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Ruth Nussbaum, Reform Zionist activist, dies

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Ruth Nussbaum, a former neighbor of Anne Frank’s family who later played a key role in the Reform movement’s embrace of Zionism, has died.

Nussbaum died Tuesday in her Los Angeles home of congestive heart failure and complications of pneumonia. She was 98.

Born Ruth Offenstadt into a prosperous and assimilated Jewish family in Berlin, Nussbaum later studied languages, philosophy and art at universities in Berlin and Geneva.

Nussbaum and her daughter from a brief marriage moved to Amsterdam in 1937. Among their neighbors was the Frank family, whose daughter, Anne, frequently visited.

In 1938, Ruth married Max Nussbaum, a rising young Reform rabbi, in Berlin, with the eminent Rabbi Leo Baeck officiating. In late 1940, with the war raging in Europe, the young Nussbaum family managed to acquire visas to enter the United States. Rabbi Nussbaum was offered the pulpit at Temple Israel of Hollywood in 1942, and served for 32 years until his death in 1974.

The young couple invested much of their time and energy in their two great passions, Zionism and the American civil rights movement. Ruth Nussbaum was instrumental in the creation of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

Five years ago, ARZA conferred a prestigious award on Ruth Nussbaum, and on the occasion, Rabbi Stanley Davids, then the organization’s president, lauded the honoree.

"Ruth played a pivotal role in helping to reshape the Reform view of Zionism," Davids said. "She sees the need for pluralism and democracy in Israel; to her, these are Reform Jewish values. To her, Jewish nationalism is a seamless and natural aspect of Reform Jewish identity."

In 1965, the Nussbaums welcomed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the pulpit of their temple.

Ruth Nussbaum was described by Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel as "perhaps the most remarkable person I have ever known. She was a historical figure and she was our conscience."

 

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