Rabbi Israel Stein ’58

DEGREES: B.A. in romance languages (Spanish, French, and Italian); master’s degree in Hebrew literature and honorary doctorate of divinity, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America

JOB TITLE: My title came to me upon my ordination in 1964 as rabbi, teacher, and preacher in Israel. I am currently the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport, Connecticut, awarded to me on my retirement from the synagogue I served from l973 to 2003.

ACTIVITIES WHILE AT TRINITY: I spent my years at Trinity applying myself academically to my studies while preparing myself for the admissions process to The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the cathedral of Conservative Judaism worldwide. I played intramural tennis at Trinity and was active in the Brownell Club on campus. I was awarded the Cesare Barbieri prize in spoken Italian. I was honored by Professor Means to be admitted to Phi Beta Kappa toward the end of my studies at Trinity.

What originally drew you to Trinity?
My brother Elliott was a graduate of Trinity with an undergraduate degree in history and a master's degree from Trinity in economics. He encouraged me to follow in his footsteps by attending Trinity. It was one of the most important decisions I have ever made and one that I have never regretted. I grew up in Hartford in a fairly religious home but of a background that was fairly modest in means. Trinity offered me an opportunity to prepare myself rigorously in academia and taught me the importance of scholastic accomplishment through rigorous attention to my studies.

Which professor(s) had the most impact on you and why?
My most influential professors were Walter Levitt of the Romance Language Department and Professor Blanchard Means of the Philosophy Department. But I must also pay great tribute to Edmund LaCherbonnier, an Episcopal priest who in turn introduced me to Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel of The Jewish Theological Seminary, where I was influenced to the magic, the mystery, and the glory of Jewish learning. There is no question that introduction led me directly to the seminary, where I matriculated as a member of the freshman class at JTS’s Rabbinical School in 1959.

What is your favorite memory of Jewish life at Trinity?
In my years at Trinity, there was no active chapter of Hillel. I continued my Jewish studies at my local synagogue in Hartford under the tutelage of my father, of blessed memory, who was my mentor in religious studies in my most formative years.

What did you do after you graduated?
After my ordination, I entered the military chaplaincy and was honorably discharged with the rank of captain. I also served as assistant rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Rochester, New York, and as rabbi of the Jewish Center of Bayside Hills in Bayside, New York, before serving as the rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

How did Trinity help guide you in your life?
Trinity taught me the joy and richness of hard work and the pleasures of academic accomplishment. The sweetest memories of all were the long nights of private study in the carrel and halls of the library listening to the howling winds rustling through the elms of Trinity’s quadrangle. Those nights were musical and peacefully magical. It was there that I listened to Trinity’s Glee Club rehearsing their hymns and practicing their harmonies. My time at Trinity was a source of transcendent moments, which has stayed with me all these years, and I am richer for all that Trinity has given me.

What has been your involvement in the Jewish community, in the past and currently?
I have been active in Jewish scholarship for many decades and have collaborated on a score of Jewish books by noted Jewish scholars such as Everett Fox, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Rabbi Gunther Plaut, and Professor Jacob Milgrom, in addition to many others in the world of Jewish learning. I have been honored to work with Professor Robert Alter of the University of California, Berkeley.

I have served the Jewish community as a lecturer in homiletics at The Jewish Theological Seminary, as president of the Greater Bridgeport Board of Rabbis, and as president of the local chapter of the Zionist Organization of America. I also served as the campaign chair of the annual campaign of the UJA/Federation during the era of the dissolution of the USSR and the movement to bring about the mass exodus of Jews from the harsh oppression of the refuseniks. Soviet Jews sought to gain their freedom from the persecution of the Soviet government by immigrating to those countries where they might live freely as Jews without prejudice.

What do you hope to see from the upcoming generation of Jewish college students?
I hope that the current classes of Jews on college campuses might take an active role in advancing the interests of Israel vis-à-vis the international community, where too often Israel is isolated, especially in the United Nations.