My dear friend Gerry Daniel passed away on December 14, 2018 (6 Tevet 5779) at the age of 102.
The world will be a different place without Gerry Daniel. Gerry’s personality, energy, wisdom and heart was larger than life. He was a natural story teller with a keen eye for detail and his memory was bar none remarkable. He related to people -- so many people from so many walks of life fell in love with Gerry.
It was Gerry and Ruth’s vision that created the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism. Without their tenacity and foresight Reform Judaism would not have taken hold in Israel like it has today in 2018. The Daniels were also pioneers in helping with the establishment of the WUPJ’s headquarters Beit Shmuel and Kehilat Or Chadash in Haifa.
I first met Gerry and Ruth when I was the director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. I was struck by their deep love and commitment to Reform Judaism and Israel. In 1991, I was on a “leave of absence” while my wife, Anna, was serving as Consul in San Francisco when Rabbi Dick Hirsch gave me the keys to the newly built Beit Daniel, which had generously been supported by Gerry and Ruth. Dick asked that I take the lead in bringing Reform Judaism to Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
I returned to Israel and to Beit Daniel and the rest, as they say, is history.
Gerry Daniel was a giant. He was born to a modern Orthodox family in Hamburg, Germany and attended a Jewish Gymnasium. He immigrated to Palestine in 1936, where he met his future wife Ruth Feilchenfeld on the beach in Tel Aviv – and hence their love affair with this great city. Gerry and Ruth were married in 1941 and had two children, Ralph and Miriam, both born in Tel Aviv. Their business success enabled them to become generous philanthropists.
First, Gerry served as President of Larchmont Temple. In 1980, he was elected President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism where he served for two terms until 1988. He was the first layman to be elected to this position. It was during those years that Ruth and Gerry realized that Israelis needed both the exposure to and influence of Reform Judaism to ensure strong ties with Diaspora Jewry and Israel’s Jewish soul.
They didn’t just provide financial support; they gave their time, energy and hearts.
I still remember the day that we talked about expanding into a center, where thousands of youth from all over the world would come to stay and learn about Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Israel and become immersed in its culture. And thus, they supported the creation of Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Community Center and Guest House in Jaffa in 2007. The city welcomed and supported our second building.
In a rare honor, Gerry was named a “Benefactor of Tel Aviv-Yafo” in 2007 by Mayor Ron Huldai for his commitment, dedication and support to the city. In the same year, he received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Hebrew Union College. The Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation, Sarasota Jewish Housing Council, the Union of Reform Judaism, the American Reform Zionist Association, and the American Jewish Committee also honored Ruth and Gerry.
Gerry and Ruth’s children, Ralph, Miriam and son-in-law Larry Wolff, are deeply committed to carrying on their parents’ legacy, and I am honored and look forward to working with them. I know Gerry was filled with love and pride for his children. On behalf of all of us at the Daniel Centers, our deep condolences to his children and entire family.
Gerry’s passing marks the end of an era but not the end of Ruth’s and his dream. Their dream – the Daniel Centers -- is a beautiful, growing community of Israelis that embody the values of Reform Judaism. Nothing could have been more important to Gerry than your support of the Daniel Centers which helps to make a tolerant, inclusive and pluralistic Israel.
His daughter Miriam told me that last week when Gerry learned the end was near, he said in Yiddish: “I had a beautiful life (
שיין לעבן-Sheyn Lebn). I built Beit Daniel and Mishkenot Ruth Daniel.
” To best honor Ruth and Gerry, I invite each of you to come to Tel Aviv-Jaffa to see first-hand their beautiful dream – our beautiful dream – with your own eyes.