Pick of the Archives: Rabbi Raskas

Among the interesting photographs and documents recently donated to the JHSUM were some clippings and eulogies about the passing of a prominent member of our community, not ordinarily the most significant donations we receive. What made these the choice for this Pick of the Archives was their subject, Rabbi Bernard Raskas, whose long and productive life ended in June, 2010.

Rabbi Raskas was the spiritual leader of Temple of Aaron, where he was served as chief Rabbi from 1951 to 1989, and Rabbi Emeritus from 1989 to 2000. Because he was a leader and spokesman for our community in so many ways, his biography, his writings and his leadership are well documented in our collection, where his inspiration and his wisdom are accessible to anyone who comes to look for himself.

Bernard Raskas was born in St Louis in 1924. His Orthodox family, who owned a dairy, was close-knit and valued Jewish scholarship. As a young student. he was considered a rising star., He wooed and won Laeh Halpern, the daughter of a prominent conservative St Louis Rabbi. Raskas was educated at Washington University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

In 1952 shortly after he came as a new Rabbi to Temple of Aaron, the building was destroyed by a fire. Rabbi Raskas was instrumental in the building of the present Temple of Aaron on East River Road. He and Laeh were actively involved in the artistic decorations of the buiding, the banners and decorations that adorn the sanctuary and social hall. His gentle, humorous and persuasive manner was known in the wider community as well as the synagogue. He served as Jewish chaplain and faculty member at Macalester, where he was beloved by students and staff alike. He was active in St Paul civic affairs, was a supporter of the civil rights movement and a champion of women’s rights, especially within the Conservative movement. Rabbi Raskas and Laeh were passionate Zionists, and maintained a home in Israel, Both have been buried in Jerusalem.

In our collection at the JHSUM we have two books, Over the Years: an Anthology of Sermons, Articles and Writings , from 1985, and a more recent book, Blessings of Freedom, published in 2002. We also have a set of oral history interviews on tape. There is also a tribute book dating from 1989, as Rabbi Raskas began his formal retirement from Temple of Aaron after 38 years of service. Among the conventional messages of praise from civic leaders, there are interesting details of his years at Temple of Aaron. His services were innovative and creative, and as a writer, scholar and community leader he achieved nationwide recognition.

Since his retirement Rabbi Raskas continued to write, teach and serve his community, both in the religious and wider sense. The last contribution to his archive, is the eulogy delivered by an old friend, and two obituaries, one from the Highland Park Villager, and one from the Star Tribune, all written with deep respect for a life lived long and well. You can find all the details in our collection!



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