The Jewish home that Rabbi J built
Rabbi Arthur Jacobovitz
Born 1931, Bridgeport, Conn. Died 2009. Arrived in Washington, 1959
Rabbi Jacobovitz served as Hillel director for three decades. He pointed out that he was the first Orthodox rabbi at a Hillel west of the Mississippi. This presented some special challenges to the new Orthodox director. In his first annual report, Rabbi Jacobovitz emphasized that all Hillel directors serve the needs of all Jewish students. The Orthodox, Conservative or Reform label pertained basically to the directors’ private lives.
Rabbi J, as he was also known, felt it was important to impart to the students a knowledge about Israel. As a result, prominent lecturers were brought to Hillel and the campus. Rabbi J presented slides and films on Israel and introduced an Israel Program Fair offering information on summer programs.
In 1961 Rabbi Jacobovitz commenced teaching Jewish theology to honor students at Seattle University, a Jesuit school. His role was gradually expanded into other courses, including Hebrew, in the regular Theology department. It was the first time in the history of a Catholic institution. Rabbi J recalled that this event made national news.
The community was stirred by an announcement that George Lincoln Rockwell, a rabid anti-Semite and former leader of the American Nazi party, with no academic credentials, would speak on the campus on May 29, 1964. The Jewish Students placed an ad in the University Daily affirming faith in the democratic system and at the same time decrying the justification of Rockwell to further a fright campaign.
Rabbi Jacobovitz and Mel Oseran, president of the Hillel board, met with a committee from the Federated Fund to discuss how such matters might be handled in the future. Oseran made a proposal to set up a Community Relations Council. The Federated Fund became the Jewish Federation and a CRC was established.
One of Rabbi Jacobovitz’s proudest accomplishments was the success of his strong
advocacy with the University administration to never again start the school year on Rosh Hashanah and also not to schedule final exams on Jewish holidays.
He retired from Hillel in 1988, though he continued to oversee kashrut of the Hillel kitchen for many years after.
Adapted from Nizkor, October 1992, by Reva Twersky.