D.C. founder of largest progressive synagogue in Israel remembered for his kindness

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“To have some many rabbis at a funeral is a good sign,” Senior Rabbi Jonathan S. Roos, of Temple Sinai, said of Gerard Daniel. “[His] impact on the Jewish world is quite significant.”

A leader of the Reform Judaism movement in Israel, Gerard Daniel, known as Gerry by his friends and family, of Chevy Chase, died on Dec. 14. He was 102 years old.


“He left a legacy that will last a long time,” Roos said at Daniel’s funeral last week. “Words cannot do it justice.”

Among the many rabbis at his funeral was Rabbi Meir Azari, of Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv, the very synagogue Daniel had helped to build. Hanan Melcer, deputy chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, was also there, joining friends and family to celebrate Daniels long and eventful life.

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“I will never forget his eyes. … I felt his soul. I love Gerry,” Azari said. “He always asked questions, raised doubts, told stories, tell a story and solve a problem.”

Daniel’s legacy began in Hamburg, Germany, where he was born to a modern Orthodox Jewish family in 1916.


He was a rebel. Daniel’s father was an adamant anti-Zionist and Daniel was not. He met a kindred spirit in his future wife, Ruth Feilchenfeld, on a beach in the British Mandate of Palestine in 1936. Ruth was still a teenager at the time; she had run away from her home in the United States. They married around four years later. Neither attended college.

When they moved to America in 1949 with their children, they first went to into business importing and manufacturing hi-tech wire mesh; they sold their business in the 1980s, and the couple continued their heavy involvement in Jewish causes to the point where Daniel was elected president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in 1980, with Ruth serving as treasurer.

The two were a pair, and as their children said, it is impossible to talk about one without talking about the other. Together the two build the Beit Daniel Synagogue and Community Center in Tel Aviv in 1991. Beit Daniel is now the largest, non-Orthodox synagogue in Israel.

In 2007, Daniel built a second community center, Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, in Jaffa, Ruth did not get to see completed. She passed away in 2006.

The family joked about him being one of the healthiest (and longest lived) hypochondriacs they knew. Daniel had many doctors, but none of them could ever find anything wrong with him. About a week before he died, Gerry reportedly said, “I had a beautiful life.”

Roos said that when Gerry came to him to discuss plans for his funeral — around the same time, simply because he knew it was inevitable — “He was not morose or resigned. He was actually rather cheerful.”

Daniel’s daughter and son-in-law are members of Temple Sinai, where the funeral was held. Daniel, though, was a member of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., where he was a prominent and beloved member of the community.

“Gerry was a truly remarkable figure who has had an enormous impact. We’ve been privileged to have him and his family as part of our D.C. community,” Adas Israel Rabbi Avis Miller said. “Gerry was innovative and committed to the dynamic future of our Jewish people, especially in establishing and supporting (along with his family) thriving and influential institutions in Israel. He was also delightfully congenial.”

Daniel continued to be active and alert until his passing, traveling to Israel around six times a year and continuing his charitable work. Besides his involvement in Reform Judaism, Daniel was a very charitable man who helped to fund the education for about 1,000 young people.

“Our intention is to do what he did … to make his legacy stay alive,” his daughter, Miriam Daniel, said in her eulogy. “There is a world-wide community of people who were so deeply touched by my mother and father. … He has made the world a smaller more touchable place.”

Gerald “Gerry” Daniel was the beloved husband of the late Ruth Daniel; father of Miriam (Laurence Wolff) and Ralph Daniel; grandfather of Chris, Jeff, Debbie, and Josh Daniel and David and Rebecca Wolff, and great-grandfather of Clem, Lili, Ethan, Kieran and Mira.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I just found out that you published this obit about my father in law, Gerry Daniel. Thank you so much. But there are two embarrassing mistakes. Ruth Daniel ran away from her home in Tel Aviv (not America!) once. and the Daniels visited Israel once or twice a year for many years (not six times a year!).

    Regards

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