Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
News

William Berkowitz, 83, Leading New York Rabbi

Rabbi William Berkowitz, a longtime spiritual leader of a major New York City synagogue, died February 3. He was 83.

Berkowitz served as senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun between 1950 and 1984.

He was also well-known for creating the Dialogue Forum, an innovative series of public conversations with such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., Isaac Bashevis Singer and Golda Meir.

Berkowitz was born in 1924 in Philadelphia. After serving in the United States Navy during World War II, he attended Gratz College and Temple University in Philadelphia and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

His tenure at B’nai Jeshurun, which is located on New York’s Upper West Side and during his tenure was affiliated with the Conservative movement, included a tumultuous period in American urban life during the 1950s and 1960s, when many Jewish families left the cities for the suburbs.

“He chose to stay in the neighborhood and have the congregation stay and maintain itself,” Berkowitz’s son, Rabbi Perry Berkowitz, told the Forward. “At a time when people were afraid to leave their homes, he had them out on the streets.”

Perry Berkowitz noted that his father’s strategy for keeping the New York Jewish community vibrant was to “pack in more and more programs.” Besides the Dialogue Forum, Berkowitz’s initiatives included the first Conservative Jewish day school in Manhattan and the Institute of Adult Jewish Studies. Berkowitz also served as president of the New York Board of Rabbis in the early 1970s.

One of the rabbi’s longtime friends was Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who spoke at Berkowitz’s funeral. He credited Berkowitz with inventing “the ‘dialogue’ concept.” Berkowitz is survived by his wife, Florence Berkowitz; children Perry, Leah and Adena; and five grandchildren.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.