Rabbi Gary Phillip Zola, Ph.D. will be the Mitch Dorson scholar-in-residence at Congregation Or Chadash on Oct. 24 and 25. Zola is executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, and the author of “We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry” (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014).
“American Jewish history is American history. It’s one and the same,” says Zola, adding that his book doesn’t “strictly focus on the parochial interests of the Jewish community” but on the influence the American Jewish community had on Lincoln before and after his death.
Many little-known documents appear in “We Called Him Rabbi Abraham,” notes Zola. For example, Isaachar Zacharie, Lincoln’s Jewish foot doctor, thought that one Southern Jew talking to another could contribute to ending the Civil War. Zacharie wrote a letter on Sept. 28, 1863 to Judah Benjamin, a Jewish U.S. senator from Louisiana who became a cabinet officer of the Confederate States. Their communication, says Zola, helped to forge a negotiated settlement in April 1865.
Zola’s other books include “American Jewish History: A Primary Source Reader,” co-edited by Marc Dollinger; “The Americanization of the Jewish Prayer Book”; and “Women Rabbis: Exploration and Celebration.” He has also published dozens of scholarly articles and lectured widely.
In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Zola to serve as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, an independent agency of the federal government. Zola is the first regular member of the Hebrew College-Institute’s faculty to ever serve on a standing commission of the U.S. government. In 2006, he became the first American Jewish historian to be appointed to the Academic Advisory Council of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
Zola notes that Lincoln, prior to his assassination on April 15, 1865, persuaded Northern Jews that he would protect their Constitutional rights such as equal footing under the law, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
In fact, Zola documents that in his eulogy to Lincoln, Lewis Nathtali Dembitz said, “No Jew in all of the United States better represented the values of our father Abraham, the progenitor of the Jewish people, than Abraham Lincoln.”
At Congregation Or Chadash, on Friday, Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m., Zola will discuss “Profiles in American Jewish Courage.”On Saturday, Oct. 25 at 10 a.m., his subject will be “What This Week’s Torah Portion Can Teach Us about American Jewish History,” and at 7 p.m., following Havdallah, “He Was Like One of Us: Lincoln and the Jews.”
The Mitch Dorson Scholar-in-Residence Fund was created after Dorson’s death in 2012. He was the director of education at Temple Emanu-El, taught B’nai Mitzvah students at Congregation Or Chadash, and taught American history at Catalina Foothills High School and Green Fields Country Day School.
For more information, contact Or Chadash at 512-8500 or o[email protected] chadash-tucson.org, or visit www.orcha dash-tucson.org.