Rabbi Solomon Bernards, director of interreligious cooperation at the Anti-Defamation League for 22 years, died on the morning of November 9 near his home in Rockport, Md., of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 90 years old.
A progressive bridge-builder between faiths, genders and races, Bernards’s tenure at the ADL was focused in part on working with the Protestant community toward decreasing antisemitism and expanding Judaica libraries. “His legacy was that you regard the other side as a real ‘you’ — real people,” said Yocheved Herschlag Muffs, Bernards’s co-worker at the ADL for almost 20 years. “It is the essence of dialogue.”
Born in Chicago on May 14, 1914, Bernards graduated John Marshall Law School in 1938, received his rabbinical degree from The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1942, and then his doctorate in Hebrew letters in 1950. During World War II, Bernards served as a chaplain in the Navy (though he never even learned to swim).
From 1950 to 1961, Bernards served at the helm of Nott Terrace Synagogue (now Agudat Achim) in Schenectady, N.Y., where he expanded women’s participation in regular prayer services and instituted bat mitzvahs.
In 1959, he testified before a congressional panel to decry General Electric Co. for moving its shops down south and devastating local workers. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., and worked at the ADL until his retirement in 1982.
Bernards is survived by his wife, Ruth, whom he married in 1948, and by his daughter, Reena, and two grandchildren. A son, Joel, died in 1974; He is also survived by a son, Ezra Brown, from his first wife, and that son’s two grown children.