Israel S. Dresner

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Israel S. Dresner
Israel Dresner with Martin Luther King Jr.
Born United States
Occupation Rabbi

Israel Seymour (Si) Dresner is a Reform rabbi, and past president of the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace.[1] He was instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, and a close friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Early life[edit]

He was born in April 1929, on the Lower East Side of New York City.

He was raised in Brooklyn, attending an Orthodox yeshiva (day school). At the age of 13, he joined Habonim Dror, a Labor Zionist youth movement, and in his teens, he became one of its leaders. He has been a card-carrying, dues-paying Zionist since 1942. He studied at Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago and got a B.A. and an M.A. in international Rerelations.


He spent 1951 and 1952 working at a new kibbutz, Urim, in the Negev. He then spent two years as an enlisted man in the US Army, the first year of which was the last year of the Korean War.

The next 5 years were spent studying at the New York School of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, where he was duly ordained as a rabbi. His first year in the active rabbinate was in Danbury, Connecticut, as assistant to Rabbi Jerome Malino. He then spent 12 years as rabbi of Temple Sha'arey Shalom in Springfield, New Jersey and 25 years as rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne, New Jersey. He was elected rabbi emeritus of the latter upon his retirement.

Civil Rights Movement[edit]

He was once dubbed "the most arrested rabbi in America."[2]

He was the foremost rabbinic participant in the Civil Rights Movement's struggle of the 1960s, and he was one of the three rabbis who was closest to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke on two occasions (1963 and 1966) at Dresner's congregation in Springfield.

Dresner was the first rabbi arrested in the freedom struggle in 1961 in an interfaith clergy freedom ride. He served for short periods as a prisoner on four occasions in prisons in Florida and Georgia from 1961 to 1964. One of his cases, Dresner et al. v. Tallahassee, reached the US Supreme Court.

US President Barack Obama honored him at the White House on the evening before the 50-year anniversary celebration of the March on Washington.

He was one of the outstanding rabbinic leaders in the struggle against the war in Vietnam and for the rights of the poor; women; immigrants, gays and lesbians: disabled people; and racial, religious and ethnic minorities.

He has served on the Social Action Commission of Reform Judaism for almost 44 years and is one of its few lifetime members. He was an early (1966) leader in the struggle for Soviet Jews.

Criticism of Israel[edit]

He is a critic of the Netanyahu government and is active in the peace movement in Israel.[3]

He was the president of the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace (now Partners for Progressive Israel).

He was one of the first rabbis to oppose the policies of the Jews in Israel and the US who advocated annexing the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War, in 1967. He has opposed the settlers' movement from its first inception in 1968, as have the nine US presidents who have served since then. He has been a dovish leader of Zionism by advocating a peace agreement with the Palestinians for a two-state solution, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has twice been elected a delegate and twice an alternate to the World Zionist Congress.

He has visited Israel since 1951 on 36 occasions, most recently in October and November 2013. He has supported the policies of former Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Barak and Olmert, and former Israeli ministers such as Sarid (education), Beilin (justice), and Livni (foreign affairs).

He has been a leader of an American Zionist organization for peace, justice, pluralism, and democracy, Partners for Progressive Israel, for a quarter-century, serving as its president for three years in the 1990s. He has been a member of J Street since its founding.

Personal life[edit]

He raised his son and his daughter in Hebrew, as he was raised in Yiddish. His son has both American and Israeli citizenships, is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, and did the first year of his M.A. at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His daughter was a volunteer in Kibbutz Yotvata and married a member of the kibbutz.


External links[edit]