Rabbi Manny Goldsmith Tributes

The Kaplan Center joins the family and many communities touched by Rabbi Goldsmith in mourning his death and celebrating his life. He was a student, disciple, and colleague of Mordecai Kaplan of the highest order.

In this folder, you will find four different tributes to his life:

  • an obituary shared by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association,
  • a tribute to him written by his children
  • a letter from Kaplan Center Board Member Jack Wolofsky about his decades-long relationship with “Manny”
  • and a tribute from Mel Scult, Vice President and Academic Advisor for The Kaplan Center.

Later in the year, The Kaplan Center will publish several of Rabbi Goldsmith’s most seminal articles about Judaism and Democracy as part of a project with The Jewish Partisanship for Democracy, A More Perfect Union.

Rabbi Dr. Emanuel S. Goldsmith (8/15/1935-1/5/2024) was a scholar of Yiddish literature, interpreter of Reconstructionism, teacher of Judaism, and musical composer, who inspired students and congregants with his love of Jewish life in all its forms. He taught on the faculties of Brandeis University, the University of Connecticut, and Queens College. Dr. Goldsmith authored and edited many books and articles, including Modern Yiddish Culture, Dynamic Judaism, and Yiddish Literature in America 1870-2000. He also served on the boards of directors of the Congress for Jewish Culture, the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies at Bar Ilan University, and the Highland Institute for American Religious Thought. Dr. Goldsmith led congregations in Halifax NS (Shaar Shalom Congregation), Hyde Park MA (Adas Hadrath Israel) and Scarsdale NY (Mevakshei Derech). He was predeceased by his beloved wife Shirley (Zebberman) and her son Garry, and survived by children Mirele (Richard Marker), Leizer (Sharon Bray), Rachel (Howard Ungar), and step-children Beila Sherman, Dawn Rosen (Sam z”l), Miryawm Faerman (Hillel), Tova Sherman (Joe Lang), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

May Manny’s memory be a blessing and may those who mourn his passing find comfort among loving community.

What a journey our father took over his lifetime.  In many ways he lived out a classic Jewish story, starting out as the child of immigrants in the Bronx, making the most of the opportunities America offered, entering the professional class and passing on his good fortune to his children.  In other ways he remained a child of that immigrant milieu until the end of his life.  The through line in Manny’s life is his love for Judaism, Jewish life and the Jewish People. 

Manny’s father was raised in the Yishuv in Palestine.  Hayim came to America to escape the Turkish draft in the First World War.  He was proud of having attended the first modern, Hebrew-speaking school in Jerusalem, the Lemmel School. Hayim went to high school with Moshe Nathanson, credited (some say inaccurately) with composing Hava Nagila.  Hayim’s enthusiasm for Nathanson’s music had an enduring impact on Manny, who treasured his mixtapes of this music until the end.  Jewish music became one of his great passions – others being Yiddish, Reconstructionism, Theology and Philosophy.

Manny’s parents were ardent Zionists who read The Tog – a Zionist Yiddish newspaper that competed with the better-known Forward. Manny remembered his father taking him to many political meetings, exposing him to the vibrant Jewish atmosphere of New York City. He recalled collecting money for the Yishuv on the subway and sending packages to family in Jerusalem during the war.  His parents were also active members of two landsmanshaften (mutual aid society).

Manny’s mother came with her family from Ukraine to Minneapolis.  Manny met his grandparents only a couple of times – his parents were too poor and too tied down by their little Bronx grocery store to make the trip to Minneapolis.  On one such trip Manny’s grandfather played a cantorial record for him – another important musical moment.  Like many immigrant parents, Manny’s parents wanted him to learn English, but they took him to the Yiddish theater and listened to Yiddish radio.  Later, Manny used to say that he took up Yiddish to become closer to his mother.

The New York public schools nurtured Manny’s outgoing personality and love of performing. He liked to tell how he always played Santa at Christmas time because he was a round little boy.  He learned to play piano – or maybe he just played by ear – and toured as the “Hava Nagila Kid.”  He attended New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts and performed the lead role in a long-running show put on in Hebrew (HaOtsar B’meara – the Treasure in the Cave) by the Jewish Board of Education for Hebrew school classes.  Manny followed a Jewish educational path that is hard to imagine today: He attended Willets Avenue Talmud Torah, the Marshalliya Jewish High School, and then the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). 

Manny was fortunate to receive a world-class education, courtesy of New York City.  While at City College, Manny heard a lecture by Dr. Max Weinreich– one of the founders of YIVO who took refuge in America– about the Yiddish language.  After a chance encounter on the subway, Manny became so enamored with Dr. Weinreich that he vowed to take all of Weinreich’s classes. This was the start of his career as a scholar of Yiddish literature.

Manny realized that his future lay in the Rabbinate and not on Broadway.  At JTS he encountered Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, another teacher who changed his life. With his usual dramatic flair, he would tell the story of how he picked up Kaplan’s book, The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, and threw it down immediately upon reading the first paragraph.  He said that as a person training to be a rabbi, he was shocked that Kaplan wrote that the traditional view of God had no relevance to modern Jews.  But then, he would say, he picked the book back up because he was curious.  Manny began attending services at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism. Ultimately, he became a close student of Kaplan’s, including working for him as editor of The Reconstructionist journal, and indeed becoming a key interpreter and teacher of Kaplan’s ideas. Later, Manny expanded his scholarship in religious naturalism by drawing on the work of Protestant theologian Henry Nelson Weiman. Manny was particularly proud that he was accepted into the fellowship of Christian scholars at the Highlands Institute as a result of this work, and frequently enjoyed attending its annual conferences.

While at JTS, Manny met and married Karen Merdinger, who was studying at the JTS Teachers Institute, headed at the time by Kaplan. Together they embraced Kaplan’s vision of Judaism as a civilization in their own life.  During this time, Manny was approached to record an album of Shabbat prayers and songs for the purpose of teaching students learning Hebrew with the newly popular Israeli accent. He composed some original music and conducted a choir of Seminary students to record the album, titled “Beloved of Days.”  Just a few years ago one of his compositions, Chai Hashem, was re-recorded by local musician Chaim Fruchter.  He also performed with Theodore Bikel on the album Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Folk Songs.

Following graduation, Manny and Karen – now Kayla,  went to Israel where Manny hoped to pursue a PhD. Although that didn’t work out, they came home with their first child, Mirele.  Manny remained an ardent lover of the State of Israel and returned there many times. 

Manny took a position as the Rabbi of Shaar Shalom Congregation in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Leizer and Rachel were born.  Manny and Kayla became fast friends with Shirley and Dave Sherman and their family. Many years later Manny and Shirley married and Shirley’s children, Beila, Garry, Dawn, Miryawm and Tova became Manny’s as well. While living in Halifax in May 1963, Bull Connor unleashed his dogs and water cannons against peaceful civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Manny, a lifelong supporter of civil rights, traveled to Birmingham as a representative of the Rabbinical Assembly to stand in solidarity with Black leaders and the civil rights movement. He told the Halifax Mail-Star that: “We wanted to translate our religious beliefs and values into action. . . We wanted to practice what we preach about freedom, equality and human dignity.” While in Birmingham, the rabbis stayed at the A. G. Gaston Motel, which was then bombed two days after they left. Manny participated with other rabbis in a private meeting with King, the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins, and other leaders, in which the rabbis continued to express support. When a colleague raised the issue of Black anti-semitism with King, King’s forceful and unequivocal response that it was to be eradicated so moved Manny that he mentioned it many times thereafter.  He said at the time that Dr. King was “a great religious leader, for whom I have only the greatest admiration.” True-to-form, after the Black and Jewish leaders had exchanged songs of love and freedom, he said he “heard God” in  the “songs and prayers of freedom he heard in the Black churches.” He was later awarded life membership in the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

After Halifax and short stints in New York and Washington DC– where they taught the Confirmation and Post Confirmation classes at Adas Israel– Manny and Kayla moved to Brookline, Massachusetts and Manny earned his PhD at Brandeis University.  His PhD thesis on the Czernowitz Conference on Yiddish– a pivotal moment in Jewish intellectual history– became an instant classic in the field.  While a student, Manny made a living leading several congregations part-time.  He loved to tell how he once held 3 rabbinic gigs simultaneously: one Reform, one Conservative, and the third Orthodox. Ultimately, he remained the rabbi of Congregation Adas Hadrath Israel in Hyde Park – the Conservative congregation– even after moving away from the Boston area.  In 1990, the congregation honored him for twenty inspiring years of service.

Manny taught at the University of Connecticut and then moved to Queens College, as Professor of Yiddish and Jewish studies.  While in Queens he took on editing Yiddish Literature in America 1870-2000. This huge two-volume anthology was a project of the Congress for Jewish Culture and was to be carried out by a committee. As time went on, many of the committee members passed away.  Manny completed this major work by working with the proofreader of the Yiddish Forward and the cover artist. 

Manny also recorded an album  “I Love Yiddish” on which he recites Yiddish poetry, sings and plays the piano.  This is a wonderful snapshot of his love of Yiddish Language and Culture.

Manny married Shirley in 1982.  After her divorce, Shirley had made aliyah and took a job as a social worker in Jerusalem.  Manny went to Israel to visit and propose.  Shirley was surprised when he asked her to marry him.  It was just before Passover and Shirley promised to wind up her affairs in Israel and join Manny in New York by Seder.  Shirley encouraged Manny to accept a position as the part-time Rabbi of Reconstructionist Congregation M’vakshei Derech in Scarsdale NY, which he held until retirement.  

Manny and Shirley moved to Ring House at the end of 2009.  For the first year they faithfully attended B’nai Israel Congregation where Rachel was working.  Manny and Shirley then found their home at Adat Shalom where the Rabbis appreciated his mini-sermons offered from his seat in the congregation. He continued to teach and inspire, delivering lectures that were co-sponsored by Adat Shalom.  When he could no longer lecture, he began delivering programs on Jewish music for Ring House residents. He was able to indulge his bibliomania by rebuilding the library he had sold upon retirement by purchasing secondhand books, and to enjoy his extensive music collection, movies curated by Shirley, and time with his grandchildren.  After Shirley died, Manny was fortunate to receive loving care at Brightview and finally at Larmax Group Homes.

When Manny was declining he would repeat his famous one-liner about Judaism and his worldview.  He was particularly fond of saying, “Judaism is ethics wrapped up in beautiful traditions.”  Manny’s enthusiasm for Judaism, loyalty to the Jewish People, and enjoyment of Jewish life was the essence of his being. He was blessed to be able to devote his life to this passion, fulfilling the beautiful words of the Psalms: “One thing do I ask of God, it is this that I seek: to live in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold God’s sweetness and frequent God’s house.” (Psalm 27:4)

Rabbi Dr. Emanuel S. Goldsmith (8/15/1935-1/5/2024) was a scholar of Yiddish literature, interpreter of Reconstructionism, teacher of Judaism, and musical composer, who inspired students and congregants with his love of Jewish life in all its forms. He taught on the faculties of Brandeis University, the University of Connecticut, and Queens College. Dr. Goldsmith authored and edited many books and articles, including Modern Yiddish Culture, Dynamic Judaism, and Yiddish Literature in America 1870-2000. He also served on the boards of directors of the Congress for Jewish Culture, the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies at Bar Ilan University, and the Highland Institute for American Religious Thought. 

Dr. Goldsmith led congregations in Halifax NS (Shaar Shalom Congregation), Hyde Park MA (Adas Hadrath Israel) and Scarsdale NY (Mevakshei Derech). He was predeceased by his beloved wife Shirley (Zebberman) and her son Garry, and survived by children Mirele (Richard Marker), Leizer (Sharon Bray), Rachel (Howard Ungar), and step-children Beila Sherman, Dawn Rosen (Sam z”l), Miryawm Faerman (Hillel), Tova Sherman (Joe Lang), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

For Manny

How does one usually choose a friend, a teacher, a mentor? 

I first met Manny at a Reconstructionist convention in Montreal in 1967. Manny led the Friday night service by starting with the Aaron Zeitlin poem “Praise me, says God, and I will know that you love me”. He recited it in Yiddish. I was moved. This changed my understanding of a synagogue service. Yiddish could and should be used to enhance the experience. I introduced myself to Manny, and expressed my gratitude for his use of mama loshen in the service. His response was that Yiddish is part of the Jewish civilization and should be incorporated into all synagogue services. I was left thinking. That Sunday, at a plenary session, the question of starting a Reconstructionist college where Kaplanian thought and teaching could be promulgated was discussed. It was Manny who championed the idea against the wishes of those who felt that starting a college would take too much energy away from The Reconstructionist magazine. Manny’s erudite persistence prevailed, and we all know the result.

I renewed my acquaintance with Manny when he came to Montreal as the principal of the brand new Bialik High School, a high school where Yiddish was being taught and where my children would eventually graduate. We’d meet frequently back then, mostly in Yiddish bookstores. He’d pull out books from the shelves and INSIST they needed to be part of my library. Each book would be explained and championed for their implications in our lives. Our friendship grew as did our arguments. But, so did my learning from his teachings. His knowledge was vast in both civil society and Yiddish-Jewish civilization. Manny became my mentor.

On Saturday nights his Yiddish music abilities shone. We would sit at our piano and sing Yiddish songs together. He and I were the only ones who knew and sang Lewandowski’s ”Ha Mavdil” and boy, would we sing it with gusto! 

Manny had a great sense of humor. He realized that to lead a service and keep his congregations interested, he needed to tell a joke. Shirley secretly told me Manny would keep a Jewish joke book hidden behind his siddur when he was sitting on the pulpit –but not leading the service. 

At Mirelle and Richard’s wedding, Manny put on a clown suit, danced, sang and MC’ed the evening as the shtetl Badkhn would have done in days gone by.

Manny’s Judaism was a commitment to justice for all. He insisted I see or read Matthew Lopez’s play “The Whipping Man.”  The thoughts and ideas expressed in the play about freedom, slavery and democracy were important, he told me, for every Jew, not only for their personal lives, but particularly in their relationships to other oppressed populations. He taught me that!

In Florida, he brought me to a concert by Emil Gorovets, a Yiddish singer who at the time had just left Soviet Ukraine. He sang the songs of the murdered poets, which of course, lead Manny to an hours-long conversation with Gorovets about the fate of Jewish poets, artists and doctors under Stalin. True to Manny’s personality, after that discussion, we made our way to Jewish bookstore where he insisted I buy every book about Stalin’s Russian that had ever been printed. 

His sense of justice and humor also extended to the intolerance of our own kind. When Shirley’s daughter Miriam and Hillel were married in an ultraorthodox wedding, Manny was called up for a Sheva brocha as Mr. Goldsmith. The officiant’s unwillingness to recognize Manny’s semicha didn’t deter him. Once on the bima, he looked at his counterpart and replied, “it’s Rabbi Doctor Emmanuel Goldsmith.”

It didn’t long for Manny to be recognized by the cognoscenti world. 

Manny organized Kaplan conferences at Queens College and as well, was invited to attend conferences convened by others to speak on Kaplanian ideas.

Because of Manny’s research on and writings about Henry Nelson Weiman, he was invited to attend the Highland Institute conferences where he presented and was engaged. Both Manny and Shirley related the stimulation and the joy they experienced there. 

Manny taught Yiddish at Oxford University summer school in England.

These encounters often lead to important scholarship and influence upon others:

After attending a conference convened by Rafiel Patie, Manny and Patie published a two-volume anthology on “Modern Jewish Thought and Thinkers.”

When Manny attended the International Conference of Yiddish Theater groups in Montreal, he gave a genius erudite analysis of a Jewish movie. When he was finished, a fellow lecture attendee offered, “That’s why I took his lectures at Queens College, and that’s why I became a professor of Jewish studies.”

When Manny worked on his two volumes of “Yiddish Literature in America-1870-2000,”  he called me to ask if I could get him pictures of the Montreal writers Korn, Elberg, Ravitch, and Rosenfarb. How could I refuse? As I knew them all, I took the time to locate them and get what Manny wanted, as well as some unpublished work of Elberg, which I also sent to Manny. Aside from referring to various poems and writing, I glean and cherish most from reading and rereading Manny’s brilliant fourteen-page introduction to both the authors and their writings. It is through Manny’s interpretations that we can appreciate the creative powers unleashed by Jewish civilization’s newfound freedom in America to express itself.

Manny produced for Truro College two series of audio tapes on 1. People of Importance in Eastern European History and 2. Shapers of Modern Jewish Thought.  There are 13 lectures in each set, and to this day these tapes are still the most convenient way for anyone wishing to learn their heritage.

One of Manny’s best traits was his fearlessness in speaking Truth to Power!

Manny spent weeks in the summer at Circle Camp and lectured in and about Yiddish. He complained that while he enjoyed the Yiddish, he missed the commitment to Jewish ritual. 

After attending a conference of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, he said they have many good Kaplanian ideas, but they had to bring the Torah down from the shelf where they have put it –and read and fight with what it said!

When Manny was invited to be at Klezkanada to lead and present on Yiddishisms, he taught Sholom Asch and his exposing of the darker side of Jewish community such as prostitution, conversion, Jesus, and at the time, the taboo of Lesbianism. There were many in the audience who were enraged at the subject as they were aware the “Yiddish Forward” had ostracized Asch’s writings. A professor from McGill University’s Jewish studies program was especially enraged. Manny, like a Ninja, took them all on! He was unafraid to tell them we were not God’s Chosen People, and that we had our dark sides like everyone else. 

Manny told me a story, which I am sure he told many others. As a student counsellor of children at Camp Cejwin he was walking and arguing with Kaplan. Manny disagreed at a point and responded to Kaplan “But Rabbi, you yourself said…” to which Kaplan angrily replied, “I never could have said that,” and walked away in a huff. Manny was sure that Kaplan would never talk to him again. The next morning, Kaplan came up to Manny in the dining hall and said, “Manny, you were right. I looked myself up.” Truth to Power!

At a class at the Jewish Theological seminary, he asked Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Does he believe in Revelation?” HesChel prevaricated. Manny repeated, “Yes or no, do you believe?” Heshel walked out of the room. Manny followed him to his office and repeated over and over, “do you believe in revelation from heaven, yes or no?” When Heschel finally said “yes,” Manny said thank you and walked out of the room. Again, truth to power. He was fearless and determined. 

I have not here spoken about Manny’s commitment to Kaplan – that is well known, and others will speak to it.

And so, let me end where I began. 

How does one choose a friend, teacher, and mentor?
By setting and being an example of their teachings. 
And those teachings and examples began for me in 1967, with Zeitlin’s Yiddish poem. 

Zeitlin’s poem is a call to action that we must always be involved: “If you neither curse nor praise, then I have created you in vain, says God”. Manny praised loudly and cursed softly. He created an oeuvre that will be studied, read, and listened to for many years to come. He has left our Jewish civilization much greater for having lived. I will carry his memory in me for the rest of my life. 

I very deeply regret to report that Professor Emanuel Goldsmith has passed away. For many years he taught Jewish Studies at Queens College with a strong expertise in the Yiddish language and literature. At the same time he was a deeply committed Reconstructionist having not only read and written about Mordecai Kaplan but actually worked with Kaplan at the SAJ in the early sixties.

Manny, as we all called him, was probably responsible for a number of important things including the title of “ Not So Random Thoughts.” He proudly related to me many times that Kaplan and he were talking about the book which contains the many one liners referred to as Random Thoughts and originally published in the Reconstructionist. “ Why not call the book “ Not so Random Thoughts. “ he said to Kaplan, and that’s how the title came to be.

Manny was a rabbis rabbi. Deeply informed about many areas of the Jewish experience and a committed Recontructionist, Goldsmith was a profoundly devoted person. His commitments and his vitality . were infectious to the many congregants in the several congregations which he served as rabbi. His energy and liveliness were noteworthy in his fine singing voice which we all enjoyed.

I first met Manny when we were teen agers and students at the Jewish Theological Seminary. We were both students in the night program at the Seminary College and Manny went on to become a Conservative rabbi.. Over the years we lost touch but I saw him again at Mordecai Kaplan’s funeral in 1983. We talked then and afterwards and he invited me to collaborate with him on a Kaplan reader he was working on, entitled “ Dynamic Judaism. “ The reader was originally published by Schocken Books and the Reconstructionist Press. Over the years this work was translated into Hebrew and published by Yediot Ahronot in Israel.

Manny’s scholarship was vast and he was particularly proud of the contacts and articles he published making Kaplan known not only to the Jewish community but also to many Christian colleagues . He also may have been a key figure in the establishment of the Reconstructionist College. In the late sixties when the idea of the college was very much on people’s minds, Manny was a very strong supporter when some others had doubts as to whether the rather small community of Reconstructionists could support an independent institution.

But of course in the last analysis accomplishments are less important that what we become as a person. The word that keeps on coming back to me , a word which Kaplan favored , is “vitality.” Manny was one of the most vital people I have known. He was very much alive in so many ways and everyone who knew him felt it. As Jews and as human beings we would do well to follow his example.