Sept. 11, 1936 – June 3, 2017
Rabbi Shay E. Mintz, a Jewish educator and spiritual leader in Buffalo for more than 40 years, was an eyewitness to Israel’s independence.
Born in Tel Aviv to Jewish immigrants who had come to what was then Palestine in the 1920s, Yeshayahu Eliezer Mintz was 11 when the United Nations voted to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.
He died June 3 in Jerusalem, Israel. He was 80.
“I have very clear memories of the United Nations vote,” he told a Buffalo News reporter in 1998, when he co-chaired the local 50th anniversary celebration of Israel’s independence.
He noted that the voting was broadcast on radio in public squares and, when the result was announced, “it was pandemonium – people were hugging each other.”
Several months later he watched as Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion arrived at a museum down the street from his family’s apartment for the ceremony that formally declared the creation of the State of Israel.
His father, Binyamin, a close political ally of Ben-Gurion, became a member of the first Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and was deputy speaker of the Knesset from 1951 to 1961. A few years ago, he published a book in Hebrew about his father’s accomplishments. A translation into English is under way.
Rabbi Mintz entered Jerusalem Rabbinical School in 1954, left two years later to serve as a chaplain with the Israeli Defense Forces in the Sinai campaign, then returned and graduated in 1960.
He came to the U.S. in 1965 to become principal of the United Hebrew School in South Bend, Ind. He also lectured on Judaic studies at Notre Dame University.
There he met Lila Podolsky Katz, a widow with three children who had lost her husband and oldest son in a car accident. They were married in 1967 and came to Buffalo three years later, when Rabbi Mintz was offered a position as educational director at Temple Shaarey Zedek.
He also assisted with Hebrew schools at Temple Beth El and Temple Sinai and eventually brought teenage students from all three synagogues together by establishing the United Junior High School. He set up a curriculum that included arts and Shabbat retreats in camp settings, along with traditional studies.
“Shay was an innovator,” his wife’s cousin, Shraga Simmons, said. “As educational director of the Hebrew School, he was always willing to try new programs, if it would get students excited about being Jewish. He introduced Jewish art classes into the curriculum. When some students asked to study Talmud, he arranged a class for them. And, of course, he connected us to Israel. With our bare hands, we constructed a scale model of Jerusalem that filled an entire room.”
In 1986, he became director of Hillel at the University at Buffalo, the center for Jewish student life in the Buffalo area. After retiring in 2000, he continued to lead services for the High Holidays.
He and his wife, who died in 2015, also led numerous tour groups to Israel and spent several months every year in Jerusalem.
“Rabbi Shay Mintz touched the lives of countless members Buffalo’s Jewish community through his many roles, perhaps most significant, as the director of our campus Hillel Foundation,” said Rob Goldberg, chief executive officer of the Buffalo Jewish Federation. “He created a warm Jewish space for conversation, celebration and deep Jewish learning. His legacy is enduring.”
“Many in our community carry with them the memories of important and transformational events in their lives that are bound up with Rabbi Mintz,” Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Tzedek said in a message to his congregation. “He had a profound impact on the lives of so many. And he had the amazing capacity for remembering everyone by their Hebrew names. ... He was brilliant, learned, passionate, erudite, gentle with a great sense of humor.”
Survivors include two sons, Martin L. Katz and Ronald M. Katz; a daughter, Sharon F. Dubrow; 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Burial was in Beit Shemesh, Israel, near Jerusalem. A memorial service in Buffalo will be announced at a later date.