Hillel International today mourns the passing of Rabbi Max Ticktin, a national leader in the Hillel movement and former Hillel director at University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of Chicago. Starting in 1970, Ticktin served as assistant director in Hillel’s Washington headquarters for more than a decade, recruiting, training and guiding an entire generation of Hillel directors.
“Rabbi Max Ticktin was a towering figure in Hillel, one of the most influential and beloved Hillel professionals of his generation. He was at the center of every aspect of Hillel life in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s,” said Hillel International President and CEO Eric D. Fingerhut.
Photo: George Washington University
“Today the world has lost another great light,” the University of Wisconsin Hillel Foundation wrote on its Facebook page on July 3. “He was an extraordinary man whose life and work touched many and brought so much joy and wisdom to the world.”
While at the University of Chicago, Ticktin created the Upstairs Minyan, a precursor to the egalitarian, participatory havurah movement. Ticktin, who was ordained as a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1946, continued to teach into his early 90s, having retired as a professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at George Washington University in 2014 at the age of 92. The university recently established the Max Ticktin Professorship of Israel Studies in his honor.
“It was clear that Max was a very unusual rabbi – unusual in his combination of Jewish knowledge, relevant politics and his care for the students,” Rabbi Phyllis Berman, a former student of Ticktin’s, told Washington Jewish Week in 2015. Despite his many accomplishments and impressive titles, Ticktin, who preferred to be called simply “Max,” was regarded as approachable, relatable, even self-effacing.
“He contributed, but did not dominate. He could teach as a companion, rather than as a rabbi,” said Philadelphia Rabbi Arthur Waskow, according to WJW.
Waskow recalled for the Forward that Ticktin had an unusual custom when leading services at Fabrengan, a havurah-style minyan Ticktin joined after he and wife Esther moved to Washington in 1972. Ticktin not only touched his tzitzit to the Torah, but also to the person carrying the Torah. “‘Any person who carries a Torah is himself, herself, a Torah,’” Ticktin explained.
To his friends, students, Hillel colleagues and the entire Jewish people, Ticktin will be remembered as one who both carried the Torah and was himself a Torah.