Rabbi Joseph Weizenbaum, 80, dies

Longtime leader on social issues retired in 2002
2013-07-06T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T10:20:03Z Rabbi Joseph Weizenbaum, 80, diesCarmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Retired Rabbi Joseph S. Weizenbaum - an outspoken religious leader who was known for his work in social justice - died Monday in hospice after a long illness. He was 80.

Weizenbaum retired in 2002 as the founder of Congregation Ner Tamid, now known as Congregation Kol Simchah.

Weizenbaum attracted attention when he led Congregation Ner Tamid and shared worship space with St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, 4625 E. River Road.

The worship area at the church had a reversible lectern - a Star of David on one side and a cross on the other, recalled the Rev. David Wilkinson, pastor at St. Francis.

Wilkinson said he, Weizenbaum and others created the International Center for Peace in which Jews, Christians and Muslims learned about one another's faiths and common heritage.

For 21 years, Weizenbaum also led Temple Emanu-El, which is Tucson's largest Reform Jewish congregation.

"He taught us to never be afraid to do the right thing, and to stand up for what you believe in," said Jon Weizenbaum, the rabbi's son.

"He cared deeply for the people of this community and he worked hard to make Tucson a better place for the Jewish community and the community at large, Jon Weizenbaum said.

Rabbi Tom Louchheim of the Reform Congregation Or Chadash worked with Weizenbaum at Temple Emanu-El. "I was taken by his initiative for his work on social justice issues and moral issues of the day.

"He was never frustrated. He just continued to work diligently and hard for the right things," said Louchheim.

Weizenbaum was the first Jewish religious leader to affiliate himself with the Tucson-based Sanctuary Movement. Weizenbaum referred to Central American refugees as "the new Holocaust victims," and in 1984 Temple Emanu-El became part of the "covenant of the Sanctuary."

The national body of Reform Judaism followed Weizenbaum's example and endorsed the movement. It was the first such measure taken by a national Jewish group.

Weizenbaum and his family moved to Tucson in 1972 from Dayton, Ohio, where he was senior rabbi at Temple Israel.

Weizenbaum was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He earned an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Cincinnati and a doctoral degree and ordination from Hebrew Union College, also in Cincinnati.

In addition to his son, Rabbi Weizenbaum is survived by his wife, Eileen; two other children; one stepdaughter, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

A 2 p.m. memorial service is set for Sunday at the Jewish Community Center, at the corner of East River Road and North Dodge Boulevard.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or cduarte@azstarnet.com

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