Rabbi Bernard Ducoff, longtime Jewish educator

Rabbi Bernard Ducoff, longtime Jewish educator

Rabbi Dr. Bernard Ducoff
Rabbi Dr. Bernard Ducoff

West Orange resident Rabbi Bernard Ducoff, 83, a veteran Jewish educator and former director of the Jewish Education Association of MetroWest, died Aug. 29, 2010, of leukemia. He was born in Brooklyn and lived in San Francisco for 23 years before moving to West Orange in 1978.

Ducoff, who served as a chaplain in the United States Air Force, attended Yeshiva University. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1953 and earned a PhD in historical studies through the joint doctoral program of the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California at Berkeley in 1979.

Ducoff’s professional career was dedicated to promoting quality Jewish education for the entire community. From 1956 to 1978, he built the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco and its College of Judaic Studies. From 1978 until his retirement in 1994, he led the Jewish Education Association of MetroWest, which later was renamed The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life. During his tenure, the JEA evolved into a dynamic organization with the strengthening of the secondary and adult higher education centers and the creation of four new centers: Merkaz, a teacher’s resource center; special education; Waldor Memorial Library; and family education. He created programs that reached out to every facet of the community: pre-school age through seniors, supplementary and day schools, the learning-challenged as well as the gifted, families in congregations, and those in outreach settings.

Joan Bronspiegel Dickman, the Partnership’s Early Childhood and Family Engagement director, who initially was hired by Ducoff to head up Merkaz and conduct teacher training, described him as a mentor. He encouraged her, she said, “to learn and grow and to make mistakes and to learn from more seasoned professionals who were already in this community doing wonderful work.”

“I’m so appreciative,” she said. “He brought a lot to the community for so many years.”

In 1993, Ducoff received the Saul Schwarz Distinguished Service Award of the New Jersey Association of Jewish Communal Service.

Ducoff also served as a scholar-in-residence for congregations, community forums, colleges, the Midrasha Institute for Jewish Studies, and Elderhostel programs. His themes included Values in the 21st Century, Technology and Religion, Five Personalities Who Shaped the 20th Century, and Uncovering the Mysteries of Bible Translations. He lectured widely on influential people, including Abraham Lincoln, Louis Brandeis, and Albert Einstein, and had numerous articles published in Jewish journals, including the Journal of Jewish Education, for which he also served as editor for five years.

“Bernie was a great educator,” said United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ executive vice president Max Kleinman. “He was extraordinarily knowledgeable and passionate in imbuing Jewish knowledge in the community. He had an understated but elegant style, and his impact reached through multiple generations. My condolences to Helen and the rest of the family.”

Ducoff is survived by his wife of 61 years, Helen; his son, Daniel of Cleveland; his daughter, Miriam Smolen of Fairfax, Va.; and five grandsons.

Services were held Sept. 1 with arrangements by Menorah Chapels at Millburn, Union. Memorial contributions may be made to Tsad Kadima (www.tsadkadima.org.il).

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