Richard A. Siegel
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Richard A. Siegel

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Richard A. Siegel

SIEGEL: Richard A. Siegel. “Everyone who knew him was struck by his modesty. If one didn’t know, one might not have had a clue as to his full, varied career, and his substantial impact on the American Jewish community through the institutions he led and founded.” This is how Richard Siegel, who passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 70 on Thursday, July 12, 2018, was described by his wife, Rabbi Laura Geller. Richard grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his family were members of Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill. He graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1965 and attended Brandeis University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in politics. He received two masters’ degrees, one in Jewish history from the Jewish Theological Seminary and the other in contemporary Jewish studies from Brandeis. While an undergraduate, he was one of the founders of Havurat Shalom in Somerville, Massachusetts — the first countercultural Jewish community in the country and an incubator for developing new ways of combining spirituality with classical Jewish learning. Richard’s master’s thesis at Brandeis became the blueprint for “The Jewish Catalogue,” which he co-edited. First published in 1968 by the Jewish Publication Society, The Jewish Catalogue,” a countercultural “do-it-yourself kit” for living Jewishly, patterned after “The Whole Earth Catalogue,” was JPS’ highest selling book after the Bible and has influenced thousands of Jews throughout the country. Richard subsequently went on to author other publications including the “Jewish Calendar” and “The Jewish Almanac.” Richard’s professional career began as Hillel director at Stonybrook College in New York, the first Hillel director who was not an ordained rabbi. In 1978 he began working with the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, eventually becoming executive director. He served in this position for over 20 years, his pioneering endeavors setting a high bar for how the arts serve as a gateway into Judaism. In 2006, Richard moved to Los Angeles to join his wife Rabbi Geller for what he thought would be a leisurely retirement. But in 2007 he was asked to become interim director of HUC – JIR School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. In 2009 he was named director and created a new vision leading to a naming gift by the Zelikow family. In 2015, Richard became the founding leader of ChaiVillage LA, the first synagogue-based village — a community led by adults who share their optimism, skills, support and expertise to joyfully navigate the next step in their lives. Richard’s final project, along with Laura Geller, is a book entitled “Getting Good at Getting Older: A Jewish Catalogue for a New Age,” to be published by Behrman House in 2019. Richard is survived by his wife, Laura, his children Ruth(ie) and Andy, his brother Bill, stepchildren Elana and Joshua Goldstein, nieces, nephews and close cousins. Richard’s 5-year-old great-nephew Jona summed up his passing very succinctly: “My mind feels strange without him. My future feels different without Uncle Rich.”
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