Jewish community reacts to the passing of Rabbi Jacob Pressman
Community reactions to the passing of Rabbi Jacob Pressman – Rabbi Adam Kligfeld
Temple Beth Am
There is no Jewish Los Angeles as we know it without Rabbi Jacob Pressman. There is no Temple Beth Am, no Camp Ramah, no University of Judaism/American Jewish University, no Pressman Academy, no Los Angeles Hebrew High Schol without the brave vision, indefatigable commitment, and inspiring integrity and substance of Rabbi Jack Pressman.
A human being ought to be aware of the shoulders of the forbears upon which one walks the earth. In a family, they are one’s parents and grandparents. In a nation, they are one’s founding fathers and leading visionaries. In a community of faith, they are Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah.
As the Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Am, those shoulders belong to Rabbi Jacob Pressman. His presence, impact and influence upon our shul community, and the wider Los Angeles Jewish community, are pervasive and ubiquitous. Deep into his ‘90s he would grace our bimah with his wit, his commanding use of language and imagery, and the evocative pathos with which he spoke about his own life, and life in general.
His prose was poetry. His eloquence was legendary. His mark and his contributions to all of us are legendary, and will be eternal.
Temple Beth Am
A fire burned in Rabbi Jacob Pressman’s soul. It was fueled by commitment, loyalty, creativity, and a passion for the good. He was well known in the Los Angeles Jewish community for his many communal achievements: He helped establish key Jewish educational institutions — even as he molded the congregation he served as Senior Rabbi for thirty-five years,Temple Beth Am, into one of the leading Conservative synagogues in America. He was a leader in the support of the State of Israel and an articulate advocate for many just causes. And his inspirational preaching moved and challenged his audiences for decades.
His greatest impact, however, was on the individuals whose lives he touched. It is not coincidental that just as he was a rabbi, his eldest son, Daniel, became a rabbi; that he loved music and singing, and his younger son, Joel, of blessed memory, became a music teacher and a cantorial soloist; and that he was an ardent Zionist, and his daughter, Judy, made Aliyah and lives in Israel. To be sure, his beloved wife of over seventy years, Marjorie, had something to do with all of this, as well. He was greatly appreciated for the wisdom he shared with many lay and professional people who turned to him for advice. And, he was revered by the countless women and men who turned to him for solace and comfort when they faced personal crises or lost loved ones.
On a personal note: Rabbi Jacob Pressman was my rabbi for over sixty years. He was one of the rabbis who inspired me to become a rabbi. When I assumed the spiritual leadership of Beth Am upon his retirement, he ensured that there was a seamless transition of leadership. He then supported my efforts to introduce new programs and new facilities to keep the congregation moving forward. He took pride in my achievements and commended me for them. And, we shared many words of Torah, and, since he had a sense of humor as off-beat as mine, we laughed a lot together. I was a product of the institutions he helped create, and, in turn, I supported them during my rabbinate. And so, we were on the same wave length and resonated with each other in our communal commitments and interests.
The fire that burned in Rabbi Jack’s soul is no longer in our midst. The sparks that that fire generated continue to burn, however, in the souls of the multitudes whose lives he touched. I know that I am aware of their presence in my soul, and I am sure that others have the same awareness. While Margie, Danny, Judy, and the rest or the Pressman family will miss him the most, we will all miss Rabbi Jacob Pressman’s physical presence. But, we will all be very grateful that we had him in our midst for so many decades and that he has left behind such a magnificent legacy. He was a gift from God and a blessing in his life, and he will always remain a blessing in our hearts and in our memories.
Former Los Angeles County Supervisor and founder and chairman of the Yaroslavsky Institute
When he spoke from the pulpit, it was as though he was having a conversation with you—one on one. Whether he was talking about the Holocaust, Israel or domestic social ills, he was talking to you. His calls to action were legendary, and it was hard to ignore him because he was personally calling on you. That is a gift that few clergy possess, and the Beth Am community and the Los Angeles region were blessed to have him as their own.
Among his top priorities was Jewish education. He loved youth, and I've always believed that's what kept him young. He invested heavily in the temple's education program which became the envy of Jewish educators everywhere. The backbone of his congregation was its families, and he had a particular charisma that connected him to its younger members
Rabbi Pressman practiced what he preached—literally. His congregation and the community it served was made up of a large number of elderly persons. Many of them faced the stress of increasing rents and the real possibility that they would be forced out of their apartments. I remember when he came to me and the city to build a housing project on the Temple's property for low income senior citizens. It was a complicated zoning and financial challenge, but he didn't relent. The project was built and has been serving low income seniors for 3 1/2 decades.
Jacob Pressman was one of the great leaders of Conservative Judaism, one of the most gifted rabbis in this city's history, and one of the finest people I knew in my lifetime. His memory will certainly be a blessing.
American Judaism is institutionalized Judaism. We have camps and schools and seminaries and federations. But it was not always this way; someone had to have the drive and the chutzpah to make it happen. One of the leading creative spirits of 20th century Judaism, who created, shaped and fostered the institutions that sustained Jewish life, passed away this week. We lost Rabbi Jack Pressman.
Jack Pressman was a man of many gifts. He could put over a song, a joke, a sermon, a column, a word of sage wisdom. But more than all this he was a man who had a vision of what Jewish life could be. That a school bears his name is symbolic of his gift to understand the ways that children might be raised as Jews. Camp Ramah and Sinai Akiba are his gifts to us as well. Pioneers are people who not only envision the land, but have the drive to go there. Margie and Rabbi Jack — for they were ever a team — had that drive We are in their debt. We have lost a giant of the American rabbinate, but the world he built is what sustains us. We are blessed by his memory.
Game show host, actor and singer
Rabbi Jack was my friend for 50 years. He could give a wonderful sermon, entertain you, and was so handy he could fix your plumbing.
On his 75th birthday, we had a big dinner at the Century Plaza to benefit the Pressman Academy, and we harmonized — together with his son and my daughter — in ‘Where or When’ and Yiddish songs.
About 10 or 15 years ago, we formed a small group of people. We socialized together and named ourselves ‘The Unusual Suspects.’ We started out with 16, but with time, our ranks have thinned to eight. And now Rabbi Jack … what a loss.