Hebrew Union College will rename its Los Angeles campus in memory of Jack H. Skirball.
Born in Homestead, Pennsylvania, Skirball attended the University of Cincinnati and Western Reserve College in Cleveland and then studied for the rabbinate at Hebrew Union College. After his ordination in 1921, he pursued graduate work in philosophy and sociology at the University of Chicago, then served as an assistant rabbi in Cleveland for two years and rabbi of the Washington Avenue Temple in Evansville, Indiana, for seven years.
In 1933, he took a leave of absence from the Evansville congregation to become the manager of Educational Films Corporation, a pioneer in the field of audiovisual education. While with Educational Films, he produced Birth of a Baby, the first motion picture to show the actual birth of a child. This cinematic landmark became instantly famous, earning nine pages of coverage in Life Magazine and prompting the opposition of religious groups that saw this as an intrusion on natural mysteries. Jack Skirball, as President of Skirball Productions, produced feature films and was responsible for classics such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt.
In the 1950s, Skirball began a third career, this time as a real estate developer. He created Vacation Village in San Diego, which went on to beome a model for resort hotels across the U.S.
Although he never returned to the rabbinate, Jack Skirball remained active in the Reform Movement, assisting the establishment of new congregations, serving as regional president for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) and providing financial support to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). He spearheaded the development of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus and established the Skirball Museum at HUC-JIR/Los Angeles, the Skirball Museum at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, and the Skirball Museum and Center for Biblical and Archaeological Research at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem. He also founded the Skirball Institute at the American Jewish Committee for Interreligious and Interethnic Research into Core American Values. In 1983, Jack and Audrey Skirball (later Audrey Skirball-Kenis) provided the initial funding and site location for the development of a new cultural center in Los Angeles. The Skirball Cultural Center was named in his honor, not only for his invaluable contributions at its inception, but for his lifelong service to Jewish education and culture.
The renaming will formally take place this Sunday, February 6th.