A Conversation with Immanuel Lichtenstein
October 26, 2018
“I was born in New York City and lived and was educated in the city. My parents were deeply religious in the Jewish faith. My father, Morris Lichtenstein, was a rabbi uniquely ordained in both Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Although Morris formed and led a Jewish movement that followed Reform practice, he always admired and respected Orthodoxy. I had a very complete Jewish religious education. My secular education was primarily in the New York school of the Society of Ethical Culture. In parallel, for some years, after secular class, every day I was a Hebrew school student at the New York school of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism. An important addition to my Jewish formal education were two evenings a week reading the “Chumash”, the Pentateuch, with my father.
An important influence was my maternal grandfather, Chaim “Avi” Hirschensohn and grandmother, Eva, “Imi”, my mother, Tehilla’s, parents. Chaim Hirschensohn was one of four core founders of modern Zionism which eventually led to the existence of the State of Israel. His contribution was that the new state must have a religious base. He emigrated from Palestine about 1900 to Hoboken. New Jersey. His scholarly papers were read throughout the Hebrew speaking world and correspondents were worldwide. His kindly beatific presence was a major influence on his wide family certainly including his grandchildren. I was always included in the long trip, every few months, trolley, ferry, long trolley again to the little house in Hoboken on Bloomfield Street. I was feted and delighted. Yes, all conversation was Hebrew.
I saw, through my parents, both, what was the true life and devotion of the spiritual leader. My father, particularly, hoped that I would choose a career in the rabbinate. I saw clearly the devotion that it entailed. I knew that I could not follow their footsteps. With no persuasion or argument, he accepted and respected my decision.
On graduating from high school, I began college education at Columbia University to receive a degree in engineering.
In my freshman year my father passed on. My mother had been father’s closest confidante. She discussed all sermons, planned with him all the spiritual activities of the congregation, such as the establishment of the practitioners’ education, the editing and forming of the Jewish Science textbook, Jewish Science and Health, the special plans for the High Holy Day services. Thus, the board of directors asked that she take the leadership of the Society. She wavered. Her sister, Tamar de sola Pool, told her that she had the duty to accept, so she did. My brother, Michael, and I attended the service every week for a long time. Our special duty was carefully adjusting the sound system.
My career in engineering began as America entered World War II. All men wanted to enlist. Nearsightedness kept them from accepting me and I was an engineer first in the Washington Naval Ordnance Laboratory, later in the General Motors airplane plant in New Jersey. Near the end of the war, the armed services were desperate, and they did draft me. I served in the Corps of Engineers in Germany for three years. I never saw any combat.
After the war, on leaving the service, I was hired by Abraham Goldstein (former Board Chair and benefactor of MAKOR’s current home), to work on an engineering project for his plant in upstate New York, a project in the paper industry.
In 1952 Nancy Rabi and I married in the synagogue of my uncle, Rabbi David de sola Pool. Nancy is the daughter of a distinguished professor of physics who had been on the faculty of Columbia for many years. We’ve had a very happy 65 years, with two grown married daughters, Alice and Elizabeth with two grown granddaughters.
From 1952 to about 1969 I worked for two large corporations, Avco Corporation in the defense industry, and Phelps Dodge, a mining corporation. I now have a consulting firm in the mining industry, Agricola Metals Corporation. The corporate life had led us to live in quite a number of places: New York, Indiana, California, Massachusetts, and now, Princeton, New Jersey.
I have now seen many changes in the Jewish Science leadership since the passing of my mother. It gives me very much pleasure to see the Society with the great executive leadership of Terry Katz and the wonderful spiritual leadership of Frank Tamburello.”