William Cutter

William Cutter

I have taught at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles for 49 years, most recently in the role of “emeritus professor”. Retirement came in increments and— to a large extent—had little to do with how I spend my life day to day. I continue to read, write a little and teach.

I have published academic articles in three distinct areas
1. The field of educational theory and language
2. The field of modern Hebrew literature and general literary criticism
3. The field of health and spirituality.

Plus numerous popular essays and articles. My “output” adds up to nearly 250 separate works which, I hope, someone will read some day.
I have published two anthologies on health, healing and Judaism, and—of course—have contributed essays for those anthologies. I have also co-edited a major Festschrift in honor of Arnold Band, distinguished professor of comparative literature at UCLA. I have not been a writer of books—a personal disappointment, but perhaps the good fortune of the Jewish public. I suppose I am a “miniaturist”. The absence of a real book from my profile is a bit of a disappointment.

My special interest has been the intellectual environment of Eastern Europe and Berlin between the end of the 19th Century and the middle of the 20th. I have tried to keep abreast of the remarkable field of modern Israeli prose and poetry, and until recently, had managed to do so, publishing reviews and academic treatments of the work of people like Yehuda Amichai, Alef Bet Yehoshua, and Aharon Apelfeld. In the poetic domain I have been especially interested in the poetry of Amichai, Natan Zach, Haim Gouri, Zelda, Malka Shaked, Ruchama Weiss, and Yona Wolloch. Dahlia Ravikowitch is becoming increasingly important in my thinking about poetry.

I have spoken at about one hundred and fifty synagogues or Jewish centers on a variety of topics; conducted a dozen or so workshops at the Esalen Institute, and served on the High Holidays for congregations throughout the West. I was a Fellow of the Institute for Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College in 1988.

I have tried to serve the CCAR and the Movement in a variety of ways: CCAR board, committees of the Conference, ARZA academic council, commissions of the Union for Reform Judaism, and as a member of both the Platform Committee and the committees that helped develop our new siddurim. I currently translate a lot for our rabbinic manuals.

For thirty years I was a staff editor for Behrman House Books.

In the area of “tikkun olam”, at least as it is currently defined, I helped organize several caravans of teachers to the Former Soviet Union (in the 1980’s), was an aggressive advocate of abortion reform, served on committees to abandon both the House Unamerican Activities Committee (in the 60s) and the nuclear arms race. I currently work in a shelter for high functioning homeless citizens in Pasadena that is directed by our colleague, Marvin Gross.

My career has experienced some turbulence: occasional ill health which has probably served me well; and dramatic changes in the structures of our Movement and even the College-Institute. Those changes stimulated periodic disruption and I have often been a participant and object of some of that turbulence.

America has not figured out a way to draw on the intellectual capital of retired people. This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of things to do or ways to serve, but I am speaking of developing a way to utilize this “retired” talent in organic systematic ways. With regard to the Movement I would say that Kal veHomer applies here, and I am occasionally embarrassed by some of our practices and recent actions.

I suppose I am considered the “founder” of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, MUSE with Nancy Berman the earlier program in museum education of the Skirball Museum, (now the Skirball Cultural Center), and the Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health. I was the first director of our programs in Judaic Studies at the University of Southern California, where I taught for nearly twenty years. Among the things I’m proudest of has been my work (along with colleagues and especially Nancy Wiener) at the Jerusalem campus of HUC. The pastoral programs at the Jerusalem school have now expanded to include heretofore unheard of dimensions like: pastoral training for Israeli Rabbinic Students; spiritual modes of reading rabbinic literature, and a dialogue group between Israeli and Palestinian social workers. I still spend time at our Jerusalem campus each year. I am a lifelong devotee of the Zionism of leaders like Lova Eliav and Amos Oz, and a lifelong skeptic about the value of thinking that “the winner gets to call all the shots.”

Prouder still I reflect back on having enjoyed the presence of (I suppose) over a thousand students in the various courses I have taught: modern literature, theories of interpretation and translation, curriculum development, holistic approaches to education, pastoral education, and (in a pinch) rabbinic literature. I believe that the bifurcation of professional training from academic training is an intellectual mistake, and that some day someone with educational vision will come along to move things in a more integrated direction.

But I am proudest of the work of my son and daughter in law, and the production of Jacob Samuel (Kobi) Cutter advancing into his second year of life. My daughter-in-law is Associate Rabbi at Rodeph Sholom in NYC, and my son an effective staff member of The Hartman Institute. Because of my two “children” my strength has not diminished. And because of my grandson, it had better not in the too near future.

(I wish there were a way to write about oneself without using the pronoun “I” so much.)