Michael Strassfeld papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Rabbi Michael Strassfeld (born February 8, 1950) is an American Reconstructionist Rabbi. Born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Strassfeld attended the Maimonides School, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Brookline, Massachusetts, graduating from high school in 1967. He went on to attend the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York City for one year before transferring to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he received a BA, magna cum laude with honors, in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies in 1971, and an MA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies in 1972. From 1972 to 1976 Strassfeld completed coursework for a PhD in Jewish History from Brandeis. He attended the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, becoming an ordained Rabbi in 1991.
Raised in a Orthodox Jewish household, Strassfeld was profoundly influenced by the burgeoning Jewish anti-establishment movement in the Boston area in the 1960s and early 1970s. Strassfeld was one of the founders of Havurat Shalom, in Somerville, Massachusetts, established in 1968 as the first countercultural Jewish community in what would grow to become a national Havurah movement. Strassfeld was one of the leaders of retreats held at Weiss's Farm in Long Branch, New Jersey, which brought together members of some of the first Havurot in the US, and would eventually lead to the establishment of the National Havurah Institute and the National Havurah Committee.
After brief stints as Principal of the Temple Adas Israel Hebrew School in Hyde Park, Massachusetts (1971), and Assistant to Hillel Director at Brandeis University (1972), Strassfeld published in 1973 with first wife Sharon Strassfeld and colleague Richard Siegel, The Jewish Catalog, a do-it-yourself manual on how to be Jewish. The publication was extremely popular and was followed by second and third catalogs in 1975 and 1981. Strassfeld also published The Jewish Calendar, from 1975 to 1993, and The Jewish Holidays, in 1985.
Strassfeld was employed by Congregation Ansche Chesed in New York City for almost two decades. He served as Leader of High Holiday services from 1982 to 2001; Director of Program and Development from 1984 to 1988; Executive Director from 1988 to 1991; and, following his ordination, Rabbi from 1991 to 2001. Ansche Chesed is an egalitarian, participatory Conservative synagogue on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In 2001, Strassfeld became Rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue also on the city's Upper West Side, where he served until his retirement in 2015.
Strassfeld was a founding chairperson of the National Havurah Committee from 1979 to 1982; a founding vice-president of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School, an egalitarian day school in Manhattan in 1983; a founding board member of Beyond Shelter, a coalition of Manhattan synagogues concerned with homelessness from 1987 to 1988; and a founding faculty member of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in New York City, from 1999. Strassfeld was also a member of the board of Rabbis for Human Rights, North America, and received the Rabbi Israel & Libby Mowshowitz Prize from the New York Board of Rabbis in 2000.
Rabbi Strassfeld is married to Rabbi Joy Levitt. He and first wife Sharon Strassfeld have three children.
The Michael Strassfeld papers contain the records of the Reconstructionist Rabbi's education and life's work. Represented are elements of his Orthodox upbringing, traditional Jewish education, influence of the Jewish anti-establishment and countercultural movements of the 1960s and early 1970s, and his training and practice as a Reconstructionist Rabbi. The collection is made up of eight series: I. Education; II. Jewish counterculture and later progressive movements; III. Synagogues; IV. Observances; V. Teaching; VI. Works by Michael Strassfeld; VII. Books and other publications from the library of Michael Strassfeld; and VIII. Photographs from the publication of The Jewish Catalog. A ninth series, Judaic sound recordings, is in process and will be added to this finding aid when completed.
The series on "Education" contains mostly notes, research papers, and study materials created by Strassfeld from his years in high school at the Maimonides School to his undergraduate and graduate student years in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, as well as his study to become ordained as a Rabbi at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Additionally, there are study materials from continuing education courses at a number of institutes and study centers including the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, the Shalom Hartman Institute, and others.
The series of "Jewish counterculture and later progressive movements" includes materials concerning the Havurah movement, feminism, sexuality and gender, environmentalism, peace, the persecution of Soviet Jews, and youth movements, among others. Materials include newspapers and ephemera of the time, notes from meetings and retreats, and positional papers on a range of topics. Also in this series are materials from Strassfeld's co-founding and association with Havurat Shalom and the National Havurah Committee.
The third series on "Synagogues" contains the working papers of Strassfeld's time as lay employee and later Rabbi of Congregation Ansche Chesed (1982-2001), and as Rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (2001-2015), both located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Many of these files are managerial in nature, representing the day-to-day issues faced in managing and serving as a leader of two progressive and egalitarian houses of worship. Because of clergy-congregant privilege a small number of files in this series are restricted. More information on this can be found in the "Access Restrictions" note in this finding aid.
The series on "Observances" includes materials associated with sacred services at Strassfeld's two synagogues (as well as the occasional service while visiting another congregation). These materials include programs, readings, notes, and sermons for weekly services, special services, and holidays; the High Holidays services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Prayer and lifecycle ceremonies including birth ceremonies, bar/t mitzvahs, and marriages; and Healing services and resources.
The series on "Teaching" covers courses taught by Strassfeld, mostly in his capacity as Rabbi at Congregation Ansche Chesed and the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, but also through conferences and community organizations.
The series "Works by Michael Strassfeld" is comprised of a range of writings, public presentations, and other creative works. Included are speeches given in various venues and on a range of occasions; a large collection of hand-written eulogies; files associated with the writing and publication of The Jewish Catalog; and an assortment of other writings and works such as magazine articles, books, and documentation on assembling Strassfeld's substantial collection of Jewish sound recordings.
The series of "Books and other publications from the Library of Michael Strassfeld" is comprised of approximately 333 individual titles. Included are the published works by Michael Strassfeld such as The Jewish Catalog, called the most successful book to come out of the Jewish counterculture, and its subsequent volumes; The Jewish Calendar; and several other important titles. Also, there are books on a range of mostly Jewish topics which were selected by Strassfeld as a representation of works important to his development as a Rabbi. These have been divided into categories including: Comparative religion; The Holocaust; Jewish counterculture; Jewish community; Jewish feminism; Jewish fiction; Jewish guide books; Jewish historical sources; Jewish modernity; Jewish music; Jewish pastoral services; Jewish practices; Jewish spirituality; Jewish theology; Jewish youth and education; Rabbi manuals; Sidderum (prayerbooks); as well as non-Jewish books; and a selection of progressive Jewish periodical issues. Many of these works may be found elsewhere in the Penn Libraries, and complete bibliographic citations are given to facilitate finding copies within Franklin.
There is a series of "Photographs from the publication of The Jewish Catalog." These number over 250 individual prints, and contain scenes especially from the Havurah movement, depictions of Jewish practices and rituals, and scenes of Jewish life from around the world.
Series IX. Audio material contains a collection of over 950 sound recordings (LPs, cassettes, and CDs) of Jewish music collected by Strassfeld over the course of his life. The collection emphasizes sacred Hasidic music, but also includes examples of the Jewish folk revival, and a small amount of Klezmer instrumental music and Yiddish song.
Gift, Michael Strassfeld, 2015
- Havurat Shalom (Somerville, Mass.)
- Society for the Advancement of Judaism (New York, N.Y.)
- Temple Ansche Chesed (New York, N.Y.)
- Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (Wyncote, Pa.)
- Brandeis University
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- John F. Anderies; Hebrew music listed by David Kalish and Louis Meiselman
- Finding Aid Date
- 2016 December 14
- Access Restrictions
The majority of this collection is open for research. A small number of files are restricted due to personally identifiable information or clergy-congregant privilege. Researchers interested in viewing restricted files in this collection should email the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rarebooks, and Manuscripts for permission. The following files are restricted for clergy-congregant privilege: Box 9, Folder 34, 38, and 39; Box 11, Folder 26; and Box 12, Folder 53. Box 19, Folder 4 is restricted because it contains personally identifiable information.
Access to original audio/visual materials (Series IX: Audio material) and computer files is restricted. The Kislak Center will provide access to the information on these materials from duplicate master files. If the original does not already have a copy, it will be sent to an outside vendor for copying. Patrons are financially responsible for the cost. The turnaround time from request to delivery of digital items is about two weeks for up to five items and three to seven weeks for more than five items. Please contact Reprographic Services (email@example.com) for cost estimates and ordering.
Once digital items are received, researchers will have access to the files on a dedicated computer in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Researchers should be aware of specifics of copyright law and act accordingly.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.