The White House is expected to name Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg chairman of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the presidentially appointed panel that oversees the highly successful and often controversial U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The appointment of Greenberg, 66, could come as early as this week, according to sources familiar with the process. Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi and leader in Holocaust education, is a member of the council and has been associated with the museum since its planning stages. He lives in New York and is president of Jewish Life Network, an educational foundation committed to the renewal of American Jewish life.
Reached last night, Greenberg said: "It is an appointment at the president's sole discretion, and as far as I know, it hasn't happened yet. But if it happens, it would be an honor and privilege to serve, given the importance of the institution in American life."
If appointed, Greenberg would succeed Miles Lerman, the longtime chairman who resigned Jan. 13. When he told the president of his resignation, Lerman said, he outlined qualities the next leader should have: "a national presence, a person who has the respect of the Jewish community and a person who has the trust of the survivor community." He would not confirm yesterday that Greenberg was a leading candidate, but said that Greenberg "is definitely one of the candidates that the president should be looking at."
As one of the museum's founders, Greenberg is familiar with the public praise and criticism it has received in its first six years.
Lerman was roundly criticized last year by the National Academy of Public Administration for interference with the museum's day-to-day operations. Some of the controversies have drawn national attention, such as an invitation to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to visit the museum in 1998 (he declined, citing a scheduling conflict) and the appointment of a scholar who had compared modern Israelis to the Nazis as the head of the research division (he eventually declined the appointment).
Greenberg would bring an institutional understanding of the museum's mission and a long involvement with complex historical, religious and political questions.
Greenberg, who was born in Brooklyn and ordained in 1953 at the Beth Joseph Rabbinical Seminary, holds a PhD from Harvard. He is the past chairman of the history department at Yeshiva University and past chairman of the department of Jewish studies at the City University of New York. His writings, "Interpreters of Judaism in the Late Twentieth Century" and "Clouds of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, Modernity After the Holocaust," are considered classics in their field.