Champaign Rabbi, Holocaust Survivor, Isaac Neuman Dies

Rabbi Isaac Neuman at a service to mark his initiation and the reopening of the East Berlin synagogue in 1987.

New Rabbi Isaac Neuman (center), accompanied by Cantors Oljean Ingster (left) from East Berlin and Miklos Friedman from Budapest, carryng the Tora rolls into the East Berlin synagogue "Temple of Peace" for a service to mark his initiation and the reopening of the synagogue in 1987.

(AP-Photo/Elke Bruhn-Hoffmann/- 09/23/1987.)

A colleague of Isaac Neuman is remembering the longtime leader of Champaign’s Jewish community as a kind and wise man who always spoke the truth.  Neuman died Monday at age 91.

Neuman presided over Champaign’s Sinai Temple from 1974 to 1987.  But he had a storied life before coming to the area. 

Neuman was a survivor of six Nazi concentration camps – and later published a book about his experience. 

He also worked for social justice reforms, and was part of the 1965 civil rights march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama.

Lee Melhado, the former executive director of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation, first met Neuman in 1979.

"He stood up for the African-American community in the United States, because he knew it was it like to be discriminated against or persecuted, and he didn’t want anybody to be discriminated against or persecuted," she said.  "And he was willing to put his life on the line for that.  He did a lot of very touching interventions in people’s lives when they sought him out.”

Melhado says Rabbi Neuman had survived several health scares in the past, and was reaching out to members of the Jewish community as recently as two weeks ago. 

"He would sometimes summon you, he would call you up and ask to see you," she said.  "He would have something on his mind he wanted to discuss, often about the health of the Jewish community, often about a political or theological issue, and he would ask you to come and speak with him about it, or people would call him.  He welcomed many, many people into his home throughout retirement."

Burial is at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Mount Hope Cemetery, but a larger memorial is planned for 7 p.m. December 18th at Sinai Temple.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement Wednesday when learning of Neuman's passing:

"Rabbi Neuman was a devoted member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in the early years when the Museum was being conceived and built. As a Holocaust survivor and spiritual leader, he played an important role in shaping the Museum as a living memorial that would speak to both the past and the future."

Story source: WILL