Rela Mintz Geffen, a widely known sociologist and longtime member of the faculty at Gratz College, died Feb. 3. She was 75.
Geffen, whose studies centered on women and the developing American Jewish community, was well-respected in the community.
“My mother was a real lover of what made people tick,” said her son, Uri Monson, who is the chief financial officer of the School District of Philadelphia. “When she came into the room, people knew it.”
“Definitely Rela was one who lit up a room.” Beth Zion-Beth Israel Rabbi Emeritus Ira F. Stone said. “I knew her as a congregant at our synagogue, and I particularly remember her work on our search committee when I retired.”
Geffen produced a 22-page study for the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 1977 entitled “Bringing Women In.” It was one of the first surveys of the evolving role of women in Jewish organizational life in Philadelphia.
“Rela was really a pioneer in studying what roles women would have as they became more involved in different groups,” said Marcia Bronstein, regional director of AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey.
Geffen made several major contributions as an educator at both Gratz and Baltimore Hebrew University, which is now part of Towson University in Maryland, serving as president from 2000 to 2007 before returning to Gratz.
She first joined Gratz’s faculty in 1975, and was the point person in the establishment of the school’s master’s program in Jewish communal studies and a joint program in that field with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work. She was Gratz Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the time of her death.
During her long tenure as the first woman to serve as dean of Gratz, she worked to raise academic standards and expand the school’s faculty. She also, through her membership in the Association for Jewish Studies, was sought as a speaker by educational institutions and organizations nationwide.
She helped Gratz students by establishing a prize fund in her family’s name.
Geffen earned bachelor’s degrees from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Florida. She served as president of the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry and vice president of the Association for Jewish Studies during her career.
An adept writer, Geffen published more than 40 articles and book chapters and authored or edited four books.
Born in Troy, N.Y., she was educated in Manhattan public schools. She is the granddaughter of famed Orthodox Rabbi Tobias Geffen of Atlanta, who is known for his 1935 determination that Coca-Cola was kosher, and the daughter of Rabbi Joel S. Geffen of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
A funeral was held Feb. 5 at Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael-Sacks in Philadelphia. Contributions in Geffen’s memory may be made to Camp Ramah in the Poconos. l