Skip to main content

Rabbi Richard J. Israel Papers

Identifier: P-860

Scope and Content Note

The bulk of this collection contains organizational resources from R.I.'s tenure at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston. A small amount of material is included in the collection that refers to his work with various Hillel organizations. In addition to organizational resources, numerous Judaic resources on topics relating to intermarriage, kashrut, Soviet Jewry, matchmaking and camping are included in the collection.

The JCC subseries also contains material relating to other JCCs around the country, including Memphis, Chicago and Los Angeles. During R.I.'s tenure at JCC of Greater Boston, Jewish education was a priority and various JCCs shared information to develop appropriate programming. Although very little of R.I.'s personal papers are in this collection, the JCC material provides a snapshot of Jewish community services in the mid-eighties and early nineties.

Judaic resources include resources from various national organizations and subject files. Of particular interest is the file on Soviet Jewry, which includes a written description of RI's trip to the Soviet Union in 1974.

Also of interest is a series of Black Panther newspapers and documents that R.I. saved from his time at Yale Hillel. Although known for his work with the Civil Rights Movement, it is unclear if there was a relationship between R.I.'s work at the Yale Hillel and the Black Panthers.


  • undated, 1949-1996


Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact

Biographical Note

Rabbi Richard Israel was born in 1929 in Chicago to Isidore and Julia Israel. R.I. and his sister, Lorna, were raised in the South Shore of Chicago. Until the Depression, his father and uncles owned millinery stores; once the stores failed Isidore Israel worked as a jobber of women's hats. R.I.'s mother began her career as a dress seller before eventually becoming a buyer of children's clothing.

Prior to attending the University of Chicago, R.I. changed his name to Richard Cordell per the suggestion of his father, who was known professionally as Irving Cordell. In 1950, R.I. graduated from the University of Chicago. It was during college that R.I. became involved with Hillel, eventually entering Hebrew Union College. While at Hebrew Union College, R.I. studied for a year in Israel. He was ordained in 1957.

R.I. spent several years working in Hillel organizations. His first job was as Associate Director of the Hillel at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). He held this job until 1959, when he then became the Director of the Yale University Hillel. In 1971, R.I. left Yale for the Executive Director position at the Hillel Council of Greater Boston.

In 1985, R.I. began his tenure as the Director of Central Services and Judaica at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston. In this position, R.I. was responsible for programming activities and was heavily involved in the operations of the organization. After leaving the JCC, R.I. served as Director of the Rabbinic Program for the College Campus of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

R.I. was also the past-president of the National Association of Hillel Directors, the Yale Religious Ministry, served on the Genocide Convention Committee of the National Community Relations Advisory Council, and authored The Kosher Pig and Other Curiosities of Modern Jewish Life and Jewish Identity Games: A How to Do it Book. He also served as Chief Rabbi of India for six months. In 1974, R.I. traveled to the Soviet Union to help establish a network for Refuseniks.

In addition to his rabbinical duties, R.I. was known to be an avid beekeeper and marathon runner. He and his wife Sherry had four children: Alisa, David, Rachel, and Joshua. R.I. died in July 2000 at the age of 71, while hiking in New Hampshire with his son, Joshua.


  1. "The Making of an American Rabbi: A Conversation with Richard Israel" by William Novak, Kerem, 1992.
  2. "Hesped for Rabbi Richard James Israel" by Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels, July 14, 2000
  3. Finding Aid to the Richard J. Israel Papers, Manuscript Collection No. 722, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, OH.


RI born in Chicago
Graduates from University of Chicago
Ordained at Hebrew Union College
Hillel Director at Yale University
Regional Director of Hillel Council of Greater Boston
Retires from Hillel; begins tenure at the JCC of Greater Boston
RI dies


4 linear feet (4 document boxes)


Rabbi Richard J. Israel was born in 1929 in Chicago. After attending the University of Chicago and Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Israel began his lengthy career in Hillel at the University of California, Los Angeles. He later worked at Hillel at Yale University, followed by an Executive Director position at the Hillel Council of Greater Boston. Rabbi Israel was also the Director of Central Services and Judaica at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston and was the Director of the Rabbinic Program at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. In addition to his work on college campuses and in Jewish education, he was the author of "The Kosher Pig and Other Curiosities of Modern Jewish Life" and "Jewish Identity Games: A How to do it Book." The bulk of this collection contains resources and information pertaining to his career at the Jewish Community Center, although there are several documents regarding his work in Hillel and Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. In addition, a brief memoir of his trip to the Soviet Union in 1974 is included, as well as copies of various Black Panther newspapers from New Haven, Connecticut.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Rabbi Richard Israel in 1995.

Processing Information

Processed by Stephanie Call, 2008

Guide to the Richard J. Israel Papers, P-860
Processed by Stephanie Call
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Processed by Stephanie Call, Schilder Assistant Archivist, made possible by a grant from the Schilder Family Fund. This collection has been digitized, made possible by a grant from the Trustees u/w of Herman Dana.

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at American Ancestors Repository

99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States