Rabbi Jacob Pressman, community and civil rights leader

by | Oct 16, 2015 | Obituaries

LOS ANGELES (JTA)—Rabbi Jacob Pressman, a religious, community and civil rights leader, died in his Los Angeles home on Oct. 1. He was 95.

He served as spiritual leader of the city’s Temple Beth Am for 35 years and founded the Conservative congregation’s school system. He was also a founder of such Los Angeles institutions as the University of Judaism, now called the American Jewish University.

On a national level, he helped launch the Save Soviet Jewry movement in the 1960s and five years later joined nearly 300 fellow Southern Californians who walked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Ala.

Known for his brilliant oratory, wit and musical voice, Pressman gave reign to his sense of showmanship at charity events and consistently led his congregation in the country’s largest Israel Bonds drive.

In 1995, he was voted “Funniest Rabbi in Los Angeles” at a standup comedy contest at a Camp Ramah fundraiser. He had helped found Camp Ramah in Los Angeles, as well as the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Los Angeles Hebrew High School, Akiba Academy and Sinai Academy.

“There is no Jewish Los Angeles as we know it…without the brave vision, indefatigable commitment and inspiring integrity and substance of Rabbi Pressman,” said Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, now the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Am.

Pressman, a Philadelphia native, began his professional career as a student rabbi in Woodbridge, N. J., and as rabbi of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in New York City.