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Obituary Berlin-born Reform Leader Albert Friedlander Dies at 77

July 20, 2004
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Albert Friedlander was 11 years old during Kristallnacht, the Nazi-inspired rampage in 1938 against synagogues and Jewish-owned institutions. Friedlander spent the night walking the streets of Berlin with his father only to find when he returned home that the police were looking for his father. The pair went back out into the night to avoid arrest, and soon after they left on a boat for Cuba.

Three decades later, Friedlander — by then a respected rabbi and teacher — was persuading Jews to go to Germany to rebuild ties.

Friedlander died July 8 in London of a heart attack. He was 77.

“I really feel like I’ve lost a father,” said Rabbi Thomas Salamon, one of the students Friedlander convinced to go to Germany.

Salamon’s mother survived Auschwitz and his father spent World War II in hiding in Budapest, and he said at first he had no desire to go to Germany with Friedlander in 1970.

“But he persuaded me to spend time with ! him in Berlin as a young rabbinical student, and it opened my eyes,” Salamon said. “It healed a lot of my pain.”

German-Jewish reconciliation was one of many areas where Friedlander built bridges.

He was also active in interfaith work, being named the first non-Orthodox Jewish president of Britain’s Council of Christians and Jews, and devoting energy to such projects as the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

He grew up in the United States, where a Jewish foster family in Mississippi took him in during World War II.

He earned degrees from the University of Chicago and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The child of an Orthodox mother and an atheist father, he was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1952. After serving at synagogues in Arkansas and Pennsylvania, he moved to New York in 1961 to become an assistant chaplain at Columbia University and headed a newly founded Jewish Center in the Hamptons.

Friedlander plunged into liberal causes! and the youth movement during the 1960s, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., and writing the book “Never Trust a God Over 30,” the title of which played on a popular slogan of the day.

He moved to London with his British-born wife, Evelyn, in 1966.

Friedlander spent four years as rabbi of Wembley Liberal Synagogue before becoming rabbi of Westminster Synagogue, where he stayed on as rabbi and then rabbi emeritus until his death. He joined the Leo Baeck College, Britain’s training ground for Progressive rabbis, in 1971 as director of studies and became dean in 1982, a position he held until his death.

Salamon recalled that students had “huge respect” for Friedlander and his “close, approachable manner.”

Friedlander wrote the definitive biography of his mentor in “Leo Baeck: Teacher of Theresienstadt.”

He also wrote much about the Holocaust, including co-authoring a book with Elie Wiesel, “The Six Days of Destruction.”

In addition to his deeply intellectual side, Friedlander also was a devoted sports fan, his wife told ! JTA.

If Friedlander had a flaw, Salamon said, it was that his gentleness sometimes meant he did not accomplish all he could have.

“Sometimes you have to be tough, and that wasn’t him. He was not naive; he saw the bad side of people, but then he said, ‘Can we turn something which is not good into something better?’ “

Friedlander and his wife both were awarded Germany’s highest honor, the Cross of Merit, in 1993 for their work on Anglo-Jewish relations.

He was awarded an honorary Order of the British Empire in 2001 in recognition of his interfaith work — the first rabbi born outside of Britain to receive the honor.

Friedlander is survived by his wife and their three daughters, Michael, Noam and Ariel, who is a rabbi in the United States.

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