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Bernard H. Baum 1926 – 2008

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Summer 2008

Bernard H. Baum, a long-time member and leader of the American Council for Judaism, and a respected member of the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago for nearly 40 years, died in Chicago at the age of 82 in June. At the time of his death he was Chairman of the American Council for Judaism.  
Bernie’s life took him on many unexpected paths, and was dramatically altered by the conflicts of the twentieth century. He was dedicated to the promotion of Classical Reform Judaism, and was an American patriot. Even many who knew him well were not aware of his own personal history and many of his extraordinary achievements.  
Bernie was born in 1926 in Giessen, Germany, but his quiet boyhood came to an end in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power. Bernie’s father had read Mein Kampf and was well aware of Hitler’s contempt for Jews. The family left Germany within a few months.  
Returned to Europe  
The family settled in Chicago and Bernie graduated from Senn High School. He soon returned to Europe as a U.S. Army private, headed into the war. He was lucky to survive, he recalled, since, while crossing the English Channel, he watched a Nazi submarine sink another troop transport.  
After the end of the war he remained in Germany and had what he viewed as an important formative experience. During a simple trip to the motor pool of a segregated U.S. military unit, lunchtime presented a difficult question for those in charge. Should Bernie, a private, eat with the black enlisted men, or the white officers? In the Army of that era, race came before rank. Bernie was directed to the officers’ club.  
Jonathan Baum, one of Bernie’s four children, said that his father told that story a week before his death, just after Senator Barack Obama became the first black presidential nominee of a major political party. “He said, ‘This country has really come a long way,’” his son said.  
Resumed His Education  
Bernie returned from Europe in 1946 and resumed his education, eventually receiving a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago. He put his experience in organization theory to the test by persuading CNA Insurance to create a job where he could study the firm’s management practices. He then returned to academia, teaching management and health policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  
In 2005, Bernie’s book As If People Mattered: Dignity in Organizations, was published. He addressed such questions as “What is the nature and role of dignity in organizations? Why do managers, professional employees, clients and patients identify the idea that organizations universally violate their dignity? What can we learn from taking a close look at what participants in organizations feel about their sense of worth?”  
Bernie wrote:”In recent years, I have come to realize that two widely held perceptions — that employee ‘empowerment’ is a disguise for harder work, and that authority is persistently abused — share an underlying commonality: the erosion of dignity. ... After years of studying organization behavior and culture, I have come to the conclusion that dignity is a basic human need that must be taken into account in any analysis of management strategy and employee relations. The concept of dignity sheds light on many of the most salient questions of organizational sociology, especially concerning the nature and distribution of authority, influence and control.”  
Workplace Dignity  
He noted that, “Although large organizations are no longer viewed as quasi-permanent employers, workplace dignity remains a crucial issue for workers and for society. The modern organization has become the ultimate social bonding agent, to a large extent supplanting smaller-scale groupings such as extended families, neighborhoods, and religious affiliations. As communal ties weaken, the workplace becomes the central arena in the struggle for a humane and meaningful life. There is some urgency in this view, as technology threatens to further dehumanize the workplace. Halls of electronic workstations have become the new sweatshops, where Big Brother can keep an eye on every electronic move we make. We are both isolated and controlled, and the interpersonal relationships that are at the heart of dignity are neglected.”  
Bernie’s book was widely praised. Author Studs Terkel wrote: “I expected that the 21st century would render my observations of worker privation historical. Not so. Professor Bernard Baum vividly demonstrates that workplace dignity and safety remain major public health challenges. We still have much work to do.” Dr. Bruce Campbell, Chief Executive Officer of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, noted that, “Authored by a recognized expert in management sociology and health care, this book explores and relates it to the practical (‘real’) world. Cogently conceived and written, it provides the kind of understanding all of us — executives, employees, patients, customers — should have regarding the problem of denigration of dignity. None of us is immune from this organizational pathology (including physicians and CEOs). I found it extraordinary in its content and, most importantly, in its ability to be implemented.”  
Maintained Military Ties  
Bernie maintained his military ties, serving in the Illinois National Guard and the Army Reserve. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General, and often led the Fourth of July parade in Evanston, Illinois, where he lived, as the highest ranking military officer in town. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “Deeply patriotic, he nonetheless opposed the Vietnam War and in 1970 took a subtle opportunity to share his view. He marched in Evanston’s Independence Day parade in civilian clothes, carrying a message of peace. But a fellow Army Reserve officer later told him his statement had been noticed at the Pentagon, and his security clearance was downgraded without notice ... Mr. Baum appealed to Sen. Charles Percy (R-IL) and his topsecret clearance was restored. Pentagon brass said the downgrading had been a clerical error ...”  
Bernie served on the boards of Evanston’s Beth Emet Synagogue and Chicago’s Selfhelp Home, which provides housing and health care for the area’s elderly Jewish population.  
His commitment to Classical Reform Judaism, his opposition to Jewish nationalism, and his devotion to the prophetic vision of a better world was a lifelong passion.  
He summed up his religious philosophy in a talk he gave at Beth Emet Synagogue on April 9, 2004 (an edited version of which was published in the Winter 2005 Issues.)  
“My Religion”  
Bernie gave the title “My Religion” to his talk, noting that it was the title of a volume published in 1925, two years after the death of Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, containing a collection of his sermons. “I took it for a title because I think that much of what I think about Judaism and my religion comes from that work of Emil G. Hirsch.”  
In Germany, Bernie noted, his father was a member of a group he called “Zentraal Verein,” which “was an organization much akin to the American Council for Judaism, that is it advocated for integration of the Jews into the larger society. It is important to clearly differentiate between what happened in Germany and what exists in the United States. Germany had lost a war and was perhaps treated somewhat unfairly at Versailles. Germany was ripe for the kind of anti-Semitism that came about. The United States, on the other hand, was founded on different principles than the Weimar Republic and I think that we can be very pleased about that. Certainly, I am.”  
What he called “My Religion,” Bernie explained, was that of those who originally established Reform Judaism: “Their religion — and mine — is one based upon a devotion to God and to the ethical and moral values set forth by the Prophets ... The very term ‘prophetic Judaism,’ embraced by the reformers, emphasized the mandate to work tirelessly for the rights of the downtrodden and to create a just society on earth. It was not a religion about Jews, but a religion about God and what God expected of us. The prophets of the Bible served as advocates of ethical monotheism and the mission of Jews was to stand as an example of the highest standards of ethics and morals to help bring the world to an awareness of and commitment to this vision.”  
Israel Not Integral to Faith  
Bernie explained to the congregation why he was not a member of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA): “I’m not a member because I do not feel that the national state which is called Israel is an integral part of my religion. Now, I am as delighted as anyone that there is a haven or refuge for members of my family and all the others that suffered, but I do not think that allegiance to what is now a national state, a foreign state, is religious. ... When we say that we stand with Israel, or similar comments, these are too general for me, because I don’t agree with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, and I know many of you don’t either. When we say we stand with Israel, it seems a reasonable inference that we do indeed embrace these policies. The concept of the ‘mission of Israel’ embraced by the original reformers rejected any notion of a return by Jews to Palestine. This covenant concept, instead, argued that the Jews are a people chosen by God to enter into a special covenant and that this relationship determined the course of their history.”  
Bernie quoted Kaufman Kohler, a leading Reform theologian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and president of Hebrew Union College, who declared: “The task which God assigned to us is to unfold and spread the light of the monotheistic truth in its undimmed splendor, ever to be living witnesses, and also to die, if needs be, as martyrs for the One and holy God, to strive and battle also, if needs be, to suffer for the cause of truth, justice and righteousness, and thus to win the nations, the races and creeds, all classes of men by teaching and example, by life and moral endeavor as well as of incessant self-sacrifice and service for Israel’s religious and ethical ideals.”  
This Land Our Palestine  
Bernie also embraced the comments of Gustavus Poznanski, when he participated in the dedication of a new building for Congregation Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina in 1841: “This synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine, and as our fathers defended with their lives that temple, that city, and that land, so will their sons defend this city and this land.”  
Patriotism and love of country was inherent in Bernie’s declaration of faith. “For my part,” he said, “I do not want my grandchildren to go to Israel to live. I am a citizen of the United States. I love the United States. I want to pass on that heritage. This view is thoroughly consistent with that of the early reformers. Max Lilienthal, a prominent rabbi in Cincinnati in the latter part of the 19th century echoed this view: ‘America is our Palestine; here is our Zion and Jerusalem. Washington and the signers of the glorious Declaration of Independence — of universal human right, liberty and happiness — are our deliverers, and the time when their doctrines will be recognized and carried into effect is the time so hopefully foretold by our prophets. When men will live together in brotherly love, peace, justice and mutual benevolence, then the Messiah has come indeed, and the spirit of the Lord will have been revealed to all his creatures.’”  
Bernie concluded his remarks this way: “I am happy that we are part of a progressive movement and the religion in which I believe — a Judaism committed to one universal God and rejecting ethnocentrism and separation for Judaism’s mission as a light to the nations remains very much alive. ... My grandmother used to tell me in German to do justly and to fear no one. That is how I would like to go into the future — not with fear, not with a burden of anti-Semitism but with a positive forward look and vision ...”  
Never Lost Faith  
Speaking at Bernie’s funeral service, his son Jonathan said, “My father loved Judaism — his kind of Judaism, of course, he learned to live with more Hebrew, more Kipot and more liturgical references to Israel. He didn’t like it ... but he never lost faith in or abandoned his commitment ... He stood and fought. ... My father loved the United States of America — as only the proud, ‘card- carrying’ member of the ACLU that he was could ... In recent years he sometimes lamented that he was leaving me and my children a world inferior to the one he had been given. But he never lost faith in the promise of his beloved adopted country ... My father loved being a professor. It was the teaching, not the scholarship that he loved. ... Contrary to my childhood illusions, my father wasn’t perfect. But if I can do half as good a job as he did of being a human being — which is to say, being imperfect — I will be pleased. I say ‘pleased’ and not ‘content,’ because, as my father was also wont to say, ‘Only cows are content.’”  
Those of us in the American Council for Judaism who have worked closely with Bernie for many years will sorely miss his wise counsel and his friendship. He was preceded in death by his wife of 45 years, Barbara Eisendrath Baum. We extend our condolences to his sons Jonathan and David, his daughters Victoria Baum and Lisa Kritz, his nine grandchildren and his good friend and companion, Dale Lorens.

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