Jacob Rader Marcus (1896-1995): the “Dean” of American Jewish historians
Jacob Rader Marcus, the founder of the American Jewish Archives (AJA), was born in Connelsville, PA on March 5, 1896. Known as the “Dean” of American Jewish historians, Dr. Marcus was the first American born, scientifically trained historian to earn an academic Ph.D. to examine the American Jewish experience.
In 1947—with the great centers of European Jewish life destroyed in the Holocaust—the AJA was formally established in what had been the first library building on HUC’s Cincinnati campus. Said Dr. Marcus at the time:
“We propose to collect the records of this great Jewish center. We seek to understand how American Jews lived, how they worked, how they established their own cultural and religious community, how they interacted with this novel environment, creating a new Jewish life and at the same time helping to give birth to a new American world.”
The breadth of his publications (well over 300 books and articles) makes it is impossible to enter into the field of American Jewish history without encountering Marcus’ work. Dr. Marcus was a mentor, a confidante and a counselor. He was, as many have said, a “Rabbi’s rabbi”. He once told a group of rabbis who were formerly his students at HUC-JIR, “You are my immortality; you have kept me alive; you are my children.”