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Rabbi Hillel Cohn Endowed Lecture Series hosts scholar Gary P. Zola

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Noted historian and author Gary P. Zola is the featured speaker for the second annual Rabbi Hillel Cohn Endowed Lecture on the Contemporary Jewish Experience at Cal State San Bernardino on Tuesday, March 13.

Zola is the author of “We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry, a Documentary History,” and his talk, “He was one of us: The Judaization of Abraham Lincoln,” will be at 7 p.m. at the university’s Santos Manuel Student Union Events Center.

The event is free, but space is limited. To reserve seating call (909) 537-7550 or email sbs.rsvp@csusb.edu.

“The lecture series, named for Rabbi Hillel Cohn, was created to enhance an understanding of different cultures and religions, and to celebrate the Jewish contribution to society,” said Rafik Mohamed, dean of CSUSB’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, which hosts the event. “This distinguished lecture series features renowned speakers who will be invited to speak to our wider community.”

Cohn, who has been active in many San Bernardino-area organizations, served as rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in San Bernardino from 1963 to 2001, and returned to lead the congregation from 2014-15, while the congregation sought a new rabbi.

Zola is a historian of American Jewry who specializes in the development of American Reform Judaism. His other published volumes include: “The Americanization of the Jewish Prayer Book and The Liturgical Development of Congregation Ahawath Chesed, New York City,” “A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish Camping in America” (co-edited with Michael M. Lorge), “The Dynamics of American Jewish History: Jacob Rader Marcus’s Essays on American Jewry,” “Women Rabbis: Exploration and Celebration,” and “Isaac Harby of Charleston,” a major biographical study on the life of one of the founders of the first organized effort to reform Judaism in the United States.

Zola is the executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and the Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience and Reform Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati.

The American Jewish Archives is the world’s largest free-standing research center dedicated solely to the study of the American Jewish experience. Zola received both his rabbinic ordination and his doctorate in American Jewish history from HUC-JIR. He became the AJA’s second director in 1998, succeeding his teacher and mentor, Jacob Rader Marcus, the prodigious scholar who first defined the field of American Jewish history.

Under Zola’s leadership, the AJA began a new phase in its development. Its renowned collection has grown and is housed in a world-class complex of three interconnected structures including the Edwin A. Malloy Education Building. Zola’s interest in enlarging the public’s access to the AJA’s holdings has spurred dramatic growth in The Marcus Center’s programmatic activities, its website and online resources. Zola also serves as editor of The Marcus Center’s award-winning biannual publication, “The American Jewish Archives Journal.”

He is currently completing a new volume on Abraham Lincoln and the Jews as well as a Primary Source Reader on American Jewish history. In addition Zola has published several articles, monographs and book reviews and has lectured at several academic conferences and colloquia.

Cohn, the lecture’s namesake, has been active in many community organizations in the San Bernardino area. He now serves on the Institutional Review Board at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. He serves as a member of the Diocesan Health Care Committee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino. He was the founding chairperson of the City of San Bernardino Human Relations Commission, and currently serves as a member of that commission.

Cohn also has produced and hosted “The Many Faces of San Bernardino: Dialogues on Diversity,” a regular half-hour program on KCSB (Channel 3). He was one of the founders of Inland Congregations United for Change and currently serves as a board member of The Community Foundation of Riverside and San Bernardino, Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties, The Unforgettables Foundation and The Brightest Star. 

In 2014, Cohn was one of six inductees selected for the CSUSB College of Social and Behavioral College’s Hall of Fame.

A native of Germany, Cohn was brought to the United States as an infant by his parents who were refugees from Nazism. Cohn grew up in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California and received a B.A. in political science from UCLA in 1959. He received rabbinical training at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, where he was ordained as a rabbi in 1963 and received a master’s degree. He earned a doctor of ministry degree from the Claremont School of Theology in 1984, specializing in ethics and communication. In 1988 he was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by the Hebrew Union College.

For more information on the Rabbi Hillel Cohn Endowed Lecture on the Contemporary Jewish Experience, contact the CSUSB Office of Strategic Communication at (909) 537-5007 and visit inside.csusb.edu.

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