(JTA) — Rabbi Murray Saltzman, a national figure in the civil rights movement and spiritual leader at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation for nearly two decades, has died.
Saltzman died of pancreatic cancer Jan. 5 at the Hope Hospice Center in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 80.
For the past 14 years he lived in Fort Myers and served as part-time rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel.
While taking a religion course in the early 1960s at Syracuse University, where he was part of the journalism program and aspired to be a writer, a Methodist minister recruited Salzman to visit churches in small communities to discuss being Jewish to worshipers. The visits inspired Saltzman to enroll in the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
At HUC, he and a fellow student — an African-American professor studying for a doctorate in rabbinics — went to a restaurant for a meal. The diner would not serve the professor, leading Saltzman to organize a lunch counter sit-in until his classmate was served.
The sit-in was the first of many civil rights actions in which Saltzman would participate. In 1964 he protested with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other clergy in St. Augustine, Fla., where Saltzman was jailed for reciting the 23rd Psalm. The next year he marched with King in Selma, Ala.
Saltzman served as president of the Coalition Opposed to Violence and Extremism and the Black-Jewish Forum of Baltimore. In 1975, President Ford appointed him to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Eight years later, President Reagan fired Saltzman and two other commission members for criticizing his administration’s policies.
Saltzman served several congregations, including as senior rabbi of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, before his arrival at Baltimore Hebrew in 1978, where he served until 1996.
The son of immigrant parents, Saltzman grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later Providence, R.I., where he was hurt by anti-Semitic neighborhood children, he once told the Baltimore Jewish Times.