MIAMI (Apr. 16)
One usually does not look for adventure in the background of a university dean. That’s usually saved for novelists.
But Dr. Ralph Lowenstein, dean of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, is a novelist — and one of the few Americans to have served as a combat soldier in Israel’s War of Independence 36 years ago.
His students would find it hard to believe. The dean of one of the largest schools of journalism in the U.S. looks 10 years younger than his 54 years. And a lot of wars have passed by the boards since 1948. However, Lowenstein has always been on a fast track. At the age of 24, he was the holder of two university degrees and a veteran of two armies during two wars. After service in Israel, he also served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
A native of Danville, Virginia, Lowenstein joined the Israeli army in Paris after his freshman year at Columbia University. At 18, he was the youngest American in the army when he arrived on a D. P. ship from Marseilles in July, 1948. Ten days after arriving in Haifa and being smuggled ashore past UN observers, Lowenstein went into combat with the 79th Armored Regiment as a half-track driver.
THE ISRAELI EXPERIENCE IS CENTRAL
“Central to whatever I am or will be,” Lowerstein says, “is that Israeli experience. As a very young man, I had the opportunity to put my life on the line for an ideal I believed in deeply. Nothing else in life could ever be more challenging.”
He adds: “I never really considered that I had done a lot for Israel. Rather, Israel had done a lot for me. Israel had given me a feeling of worth, and a feeling of confidence. These were to stay with me the rest of my life.”
Lowenstein returned to the U.S. in 1949, graduated with his Columbia class by going to school in the summers, and then received a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. He was later to get a Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
After working as a reporter in Virginia and Texas, he became a journalism professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. Later he was on the faculty at the University of Missouri, and was a visiting professor at Tel Aviv University from 1967 to 1968. He has been dean at the Florida university for the past eight years.
And Lowenstein still has those old feelings of worth and confidence. His students have won the National Intercollegiate Writing Championship for six consecutive years, and his college was recently voted one of the seven best journalism schools in the nation by the Associated Press Managing Editors.
Unlike many Jewish faculty members, Lowenstein strongly identifies as a Jew. He is advisor to the Jewish Student Union at the University of Florida, and for many years was chairman of the faculty Advisory Committee for UF’s Center for Jewish Studies. He serves on the state Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, and received the State of Israel’s 30th Anniversary Medal for his leadership in the United Jewish Appeal over the years.
If someone is needed to step forward and demand that Jewish students be permitted absences on the Jewish holidays, it is likely to be Lowenstein. If there is a hostile anti-Israel letter in the news-paper, it is usually Lowenstein who writes the answer. If one needs a classroom lecture on Israel, or a person to debate a pro-Arab speaker, it’s usually going to be Lowenstein.
“There are 236 million Americans out there fighting for their own interests,” Lowenstein says. “Very few of them care about Israel. If they did, the six million Jews in this country would not have to be so single-minded about Israel. But since they aren’t, we are — and I need make no excuses for it. The survival of Israel is more important to me than any other issue on the American political scene.”
Lowenstein’s two children attended Israeli public schools during his year as a visiting professor in Israel, and his daughter later attended the Hebrew University. Both children are now married and are attorneys in Miami.
His wife, Bronia, is also a “small-town” Jew–but this time really small. Hers was the only Jewish family in a town of 200 persons in New Mexico. Bronia has been a Hadassah leader in the three cities in which the Lowensteins have lived.
Lowenstein wrote a novel in 1966 loosely based on his experience as a soldier for Israel. Entitled “Bring My Sons From Far,” it later went into two paperback editions entitled “A Time of War.”