Along with love and compassion, Trude Weiss-Rosmarin is marked with a hard-line intellect, an independent thinker who has nursed her controversial ideas into the American Jewish consciousness through the pages of her magazine. The Jewish Spectator, for more than 40 years.
Tuesday night at Agudas Achim congregation in Alexandria, it was evident that she hadn't given up on those of her ideas that have not been accepted generally.
"Even if an idea does not immediately succeed, this does not mean it is invalid." she told a reporter.
As Rabbi Sheldon Elster introduced her before the richly colored carpet weave backdrop in his synagogue, he read this excerpt from a 1936 Spectator editiorial, which appeared in the sixth issue:
"In every institution - whether it is a synagogue, a Hebrew school, a hospital - we find the indentical situation. The women members are alloted no say and almost no representation at all when it comes to basic decisions affecting the policy of the institution."
Elster said, "Long before women were rabbis in congregations she addressed us from the pulpits." He said that early in his studies for the rabbinate "my awareness was that this woman was . . . the most learned of women on the American Jewish scene." The Spectator has been common fare in many study groups over the year.
Now 70 - she slowed herself and the Spectator down to quarterly, rather than monthly, production four years ago - she moved her operation to Santa Monica last June, after living in New York since her migration from Germany in 1931.
In spite of occasional murmurs of disagreement during her talk this week, she clearly won the respect of the group, many of whom moved to her side after her talk.
At one point, she gave the congregation a tongue lashing for their admitted confusion as to how to reach out to the untempled Jews in their community. One woman explained that telephone calls she has made soliciting funds for United Jewish Appeal were met with hostility.
"Ring a doorbell," came the quick response."You must give something before you ask someone to give to you." Another woman said, "In a radius of six blocks, we have two Jewish families."
"You are looking at me as if I am asking you to meet on the moon," said Weiss-Rosmarin glancing at Rabbi Elster. "Don't rabbis make house calls?"
She criticized Jewish community centers patterned on what she referred to as the "Eastern" (U.S. concept of a "schule (school) with a pool" where the focus is on general recreation and leisure, instead of specific Jewish or Hebrew instruction. She said many center people are "Jewish secularists."
Referring to the competition between community centers and synagogues, she said. "The synagogue should be the primary place of indentity for the American Jew . . . Those of us who belive the synagogue is the rock and foundation of Jewish life are not prepared to abdicate."
She said that for recreation "commercial establishments are available."
She took much time to make her views clear about "a current intellectual controversy" among American Jews that she labeled "universalism vs. particularism." The quandary of the American Jew about whether to indentify with the "general culture" or the Jewish culture is threatening the survival of Jews as a people, she said.
"One who is ignorant about Jewish faith and history cannot find fulfilment in the Jewish community and the Jewish community cannot find comfort from this kind of member, she said. "Now has come time for us to stop playing at general culture. Surely, I need not strees and remind you that Jews are American culture heroes and overachievers in the American culture.
"We are in no way alienated from the general culture with respect to professions, arts, literature," she said Jews should "spend their leisure time in and around the synagogue." She credited the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) with promoting this idea in 1975, and told the mainly Conservative group, "Of all movements, Reform is the most concerned with Jewish survival.
Later, she told a reporter she considers herself to be a Traditional Jew.
Long viewed as a strong believer in Jewish education, particularly since an editorial she wrote in the 1940s. Weiss-Rosmaria told the group they should have a library containing 30 books for every child in religious school.
"If you have 200 children, that's only 6,000." she noted. "At $2.50 a book, that's not too much . . . When children reach 11 or 12, they read on an adult level. I believe children are avid readers. Satisfy this!"
She despaired of Jewish organization "forever commissioning surveys . . . that are being shelved.If you consult an expert, . . . do what he says. Would you go to the Mayo Clinic and not . . . follow the regimen prescribed?"
She said funds for the general well-being of the Jewish people, such as for hospitals, should be a high priority. But she also said that Jews should not forget human deeds of loving kindness, not just to Jews, but to everyone."
On the matter of donations to Israel, she encouraged increased private giving to overcome the fact that "most of those needs now are being provided by our government." American aid to Israel since 1973 has totaled about $9 billion. She said United Jewish Appeal and Israel bond drives only provide "a drop in the bucket."
Her tallest order may be the transformation of the fragmented American Jewish community into "democratic community. Transfer the power from the big donors . . . I do not think it is incumbent upon (us) to honor the big giver or make her woman of the year."
She pointed out that in government the tax collector does not make the budget. "So should it be in the Jewish community." She praised the anonymous donor as the "highest" because he gives to honor the Torah.
Many people wonder about her move to California; it is a question she has answered many times in her lecture tours throughout the United State and Canada.
"The Jewish Community is dynamic because the working ones are moving there (California), such as myself," she said. "The others go to Florida to retire."