Although Israel Segal died far too young, his love for Israel, Judaism, and Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen is still being felt 25 years later.
“My friendship with him really helped to deepen my own life as a Jew,” said Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, who has been religious leader at the synagogue 40 years.
On April 18, his widow, Shirley — still a Neve Shalom member — children, and grandchildren joined congregants in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the lecture founded in his memory. “When Israel Segal died, his family wanted to perpetuate his memory in a way that would bring to the synagogue speakers of national prominence,” said Zelizer.
This year’s lecture featured Dr. Julian Zelizer, the rabbi’s son and a noted political analyst, author, and Princeton University professor, who spoke about the political loyalties of American Jews.
The rabbi said the younger Zelizer was selected because “although we’ve had many prominent speakers, Julian is the only one who actually knew Israel Segal.”
“We spent every seder at the Segals’ house,” recalled Julian in a phone interview. “It was one of the biggest religious traditions for us. He saw me grow up, both through the seder and the synagogue itself. He was a very important figure to me.
“As the son of a rabbi, you meet many people through the shul and make many friendships with parents and grandparents through their kids, but Israel Segal had a very special relationship to my family,” he added. “I was in high school when he died and that first seder without him was very moving and sad. Everyone missed his presence. I have remained close to Shirley, Eric, and the other kids who run this program.”
Segal’s son, Eric, of Teaneck said his family always wanted “to give back to a community my father was so much a part of.”
“He was deeply committed to Jewish life in all its dimensions, so the lecture series touches upon these areas — Conservative Judaism, Israel, the Holocaust, Jewish art and literature, and American-Jewish history.”