(In memory of Rabbi Professor Michael Brown)
Jewish tradition understands that very few of us walk our present paths or seek our future roads without the prior love and labors of our late elders. B’zchut avot. By virtue of those who came before us, our tradition says, we can stand strong in sun or storm.
The designs and content of delivery systems of modern Jewish education – in schools locally and abroad – owe a great deal to those of our late elders who, with unfailing commitment and far-sighted vision, did the hard work of establishing and continually refining meaningful Jewish education for the generations to come. For example, the late Syd Eisen and Julia Koschitzky were two revered elders whose influence will benefit countless children and families and communities for long years. We have written about them in this space.
This week, alas, we write about and include among our late revered elders, Rabbi Professor Michael Brown.
Rabbi Professor Brown passed away on Friday, March 17, 2023. At his funeral, his children modestly described him as a man of “words and ideas”. He inclined to frameworks of rule and certainty. But, as was observed, “decency was the rule that overruled all the others.” He never wavered from “the necessity for kindness, generosity and loyalty.”
His academic, teaching and communal contributions and involvements were legion and greatly varied. They have been heralded and celebrated by scholars, educators, pedagogues and lay leaders wherever Jewish education has found a key place in the hearts of communities around the world.
The Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, Canada’s first interdisciplinary research centre in Jewish Studies, and in which Brown played a foundational role, has published a memorial tribute to Rabbi Professor Brown. It can be found at: https://www.yorku.ca/cjs/
We excerpt merely a few references from the tribute to illustrate – admittedly only with minimal strokes – who this remarkable man was and how profoundly significant were his devotions to the vital field of education in all its myriad manifestations.
“In 1968, while he was still completing his PhD, Michael Brown was recruited by York University to build a Jewish Studies program, ex nihilo.… The Jewish Studies program he built eventually became York’s Israel & Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies; he served as its director from 1995-2002. ..
“Brown was a pioneer academic in Jewish studies in Canada, voluminously published in a range of areas – including history, literature, political science, and education over the span of more than half a century….
“He helped to establish and was instrumental to the success of York’s program in Jewish Teacher Education, and served as its coordinator on and off from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s…. Professor Brown published numerous works on Jewish education…and wrote extensively…He published nine books, including the oft-cited edited volume, Not Written in Stone: Jews, Constitutions, and Constitutionalism in Canada, with Daniel Elazar and Ira Robinson (2003) – one of the only scholarly works that grapples with the implications of the Canadian constitution for Canadian Jewry.” It should be noted that this work and the scholarship underlying it are germane to GAJE’s mission and work.
Rabbi Professor Brown “developed the unique Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Anti-Racism Education – recently revived for the coming years – as a means to train future formal and informal educators about the Holocaust, antisemitism, and racism, and brought together an international group of students in education, journalism and other fields to study Holocaust history, post-war responses in Germany and Poland, and Canadian perspectives on the Holocaust and genocide.”
He “generously shared his expertise, experience, and judgment with many organisations and groups outside of the university. His involvement with Toronto’s Associated Hebrew Schools, TanenbaumCHAT, the United Synagogue Day School, Camp Ramah’s North America wide Mador program for emerging educators, Bet Sefer Le-Dugma in Jerusalem, the National Board of License for Teachers of Hebrew in North America and Academic Advisory Board, and the Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization allowed his good counsel and expertise to spread exponentially.”
There is more to read and to know about Rabbi Professor Michael Brown. GAJE encourages readers to take the time to do so.
In the past GAJE has referred to a volume of essays that emerged from a conference titled Creating the Jewish Future which was held at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in 1996. Brown was then the Centre’s director. The essays were published in 1999 under the same title as the conference. Along with Bernard Lightman, he was the co-editor of the volume.
Prof. Brown wrote the following inspiring exhortation in the Introduction. It remains GAJE’s operational guideline to this very day.
“If North American Jewry wishes to survive into the next millennium, it cannot allow blind forces to determine its destiny. It must create its own future out of the legacy of the past and the realities of the present. As Morton Weinfeld notes in chapter 19 of this volume, the future is not determined; it need not be accepted passively; it can be shaped and created. But if the community is to take its fate into its own hands, then present reality and future goals must be clearly defined and squarely faced.”
Prof. Brown’s daughter, Abby, said that her father’s legacy includes caring for “history, tradition, faith, ethical morality and learning. He blessed us with a connection to history and with his love.”
In poor repayment of the blessing and the debt we owe to the late elder, Rabbi Professor Michael Brown, we commit to trying to shape and create a future where Jewish education is truly affordable for the families that seek it for their children.
Rabbi Professor Michael Brown’s memory will always be for blessing.
If you wish to contribute to GAJE’s lawsuit for fairness in educational funding, please click here.
For further information, please contact Israel Mida at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charitable receipts for donations for income tax purposes will be issued by Mizrachi Canada. Your donations will be used for the sole purpose of underwriting the costs of the lawsuit.
Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE)
March 24, 2023