In the world of modern Jewish communal leadership, Herschel Blumberg was a Renaissance man. He was a successful businessman, focused in the area of real estate. And he had a deep passion for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. During the last 25 years of the past century, the soft-spoken yet persuasive Herschel Blumberg played a significant role in the expansion of Jewish life and opportunity in the greater Washington area, and beyond.
A past national chair of United Jewish Appeal, the Chevy Chase resident also served as president and one of the founders and organizers of what is now called the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. As UJA chair, Blumberg promoted the idea of “UJA Shabbat,” which for many years served as a vehicle for greater communal and rabbinic involvement in the work of our current federation system.
Blumberg was also a devoted Conservative Jew. He was a longtime member of Congregation B’nai Israel in Rockville, where he served as president. And he had an interest in strengthening the Masorti, or Conservative, movement in Israel. He was a president of the Masorti Foundation and a founder of Kibbutz Hannaton, Israel’s only Masorti kibbutz, in the Western Galilee.
Blumberg’s interests also extended beyond sectarian limits. He supported and served as board chairman of Clal, the educational institute founded by post-Holocaust thinker and modern Orthodox Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. In his book The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, Rabbi Greenberg noted Blumberg’s suggestion that Jews might turn to the biblical account of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan as a way to fashion modern-day rituals for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) that could strengthen the link between Israel and the Diaspora.
Elsewhere, Rabbi Greenberg wrote about the importance of lay leaders to the modern Jewish community: “Lay leaders … who are properly trained and educated can provide personal models of Judaism, Jewish living and Jewish values in action.” Herschel Blumberg did just that during his 89 years. Our community is better and stronger because of his efforts. May his memory be for a blessing.