Humanist leader Marvin Rosenblum dies at 80
Marvin Rosenblum, who was raised in an Orthodox synagogue, became a founder of a Reform congregation, then served as president of the International Federation for Secular and Humanistic Judaism, died Sept. 27 at Morristown Medical Center. He was 80 years old.
Rosenblum was buried in Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge after funeral services at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, the congregation he helped organize in 1963.
His lifetime of Jewish activities included membership on the board of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey Region and the Religious Pluralism sub-committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Although long active in the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism, his theological evolution took a turn in 2001, when he heard a speech by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, founder of the International Federation for Secular and Humanistic Judaism.
“Rabbi Wine, through his teachings and love for Israel, sought hard to stem the attrition rate in Judaism,” Rosenblum wrote in 2007, in an essay for NJJN. “He focused on the virtues of all-inclusive holiday observance, vigorously indoctrinated lapsed Jews to their Jewish identity, and welcomed converts, the intermarried, gays, and other disenfranchised persons in ways that can only strengthen the Judaic heritage in generations yet to come.”
Rosenblum became president of the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Morris County, then rose through the ranks to become its national leader after Wine’s death in 2007. The movement has some 30 congregations in the United States.
He was born in Fords, and even though his family attended an Orthodox synagogue in Perth Amboy, “they were not terribly religious,” his widow, Esti, told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 10 phone interview.
The couple met shortly after she arrived in Perth Amboy as a 14-year-old Holocaust survivor from Prague. She was a high school student. He was an undergraduate at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
After they married in 1953, “every once in a while we would go to a Conservative temple for services, but then Marvin got very involved in starting a Reform temple,” she said. Together with nine other men and women he founded Temple Emanu-El and later served as a board member and president.
“In Marvin’s mind, his work in founding a temple was part of a path that led him to Humanistic Judaism,” said Peter Bishop, webmaster and humanist philosopher for the International Federation for Secular and Humanistic Judaism.
In a telephone interview from his Washington, DC, headquarters, Bishop told NJJN, “Marvin was an atheist, but that is the wrong term. Humanistic Judaism is much more than atheism. Marvin was a religious humanist.”
“Humanistic Judaism says we do not believe God exists, but we have reasons why you should be good, we have reasons for morality, we have reasons for why you should hope and why you should be charitable,” Bishop added. “We do have a basis for a religion. It is just not God.”
“I suspect he was an atheist but he never bluntly said it to me,” his widow told NJJN from her home in Chester. “He was very interested in religion and in being a Jew. He was very devoted to Judaism — not the faith, but Judaism as a civilization and a culture. He was very engaged by civil rights in the United States and then in Israel.
“Of course, it was part of Judaism. To him, it was not a separate issue.”
“He wanted civil rights for all people in Israel, including Palestinians,” said Allyson Gall, executive director of the AJC’s Metro New Jersey Region.
Concerned about the Orthodox rabbinate’s control of many aspects of Israeli life, “he wanted Jews in Israel to be whatever kind of Jews they wanted to be,” she added.
But his main interest as an AJC board member was energy independence, Gall said. “He was a scientist and had been involved in alternate energy sources. He was always willing to help us on energy programs and energy advocacy. That was his love.”
Professionally, Rosenblum was an entrepreneur who at one time owned Fords Hardware and later served as chief executive officer and president of Precision Polymers, a plastics manufacturer based in Mountainside.
In addition to his wife, Rosenblum is survived by three children: his daughter Jan Dragotta and her husband, Frank, of Marlboro; his daughter Jody Ostroff and her husband, Michael, of Summit; and his son, Joshua Rosenblum, and his wife, Kim, of New York City as well as six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were provided by Flynn and Son Funeral Home in Fords.