Bernie Reisman dies at 85, was a Hornstein founder
Pioneering educator was an outstanding teacher, mentor and scholar
Brandeis professor emeritus Bernard Reisman, Ph.D.’70, a pioneering educator who helped prepare two generations of Jewish communal leaders as founding director of the Benjamin S. Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, died on Nov. 21 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 85.
From its inception in 1969, the Hornstein program has been universally regarded as the world’s premier Jewish professional graduate program. More than 600 Hornstein graduates serve as leaders of Jewish communities around the globe.
“Professor Reisman was one of the most beloved figures in Jewish communal life,” said Hornstein program chair Jonathan Sarna '75, M.A. '75, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis. “He was, however, best known for his leadership skills; his warm, caring demeanor; and for the practical wisdom that he imparted to legions of students and colleagues.”
Ellen Smith, director of the Hornstein program, said that “his teaching, mentoring, caring, and sheer menschlichkeit modeled a style of accomplished and humane Jewish leadership that shaped hundreds of students and thousands more who knew and worked with him across the world.”
In addition to serving as director of the Hornstein program from its founding until his retirement in 1999, Reisman was a highly respected academic. His publications included “The Chavurah” (1977), “The Jewish Experiential Book” (1979, 2002), “Life on the Frontier: The Jews of Alaska” (1995) and numerous articles.
“I was honored several years ago to be awarded the chair that Bernie had occupied as Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Brandeis,” said Len Saxe, the director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis. “Our disciplinary training and the nature of our scholarship was different, but he provided a role model for being an academic voice in Jewish communal affairs. Every day, I am reminded of the legacy I inherited from Bernie and the responsibility to carry it forward.”
In 2002, Reisman founded the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis. The program now has more than 400 members from throughout Greater Boston.
“When Martin Buber wrote that ‘all real living is meeting,’ he was describing an ideal — that to engage people in dialogue, one really has to come without preconditions and constraints, without an agenda and without ego,” said Lawrence Sternberg, a member of the Hornstein faculty and executive director of Hillel at Brandeis. “Bernie embodied this philosophy in all his encounters with people.
“While he taught that these characteristics inform good ‘professional practice,’ what his students and colleagues witnessed wasn’t simply a master teacher/practitioner at work, we witnessed a sage who lived what he preached,” Sternberg said. “Bernie showed us the way by living it.”
The Hornstein program was the brainchild of Professor Leon Jick, the director of the Lown Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies, and Reisman, who at the time was completing his doctorate at Heller School for Social Policy and Management.
Jick and Reisman began developing an outline for an expanded graduate program that would prepare men and women who were technically proficient, Jewishly competent and ideologically committed to Jewish continuity. Benefactor Benjamin Hornstein provided the financial support.
“Bernie Reisman was a supreme mensch of a man, a gentle giant in the eyes of hundreds of students fortunate enough to be mentored by him decades after graduate school,” said Cindy Chazan, M.A. ’74, vice president of the Wexner Foundation.
Reisman is survived by his wife, Elaine; sons Joel and Eric; daughters Sharon and Robin; and eight grandchildren.
Gifts in his honor may be made to BOLLI’s Bernard Reisman Fund, Brandeis University, Office of Development and Alumni Relations, PO Box 549110, MS 126, Waltham, MA 02454-9110 or online.
Hornstein alumni are invited to visit program’s alumni Facebook page to post memories and tributes.