“A Perfect Evening of Companionship” with Dr. Uri D Herscher, Founding President & CEO of Skirball Cultural Center
You treated us to such a joyful experience in the home of your mother surrounded by her portraits of beauty. You were a magnificent host. Your words came from your heart and entered ours and our words came from our hearts and were meant to enter yours. It was a perfect evening of companionship.
Uri D. Herscher, Executive Committee, is the visionary and founder of the Skirball Cultural Center. He led the Skirball from its inception in the early 1980s and was named Founding President and CEO when the institution opened to the public in October 1995. The Skirball Cultural Center is a place of meeting guided by the Jewish tradition of welcoming strangers and inspired by the American democratic ideals of freedom and equality. We welcome people of all communities and generations to participate in cultural experiences that celebrate discovery and hope, foster human connections and call upon us to help build a more just society. He served in that role until June 2020. Dr. Herscher is a scholar, administrator, and rabbi whose abiding commitment to Jewish values—which he embraces as universally ethical in essence and practice—has infused the Skirball throughout its history.
Prior to founding the Skirball Cultural Center, Dr. Herscher was Executive Vice President and Dean of Faculty of the four-campus Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC–JIR), a position he held for twenty-five years (1970–1995). During that time, he also held the position of Professor of American Jewish History. Over the course of his academic career, Dr. Herscher authored several influential books on the history and sociology of American Jewry, among them On Jews, America, and Immigration (American Jewish Archives), Jewish Agricultural Utopias in America (Wayne State University Press), A Century of Memories, 1882–1982: The Eastern European Experience in America (American Jewish Archives), and Queen City Refuge (Behrman House).
Among his civic contributions to the city, Dr. Herscher served a five-year term (2001–2006) as one of five commissioners on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Throughout his years of institutional and communal leadership, Dr. Herscher sought to build public support and appreciation for the constructive role of immigration in American life. Under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security at a White House ceremony in April 2016, Dr. Herscher was recognized by US Citizenship and Immigration Services as an Outstanding American by Choice. This honor is bestowed upon a select few naturalized citizens who have made significant contributions to this nation through civic participation
Dr. Herscher was born in Tel Aviv in 1941 to German Jewish refugee parents who had fled Hitler’s rise to power and made their way to British Mandate Palestine in the mid-1930s. His grandparents and many relatives were murdered in Nazi death camps. In the mid-1950s, Dr. Herscher immigrated with his family to the United States, settling in San Jose, California. As an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Herscher co-founded Cal Camp, a summer camp for underprivileged children in the Bay Area, which continues to operate today. He graduated with honors in 1964 with degrees in history and sociology. He has ordained a rabbi at HUC–JIR in 1970 and received a doctorate in American Jewish history in 1973. Dr. Herscher holds honorary degrees from the University of Southern California, the University of Judaism, and Hebrew Union College.
We all send loving hugs from Saigon. You treated us to such a joyful experience in the home of your mother surrounded by her portraits of beauty. You were a magnificent host. Your words came from your heart and entered ours and our words came from our hearts and were meant to enter yours. It was a perfect evening of companionship.
Let’s plan on continuing to be in touch from time to time as you complete your studies. We would welcome you and your mother whenever you find ourselves in Southern California.
With heartfelt appreciation for our sharing an inspired evening, we send our warm embraces,
Uri, Myna, Pam and Jeff
These notes are excerpted from Dr. Uri D Herscher’s email to Thuc Doan / Bem, dated March 13, 2018.