Yaakov Malkin – A Tribute

The following was written for the memorial celebration of Professor Yaakov Malkin, Provost of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism
and Founding Dean of Tmura-IISHJ in Jerusalem

Shalom, greetings, and deep regret that I am unable to be with you today. All of my love to Yaakov’s wife Felice, to his children Sivan and Irad, and to their families.

Many parents have only a few children. A great teacher has many children, because the teacher’s students become teachers themselves, sharing wisdom even wider.

We humans have only one life to live and love, to remember and forget, to embrace and understand. Words and ideas can live forever. There is still a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance because while the historical Kohelet has been lost, its words continue to inspire and to comfort.

Yaakov Malkin was not a small stone in a pond, leaving small ripples that fade. Yaakov was a tidal wave of ideas and words, of creativity and insight, to his very last year. His children-students have celebrated and will celebrate the Jewish and human experience with thousands, and his books and lectures and plays have connected and will connect with thousands more. No, Yaakov himself will not live forever, and yet he will live on.

Almost 30 years ago, Yaakov’s daughter Sivan was a Jewish Agency shlikha in Metropolitan Detroit, where she met a radical rabbi named Sherwin Wine who celebrated something called Humanistic Judaism. She connected Sherwin and Yaakov, and, in the words of Casablanca, it was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Together, Sherwin and Yaakov gave life to the “International” in International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism through Colloquium conferences and Federation meetings in Europe, North America and Israel. Many of their stimulating debates live on in YouTube videos, published works, and the memories of those who were there.

It was Sherwin and Yaakov, as co-Deans of the IISHJ, who educated and ordained Rabbi Sivan Malkin Maas, the first Israeli Secular Humanistic Rabbi, and together with Sivan initiated Tmura – the training program for Secular Humanistic Rabbis in Israel. Sherwin and I were both present at the first Tmura ordination in 2006, and while Sherwin was happy, I believe it was Yaakov, the rosh yeshiva with a Ph.D., who was the proudest.

I remember many of Yaakov’s profound insights, and I share them with my own Secular Humanistic rabbinic students in North America: the “poetic truths” of Genesis; the claim that truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense; and inspiring examples for our day from Jewish literature and history. I conclude with Yaakov’s own words from Colloquium ’99:

I know that we are very small, I know that you can count the people who are engaged in our movement full time on one hand or maybe two hands. But, remember, there was a Jew who had only twelve disciples when he died, and look what happened!

After Sherwin Wine died on July 21, 2007, I told my colleagues that if anyone asks who will replace him, I would say, “None of us, and all of us.” After Yaakov Malkin’s death on July 21, 2019, the answer for Tmura in Israel and for Secular Humanistic Judaism around the world is the same – None of us, and all of us. Yaakov, your children-students have learned, and we will teach.

תודה רבה רבה מורי ורבי ואבי הרוחני, ושלום.

Thank you so very much, my teacher and my rabbi and my spiritual father, and goodbye.


About Rabbi Adam Chalom

Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in north suburban Chicago. He is also the Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.
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1 Response to Yaakov Malkin – A Tribute

  1. Beautifully done. Thank you, Adam.

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