Dr. Gary P. Zola has announced that he will retire from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion (HUC-JIR) and from the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA).
As of July 1, 2023, he will become the AJA’s Executive Director Emeritus. After completing a planned 18- month sabbatical, Dr. Zola will officially take on the role of the Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the American Jewish Experience and Reform Jewish History on January 1, 2025. In retirement, Dr. Zola plans to continue his wide-ranging public activities both locally and nationally. He also intends to devote more time to scholarly research so that he can complete several book projects in the years ahead.
"As Gary Zola moves into the next chapter of his life, his superb academic scholarship, his leadership and strengthening of the AJA as the premiere center for the study of the American Jewish experience in the world, and his devotion to students, alumni, and to community outreach will endure as a model of excellence into the 21st Century,” said Rabbi David Ellenson, past president of HUC-JIR and a leading scholar in Modern Jewish thought. “The legacy he has bequeathed HUC-JIR and North American Jewry is immense.”
Dr. Zola was ordained as a rabbi in 1982 and earned his Ph.D. in American Jewish History in 1991 from HUC-JIR. Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus, the AJA’s founder and a pioneering historian of American Jewry trained Dr. Zola and supervised his academic work at HUC. Dr. Zola has served HUC-JIR for more than 40 years in numerous capacities. For the past three decades he has been a member of the school’s faculty. His research focused on the history of American Jewry and American Reform Judaism. Prior to joining the faculty, Dr. Zola served as the National Dean of Admissions, Student Affairs, and Alumni Relations for 16 years. During his tenure in this position, Zola oversaw the admission of almost 900 rabbinical students.
In addition to his role as professor, in 1998, Dr. Zola became the American Jewish Archives’ second Executive Director, succeeding his mentor and archives founder, Dr. Marcus. At the same time, he became the Editor of The Marcus Center’s award-winning publication, The American Jewish Archives Journal. Under Zola’s leadership, the AJA, has become the largest free-standing research center dedicated solely to the study of the American Jewish experience.
“As the American Jewish Archives’ director, Dr. Gary P. Zola refurbished its headquarters, greatly expanded its holdings, developed its web presence, upgraded its international fellowship program, and elevated its journal into one of the best in the field – all this while continuing to teach, write, mentor, and conduct research,” said Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University; Chief Historian, The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History; and Dr. Zola’s Ph.D. advisor. “The whole field of American Jewish History stands in Dr. Zola’s debt.”
Under Dr. Zola’s leadership, the AJA’s renowned collection is now located in a world-class complex of three interconnected structures including the Edwin A. Malloy Education Building and the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati’s International Learning Center. As an innovator in his field, Zola established key partnerships with Jewish and secular organizations across the globe.
During his career, Dr. Zola published ten books and dozens of articles which provide insight on the American Jewish experience. He recently published New Perspectives in American Jewish History, coedited with Mark A. Raider. His documentary volume titled We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry (2014) was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.
National organizations have sought out Dr. Zola’s expertise. On three separate occasions, President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Zola to serve as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. In 2006, Dr. Zola became the first American Jewish historian to receive appointment to the Academic Advisory Council of the congressionally recognized Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
“Dr. Zola was the driving force behind the memorial to Rabbi Regina Jonas, the world's first woman rabbi, at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where Jonas continued to teach until her death in Auschwitz,“ Former chair and current member of the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Lesley Weiss, said. “This project exemplifies Dr. Zola’s commitment ‘to pursue the ideals of goodness and hope,’ and was an inspiration to all of us.”
Dr. Zola always found time for his local community in Cincinnati and volunteered his talents to many humanitarian causes. Among a long list of local awards he has received are The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award and the Lighthouse Youth Services Beacon of Light Humanitarian Award. Thomas More University conferred a Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Dr. Zola for his “dedication to the principles that are the foundation of our nation.” This April, the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio will honor Dr. Zola as one of six outstanding community leaders.
“I was tremendously blessed by my association and friendship with Rabbi Gary Zola, said Bishop Marvin Frank Thomas, Sr., Presiding Prelate, First Episcopal District, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. “I am convinced that his life’s work and journey is interwoven in his commitment to living out the words of Micah 6:8 in that he is committed to doing justice, institutionally and individually, he loves kindness, and he endeavors to walk humbly with God every day of his life. We are all the better because of the gift God gave to the Hebrew Union College and the City of Cincinnati in the person of Rabbi Dr. Gary Zola.”
Dr. Zola will continue his social and community justice work. He is currently on the Advisory Board for EquaSion’s A Mighty Stream. He sits on the America 250-Ohio Scholarship Committee within the Ohio Commission for America’s 250th anniversary and the ArtWorks’ New Monuments Committee.
“Dr. Zola is one of the most impressive Cincinnati leaders I know. He has an incredible heart, builds really meaningful relationships across all sorts of communities, and boy can he give a speech,” said Greg Landsman, U.S. Congressman for Ohio’s first district. “He’s a big hero of mine.”
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