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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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In Memoriam – Rela Mintz Geffen, z”l


Prof. Rela Geffen

Died February 3, 2019, 75,

On February 10 she would have been 76


Bachelor’s degrees from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Florida.

Research and writing fields: sociology of religion, family and gender roles, Jewish education, Jewish continuity, the Jewish polity, US Jewry’s relationship with Israel, changing status of American Jewish women, Conservative Judaism, Jewish communal service training, Jewish grandparenting.

Positions held: Professor, Gratz College; President of the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry; Vice President of the Association for Jewish Studies; President, Baltimore Hebrew University; Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Fellow and Member of the Steering Committee.

Colleague, friend, and co-author with Dan Elazar; long standing friendship with Harriet and the Elazar family.


On Jewish Communal Service Training:

During the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, the schools of Jewish communal service have had as part of their on-going mission the transformation of the definition of professionalism in Jewish communal service. Beginning with two formal programs, each with its own model, a slow, uphill battle has been waged to define appropriate training, to fund that training, and to find and keep faculty able to create and deliver a high-level integrated curriculum focused on Judaic studies and the building of interpersonal, group, and organizational skills along with professionally supervised field experience. More recently, management techniques and technological skills have been added to the curriculum.

(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, January 2000)

On the Changing Status of Jewish Women in America:

“The changed role of women has led to alterations in the complexion of the American Jewish community. These changes are undeniably related to what is happening in American society at large. Yet they have a specifically Jewish flavor and take place in many areas across Jewish life. 

“The opening of the study of rabbinic and classical Jewish texts to women is one major area of change. Even if only a few hundred women have such degrees, the access of women to Jewish classics has a great impact. Another major influence stems from the introduction of Jewish studies on many American campuses. During the first half of the twentieth century, many Jewish women did not receive formal Jewish education. 

(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld, February 2007)

On Jewish Grandparenting in the United States:

For the first time in history there are many cases of four generations of Jewish families alive simultaneously in the United States.

Grandparenting is a neglected field of study among American sociologists. In giving short shrift to the study of the extended family, sociologists researching the American Jewish community are often following the same general trends as their peers.

Many stereotypes exist about Jewish grandparents. One is that in their children’s interfaith marriages they will be the ones to teach grandchildren about being Jewish, thus functioning as transmitters of the Jewish heritage. In reality – in such a sensitive situation – grandparents are often afraid to fulfil this role, even if they are knowledgeable about Judaism.

Analysis of grandparenting has to be carried out in the context of broader family relationships and against the background of an in depth study of the Jewish tradition on this issue.

(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs lecture and paper, July 2009)

A Student’s Testimony (perhaps the best remembrance):

When I arrived as a student at Baltimore Hebrew University (BHU), I knew I wanted to learn more about Judaism. I also knew I loved the study of sociology. What I was not expecting was Dr. Rela Mintz Geffen. Taking her class “Sociology of the American Jewish Community” was like I had hit the academic jackpot. A required course that fascinated me. Class readings that I could not put down. I was hooked. Not just by the class, but by the scholar behind it.

(Lisa Rothstein Goldberg, LA Jewish Journal, February 8, 2019)

Prepared by Howard Weisband