Rabbi Max Hausen of Bryn Mawr was famous for his puns and strong handshake. Friends say his sharp mind, quick, dry wit and sense of humor were with him to the end.
The former Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia president and retired rabbi at Main Line Reform Temple died of pneumonia on Jan. 4. He was 93.
Hausen grew up in Manhattan and was briefly in the military after graduating from Horace Mann School at 16. He would have served in World War II, but was medically discharged after suffering an injury at boot camp.
“He proudly said he was a veteran, because he tried,” Hausen’s daughter, Judith Hausen, said. “And if you knew my dad, he had an enormous sense of humor. So everybody did get a chuckle out of it.”
Hausen earned a bachelor’s degree at New York University in 1947 and a J.D. at New York University School of Law in 1950. He practiced law in New York for five years before enrolling in Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. He was ordained in 1960.
“I love the study of law,” Hausman said in a 1983 Exponent article. “But I was uncomfortable being in a constantly adversarial position. I think by nature I’m one of the peacemakers.”
Hausen previously served at what is today known as Sinai Free Synagogue in Mount Vernon, New York for about six years before coming to Main Line Reform in Wynnewood. He served as its head rabbi from 1972 until retiring in 1996, when he was named rabbi emeritus.
Rabbi David Straus of Main Line Reform said Hausen was an active member of the congregation until six months ago. The last High Holiday service was the first to not feature Hausen as a speaker.
“Rabbi Hausen was a tireless fighter for social justice, for racial justice. A phrase that he used repeatedly was ‘working for just the common decency that can be found in all humanity,’” Straus said. “His life and his presence is really woven into the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the community who he’s touched over the years.”
Hausen was a civil rights advocate, worked to desegregate public schools, raised money for civil rights marches and spoke out against the Vietnam War. He even met Martin Luther King Jr.
More than three decades ago, he reached out to Rev. Jim Pollard Sr. of Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore to start a collaborative MLK Day celebration. Pollard would speak at the synagogue’s Shabbat services, while Hausen did likewise at the church’s Sunday service.
“To use a Jewish term, he was a great mensch. To use a Hindu term, he was a mahatma — a great soul,” Pollard said. “His life was a light so bright because it shines upon us even now.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Chief Planning and Strategy Officer Melissa S. Johnson knew Hausen from her days as executive director at Main Line Reform.
“Everyone in our community referred to Rabbi Hausen as ‘my rabbi,”’ she said. “He had a way of making every person he met feel like they were especially important to him.”
Hausen served on many boards, including a predecessor of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Reform Pension Board, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Jewish Publishing Group, Hebrew Union College and Gratz College. He served as the president of the Board of Rabbis, Main Line Board of Rabbis and the Main Line Interfaith Ministerium. He co-chaired the Commission on Interfaith Activities of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Philadelphia.
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