Rabbi Seymour Fox, a prominent Jewish educator in the United States and Israel for a half-century, died of heart failure July 10 in his Jerusalem home, two weeks after announcing his plans to retire from administration and return to teaching. He was 77.
Known in Israel by his Hebrew name, Shlomo, he had served with the educational Mandel Foundation at the time of his death. A prolific author, he was known as an inspirational teacher and manager.
“He was a very charismatic person who knew how to combine vision with action in education,” said Miriam Ben-Peretz, a recipient of the Israel Prize for Educational Research who had been one of Rabbi Fox’s students.
Born in Chicago to Polish immigrants, Rabbi Fox originally intended to become a physician, studying in a pre-med program in college, but he switched to educational studies at the University of Chicago after coming under the influence of Jewish philosopher Simon Rawidowicz at Chicago’s College of Jewish Studies. He earned a bachelor’s degree and teacher’s certificate at the college.
Rabbi Fox was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he was appointed assistant professor of education at the rabbinical school’s Teachers Institute.
From 1954 to 1966 he headed the Conservative movement’s Ramah summer camp movement. In 1960 he founded the Melton Research Center for Jewish Education, based at the seminary.
After a semester as a visiting professor at the Hebrew University, he decided, following the Six Day War in 1967, to stay in Israel, serving as head of the university’s School of Education for 14 years. There he established the Research Institute for Innovation in Education, and the Melton Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora.
He later served as an advisor to four Israeli ministers of education.
In 1983 he proposed a teacher training program, in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, which became the Jerusalem Fellows, which trains selected young teachers from around the world.
Rabbi Fox’s work on the Jewish Agency’s committee on education with Cleveland philanthropist Morton Mandel led to the foundation of the Mandel Foundation, the largest Jewish educational foundation in the world. In 1991 he became Director of Program for the Mandel Foundation, working in collaboration with Hebrew University and Brandeis University.
He is survived by his wife, Sue, his sons, David, Eytan and Danny, a brother and sister, several nieces, nephews, stepchildren and grandchildren.