Seymour Fox (1929-2006)
Jewish Educational Innovator and Institution-Builder
Just two weeks after announcing his plans to retire as Director for Program of the Mandel Foundation worldwide, Seymour (Shlomo) Fox died suddenly of heart failure, on July 10, at his home in Jerusalem.
He was about to return to his greatest love, he told his friends – teaching. His topic was the art of educational “translation,” that pendulum-like movement from theory to practice and back to theory, checking and reflecting, planning and implementing, then checking the results yet again.
In the decades before, Fox himself was engaged with the art of educational translation. His efforts led to the founding of new institutions in America and in Israel, as well as to the innovation of a whole area in applied philosophy of education.
Fox was born Nov. 17, 1929 in Chicago, one of four children to immigrant parents from Poland. After excelling in his early studies at public school and at yeshiva, where he received a traditional Jewish education, he went on to enroll as pre-med in college, while earning a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature and Jewish Teacher's Certification at Chicago's College of Jewish Studies. It was there that he was profoundly influenced by the Jewish philosopher, Simon Ravidowicz. Fox ultimately left medical school to pursue the study of education at the University of Chicago. His doctoral studies were guided by his mentor, the philosopher of education and curriculum specialist, Joseph Schwab, to whom he remained a loyal disciple for the rest of his life. Four teachers who also set his course at Chicago were – Robert Maynard Hutchins, Bruno Bettleheim, Ralph Tyler and Richard McKeon.
Seeking to improve the field of Jewish education, the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA), Louis Finkelstein, invited Fox to participate in the rabbinical studies program. Studying with leading Jewish scholars and thinkers, such as Saul Lieberman, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mordecai Kaplan, Fox received his ordination in 1956, and was subsequently appointed assistant professor of education at the Teachers Institute of the rabbinical school, where he was later to become dean. From 1954 to 1966, he took charge of the Ramah summer camp movement, developing the camps’ educational ideals and practices, infusing campers and staff alike through his gift of bringing scholars and communities together, enlivening, even electrifying, both. For many thousands of youth, Camp Ramah was a formative experience in shaping their commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people and in launching their own leadership in the Jewish community. In addition, in 1960, Fox established the pivotal center for Jewish educational initiatives in the United States at JTSA, the Melton Research Center for Jewish Education.
After a short term as a visiting professor at the School of Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1966, he decided to remain in Israel and was appointed to head the School, a position he held for 14 years. In this capacity, Fox invited leading educational scholars from America to contribute to Israeli education, introduced new programs in early childhood education and curriculum writing and he established the Research Institute for Innovation in Education and the Melton Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora (now known as the Melton Center for Jewish Education). Many of Fox's students have become leaders in the fields of curriculum in Israeli and Jewish education world wide, including the recent Israel Prize winner, Miriam Ben Peretz. Fox also helped shape Israeli educational policy in his role as advisor to four of Israel's Ministers of Education, his active membership in Council for Higher Education and his chairmanship of the committee for the accreditation of teacher-training colleges.
In 1983, Fox proposed a program to train Jewish educational leaders for Jewish communities in the Diaspora, the Jerusalem Fellows, in conjunction with the Jewish Agency and prominent scholars, researchers and planners and policy makers from the fields of education and Jewish studies. Its graduates have gone on to hold key positions in Jewish education in Israel and communities around the Jewish world.
When Morton L. Mandel of Cleveland, Ohio was invited to serve as chairman of the Jewish Agency’s committee on education, he appointed Fox his senior policy advisor. Their collaboration intensified and grew from then on. At first, Mandel established the Commission on Jewish Education in North America, and asked Fox and Annette Hochstein, director of Nativ Policy and Planning Consultants, to join him and lead its staff work. The Commission's work contributed to Jewish education's becoming a top priority among leading policymakers and federation leaders in Jewish communities across North America. Its report, A Time to Act, also led to the establishment of the Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education in 1990.
Fox's collaboration with Mandel then led to the establishment of what has become the largest foundation for Jewish education in the Jewish world and to the founding of the Mandel Leadership Institute (MLI). Based in Jerusalem, MLI provides programs in the training of educational leaders and social entrepreneurs, including the Mandel Jerusalem Fellows, the Mandel School of Educational Leadership and others.
In 1991, Fox also initiated and headed a project for the Foundation dedicated to the development of new visions of Jewish education for Israel and for Jewish communities throughout the world. This project was guided by Fox's novel conception of philosophy of education as a resource discipline for the improvement of educational practice. He enlisted his teacher and colleague, Israel Scheffler, and his student and colleague, Daniel Marom to lead the project's first initiative, which was unprecedented in bringing thinkers and educators with diverse Jewish ideological commitments around the same discussion table to construct six new philosophies of Jewish education. The initiative culminated in the publication of Visions of Jewish Education, published by Cambridge University Press in 2003, and its Hebrew version Medabrim Chazon, published in 2005. Since then, Fox integrated the Visions project as an ongoing component of the Mandel Foundation's program of activities.
In 2002, Fox was appointed Director of Program for the Mandel Foundation worldwide, developing collaborations with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as well as with Brandeis University.
Fox is survived by his wife, Sue Mogilner-Fox, his sons, David, Eytan and Danny, his brother and sister, and is also mourned by nieces, nephews, stepchildren and grandchildren, friends, colleagues and the many whom he taught and mentored.