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Uziel Adini ז"ל

In Memoriam (1937 -2021)

a portrait of Uzi Adini

Dr. Uziel Adini was one of the leading Jewish educational administrators in the United States from the 1970’s until his retirement in 2007.  He was a professor of Hebrew literature at Gratz College, and the principal and later the director of the Jewish Community High School of Philadelphia, which was a division of Gratz; after that he served as Vice President of Gratz College in charge of operations.  He also taught for many years at Temple University and at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.  During twenty three years that he was at its head, the JCHS grew to be the largest Jewish supplementary high school in the United States, with almost one thousand students in thirteen locations.  He was a dedicated, skilled, and innovative educator, and a very talented and successful administrator. 

It is perhaps best to start at the end.  The last course that Uzi taught at Gratz College, in fall 2017, in his eightieth year, fifty two years after he began to teach at Gratz, was to a group of adult students, on the topic of Jerusalem in art, history, and literature.  Emeritus professors have a lot of room to choose the topics that they wish to teach or not to teach, and Uzi had chosen a topic close to his heart, combining two of his passions: his love for Israel and his love of Hebrew literature and poetry.  

Uzi was born in what was then British Palestine in 1937.  His parents were active in Israeli politics in the Ha-Poel Ha-Mizrachi, the Religious Zionist Workers Party.  Uzi’s mother, a pioneer in several senses of the word, was the first religious woman to address the Zionist Congress.  Uzi’s four grandparents all died in the Holocaust at Auschwitz.  His uncle, Uziel Lichtenberg, was a leader of the Jewish underground in Poland and Hungary.  As a child and a young man, Uzi witnessed and took part in many of the historic events of the early years of Israel, some of which took place at late-night meetings in his parents’ kitchen.

After serving in the Israeli Army in the 1950’s, Uzi earned a B.A. and an M.A. in education at the prestigious Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  His wife Tamar was also a student at the Hebrew University.  Previously, Uzi had also earned a teaching certificate from Lifshitz College of Education, also in Jerusalem.  This was at a time when relatively few Israelis earned a B.A., let alone an M.A.  He came to the United States to earn his Ed.D. at Dropsie College in Philadelphia.

When he began teaching at Gratz, in 1965, and shortly afterwards also at Temple University, Uzi took part in the heyday of Hebrew language education in the United States, which was in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Gratz College, at the time, taught many of its classes in Hebrew (that is, Hebrew was the language of instruction), and the faculty taught a dazzling array of courses on Hebrew literature: a course on modern Hebrew novels, one on Hebrew poetry, a course on modern Hebrew essayists, a special course on medieval Hebrew poetry, and a special course, perhaps created by Uzi himself, certainly taught by him, on “The Literature of Halutziut,” that is, “Pioneering,” the literature of the first generation of Zionist halutzim, pioneers. 

There is a through-line between this early course on “halutziut” and Uzi’s last classes on the Bible and Jerusalem.  The through-line is values. 

Uzi’s doctoral dissertation, which he completed in 1969 at Dropsie, studied the question of how Hebrew literature was taught to high school students in Israel and in the United States, focusing on the question of the values expressed in the literature.  Uzi objected to approaches to literature that focused only on language training; for him, teaching literature was a means to engage the students in thinking about values, and to inculcate specific values.  Uzi was an expert on Biblical Hebrew as well as modern Hebrew.  He once wrote an article, for example, on the rare word פרחח, which appears exactly once in the Bible (Job 30:12) and in modern Hebrew means a spoiled child.  In his approach to the Bible, Uzi was a disciple of Tzvi Adar, with whom he had studied at the Hebrew University.  Adar believed in an approach to Bible education that stresses the humanistic values of the Bible – not specifically religious values, and not specifically Jewish values, but values that are important to secularists and religious believers, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Dr. Adini was a major figure in the reorganization of Jewish education in Philadelphia in 1986-1987, when Gratz moved to its new location in Elkins Park, and Auerbach CAJE was created.  At that time, the internal workings of Gratz were reorganized, and the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College took charge of the supplementary high schools that had been run by the Philadelphia Bureau of Jewish Education, such as the Julius Greenstone Hebrew High School in Philadelphia’s Northeast, and seven other Jewish supplementary high schools.  The JCHS expanded quickly, opening a branch in Tampa, Florida in 1987.  Later, there would be thirteen branches of the high school, mostly in the Philadelphia region, but also from coast to coast, from Delaware to California. 

The high school expanded from its traditional academic focus on Hebrew language and literature, and Jewish history and religion, into experiential learning, such as cooking classes and art classes.  The high school also ran a summer program in Israel, which Uzi and his wife Tamar led for a number of years. 

As an administrator, Uzi was decisive, meticulous, and thorough.  He was also very aware of the need for educational administrators to stay at the cutting edge of computer technology.  This was of course decades before the invention of on-line courses. Uzi was very proud of his work to create two new software systems for educational management, “School Aide” and an application for FileMaker Pro. 

One story of an event in his life, which Uzi would often retell, and which he once wrote up and published in an Israeli newsletter, happened to him on the Staten Island ferry in the early 1970’s.  A man, larger than he was (and Uzi was not a small man), grabbed Uzi’s bag, which had in it some valuable cameras, and ran off with it.  Uzi caught him, and the two men wrestled; and Uzi used a karate move that he had learned during his years in the Israeli army, and floored the thief, and retrieved his cameras.  What struck Uzi about the event, and what he stresses in his short essay, which is called “Being Alone” (in Hebrew, בדידות), was that no one else on the ferry came to his aid, or paid practically any attention to the incident at all.  He cannot imagine something like that happening in Israel.  The ferry, he writes, was going past the Statue of Liberty.  America is a nation that values liberty, but it is also a nation whose citizens often lack personal courage, and a sense of personal responsibility for one another.  We live alone, we Americans, alone and often afraid.   Uzi’s own values, as they are expressed in the story, combine on the one hand pragmatism and self-reliance, and on the other hand mutual responsibility and group effort.

Uzi took the Jewish Community High School in many new directions during his years at its head, guided always by his sense of values, and his sense that education must express values and is also a means of inculcating values.  He began a very successful program for service learning for the high school students, which sent them out to work with the residents of what are now called “assisted living residences,” learning to help others and inculcating the value of kindness.  Uzi was a pioneer of special needs education in the American Jewish community, and hired a full-time special needs educator, offering B’nei Mitzvah training for students with special needs, and later on a confirmation program for them as well. 

Jewish students in America, he wrote in the 1970’s, are crying out for values.  Not for religion, Uzi thought.  Not for Hebrew language skills. (He came to terms gradually with the lack of interest in foreign languages, Hebrew included, among Americans and American Jews.)  But values, moral values, humanistic values, the sense of sacrifice and mutual responsibility that was so much a part of the “pioneering” values that Uzi had learned in Israel, and that was at such odds with the emphasis on personal freedom and individualism in the United States (and to be honest, increasingly in Israel) in the 1960’s and 1970’s. 

Uzi Adini teaching four students

His motto was inclusion, and he was ready to reach out to any population with educational needs.  He created a program for the children of immigrants to Philadelphia from Soviet Russia, an underserved population.  He urged Gratz repeatedly, although not altogether successfully, to create Hebrew-language classes for Israeli immigrants that would help that population develop skills that they felt in need of. 

Uzi is survived by his wife Tamar, and two daughters, Ronit who lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, Jeff, and has two daughters, Shira and Arielle; and Tali, who lives on Kibbutz Ketura in Israel with her husband, Yoni, and also has two daughters, Ilana and Amalia.  Like Uzi, his wife Tamar is a Jewish educator; for twenty-eight years she was the head of the Hebrew, Jewish Studies and Foreign languages department at Akiba Hebrew Academy (today the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy), and also taught Hebrew and Bible throughout her career.

May Uzi’s memory be a blessing.  יהי זכרו ברוך.

— Written by DR. Joseph Davis