vision of Kaplanian Jewish education. Dan not only integrated the project into the work of the Center; he attended and actively participated in the many seminars it convened.
Dan was generous with time and money; so many worthy projects would not exist without this generosity. And Dan was gracious. He was careful to thank everyone who contributed to a program and to point out all Kaplan Center Board members participating in one of our events. Although he was the public face of so much of our work, he never intentionally drew attention his way. In fact, he was markedly uncomfortable when one of us would thank him publicly for his work.
Dan: knowing you has been a great blessing. We cannot believe that you are gone. We will cherish forever the conversations that we had with you and the many experiences that you made possible. We will never forget you. We will continue the work of the Kaplan Center; the institution that you created and steered with such intelligence and menschlikhkeit.