Rabbi Abraham Shusterman, 88, dies helped to ease Baltimore chaos of '60s

January 28, 1995|By DeWitt Bliss | DeWitt Bliss,Sun Staff Writer

Abraham Shusterman, the rabbi who wept in public at the humiliation of a Catholic cardinal, died of cancer Thursday at his Pikesville apartment. He was 88.

Rabbi Shusterman, who led Baltimore's Har Sinai Congregation from 1941 to 1972, was honored as much by other faiths as by his own. Such ecclesiastical brotherhood -- as when Rabbi Shusterman shed tears at a 1966 City Council meeting when Cardinal Lawrence Shehan was jeered for advocating open housing for all -- helped ease the city through the chaos of the 1960s.

Rabbi Shusterman said it was "not only tears of sadness, but tears of pride that I could follow [Cardinal Shehan] as a speaker LTC and identify myself with his views and his great dignity."

"What made that period of history so meaningful to me was the feeling that the other clergy were my co-workers," he said. "Whatever I did that was right, I was not alone. . . . Personal warmth carried us a long way."

Rabbi Shusterman was "very much beloved, not only by the congregation, but by all people," said Rabbi Floyd L. Herman, the current leader of Har Sinai. "He wanted to build bridges between people."

In a 1986 interview, Rabbi Shusterman said he felt that the interfaith ties of friendship and common purpose of his early days in Baltimore had deteriorated.

At the time of his death, he was rabbi emeritus of Har Sinai. From 1977 to 1983, he was the rabbi of Temple Sholom in Naples, Fla., where he spent winters.

From 1955 until 1968, Rabbi Shusterman appeared weekly with a priest and a minister on "To Promote Good Will," a television discussion program.

Cardinal Shehan presented him with the Cardinal Gibbons Medal for his work for brotherhood. He was an adjunct professor of theology at Loyola College and served on the advisory board of St. Mary's University and Ecumenical Institute.

He also had been co-chairman of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Baltimore and had served on the board of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Rabbi Shusterman also wrote a column for the News American, frequently spoke to organizations and wrote a history of the Har Sinai Congregation, the oldest surviving congregation in the nation that has been continuously affiliated with the Reform branch of Judaism. The history was published in 1967, when Har Sinai celebrated its 125th anniversary.

He was also a former chairman of the advisory council of the Maryland Department of Employment Security, a committee to study possible revisions of the unemployment compensation laws.

Most recently, he was chairman of the Special Committee on Life Preservation, which recommended that the state require each hospital and nursing home to appoint a committee to make ethical judgments on the artificial prolonging of patients' lives.

He had also headed the Clergy Brotherhood of Baltimore, the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Mid-Atlantic Association of Reform Rabbis, the Baltimore Council of Reform Rabbis, the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis and the Baltimore Jewish Council.

In addition, he helped start the Maryland Food Committee.

Born in Altoona, Pa., Rabbi Shusterman was a 1929 graduate of the University of Cincinnati and a 1931 graduate of the Hebrew Union College, where he later earned a doctorate. He also did graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University.

After his ordination in 1931, he served the congregation Children of Israel in Athens, Ga., and was the first director of the Jewish Student Union at the University of Georgia. He also served at Temple Israel in Tulsa, Okla., before coming to Baltimore.

He had been a volunteer chaplain at Fort Meade and a chaplain aboard cruise ships.

Services for Rabbi Shusterman will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Har Sinai Congregation, 6300 Park Heights Ave.

His first wife, the former Lillian Epstein, died in 1971. Survivors include his wife, the former Rose Fox; a daughter, Sara Lee Jacobson of Pikesville; a son, David E. Shusterman of Dallas; a brother, David Shusterman of Clarksville, Ind.; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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