Herman Schaalam a preeminent Rabbi and scholar in Chicago died Tuesday in his Edgewater home. Schaalman was 100.
He is remembered as a giant in Chicago’s religious community, ecumenically embraced following a career of more than 60 years as a Rabbi in his adopted hometown. From 1956 until 1988 he served as senior Rabbi at Emanuel Congregation.
Schaalman was born in Munich, Germany in 1916.
As the country marched toward a new world war, Schaalman was one of five German rabbinic students whose lives---in 1935-- were saved by a scholarship to Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Widely admired as a Rabbi and intellectual, Schaalman also taught in both Protestant and Catholic seminaries.
In 1995 he accompanied Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, along with other rabbis and priests, on a groundbreaking trip to Israel.
The trip was meant, in part to showcase interfaith dialogue between Jews and Catholics. But the trip was not without some controversy.
“There are certainly those in our community to whom all of this is so foreign,” Schaalman said during an interview at the Mount of Beatitudes, “that they simply would not just refrain themselves from immersing themselves in this kind of situation but actually criticize those of us who do thus expose ourselves to all the possibilities that come from such a relationship.”
“I’m sure that there would be some people in my church, some Catholics, who would wonder why I came with a group of Jewish people,” Bernardin replied. “So there may be a little risk but the risk in infinitesimal in comparison from the good that comes from it.”
The sight of a Jewish Rabbi, Schaalman and a Catholic Cardinal, Bernardin, arm in arm walking The Way of the Cross down the old streets of Jerusalem was extraordinary in and of itself.
“There was a remarkable set of moments,” Schaalman noted following the trip, “when you could really sense how the sacred was reached. It wasn’t just that we looked for it, or hoped for it. But then it was actually, palpably present. “
When Cardinal Bernardin died in 1996, Rabbi Schaalman was a part of the memorial mass.
Monsignor Ken Velo called Schaalman an “icon of our city’s fabric of faith.”
“An eloquent speaker,” Velo noted of Schaalman, “his life was a witness of faith in a God who does not leave us alone. We thank Yahweh for sending Herman Schaalman among us.”
Rabbi Peter Knobel, who like Velo was part of the trip to Israel, remembered his friend as “a towering intellect” and ”magnificent preacher” who “continued to grow and change throughout his life.”
“Herman was one of the great leaders of the interfaith movement.” Knobel said. “Rabbi Schaalman was a giant, one of the great rabbis of his generation and in the history of the American rabbinate. I will miss him terribly but his wisdom will resonant in my consciousness every day.”
Schaalman was married to his wife Lotte for 75 years and 8 months. She died in January at the age of 102.