CLEVELAND, Ohio. Rabbi Howard Jay Hirsch, who founded the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Colorado Springs in the mid-1990s, died April 15 at age 82. Rabbi Hirsch was born Sept. 3, 1937, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He graduated from Case Western University and was ordained from Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City in June 1964.
His rabbinical work led him to Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs in 1989. He also became a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at Regis University in Denver for more than 20 years.
A turning point in his life came in the early 1990s, when Rabbi Hirsch worked with a Jesuit priest from Regis and Bishop Emeritus Richard Hanifen to develop a response to aggressive proselytism of Jewish and Catholic teens by some members of Protestant denominations.
“Our kids in some areas of town were being told by Christian kids that they weren’t going to be saved — Jews because they didn’t believe in Jesus and Catholics because they followed the pope instead of Jesus,” Bishop Emeritus Hanifen recalled.
The men organized a public gathering at Temple Shalom to discuss the issue.
“The place was absolutely jammed,” Rabbi Hirsch said. “People were asking very pointed questions. The net result was that the evangelical leaders met the challenge and stopped that practice.”
The experience planted the seed for the foundation of the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue (CCJD) in 1995.
“I went off on a weeklong sabbatical and fasted and prayed,” Rabbi Hirsch later recalled. “I came back and incorporated with the Secretary of State.”
In 1997, he retired from Temple Shalom to devote himself full-time to the center. Bishop Hanifen, who had by then become a close personal friend, was a founding member, in addition to Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Rev. Gerald Trigg of First United Methodist Church.
A major aspect of the center’s activities was an annual dinner at which a “Dove of Peace” award was presented. Bishop Hanifen and Rabbi Hirsch also gave numerous talks around the state about the common heritage shared by Jews and Christians.
“At a time in Colorado Springs when a great deal of controversy was arising among the different religious communities, Rabbi Howard Hirsch rose up as a community leader unmatched,” said Bishop Hanifen. “Through his efforts, the community came together in the effort to promote Christian- Jewish dialogue. For years, CCJD sponsored a number of programs for dialogue and an annual dinner that featured the religious community of Colorado Springs coming together. He was a deep personal confidant and friend. Howard and his wife Eva were a great deal of support to me personally during my time as bishop. They are dearly missed in this community.”
Rabbi Hirsch stepped down from his role as director of the CCJD in 2012. In 2013, he and his wife Eva returned to the Cleveland area to be near their family. In addition to his wife, Rabbi Hirsch is survived by his seven children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.