Rabbi Harold Saul White, a chaplain and teacher at Georgetown University, a Freedom Fighter in the civil rights movement and the rabbi at Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington for the past 10 years, died Aug. 31 following a stroke. He was 83.
He was the first rabbi to be hired by a Catholic university in the United States, according to Georgetown University. He was appointed as Georgetown’s Jewish chaplain in 1968. He continued to teach at the university, located in Washington, for 41 years. There is a Harold White Chair in Jewish Civilization at Georgetown.
“He was an extraordinary guy,” said Triana Leonard, a member of Interfaith Families Project. “He just enriched everyone he met.”
White “had boundless energy for someone in their 80s,” she said. “He wasn’t restricted by convention or tradition.”
Leonard particularly appreciated that White “could sit down on the floor with little kids and engage them, and listen to them, and teach them as well as he taught the adults.”
In April, White had a second bar mitzvah ceremony at Temple Emanuel in Kensington. Although there was no music permitted at his first bar mitzvah, White made sure the more recent celebration was different. Music by a gospel choir, Jewish liturgy and even the Beatles was played, Leonard said.
“His ability to find the good in everything, and the connection between religion and people was just incredible. We will grieve him for a long time,” said Leonard.
“Rabbi White’s devotion to our shared values and our mission as a community was unparalleled,” President John DeGioia, said in a statement. “His leadership and vision in creating opportunities for dialogue strengthened our community and helped build the ethos of engagement that characterizes our campus ministry today.”
Rabbi Rachel Gartner, university chaplain and director for Jewish life at Georgetown, remembered him as “a generous soul. There was a largess about him. He was generous of spirit, of time and focus.”
Gartner has continued the free High Holiday services started by White 35 years ago that are offered at Georgetown. Nearly 1,500 people attend, she said.
Since learning of his death, Gartner said she has received a flood of emails from alumni, saying how much White meant to them and asking what they can do to honor him.
Born in Hartford, Conn., he studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary, under Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and philosopher Martin Buber.
White served as a Navy chaplain at Parris Island in South Carolina and with the 7th Fleet in the Pacific.
White donned many kippot. He had been a congregational rabbi in Dublin, Ireland and Ann Arbor, Mich. He was founding director of B’nai B’rith Hillel at American University and an associate rabbi from 1980 to 1985 at Temple Sinai in Washington.
He was buried in Connecticut.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, 1908 N. Capitol Street NW, Washington.
Donations may be made in White’s name to the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University.