Beloved Jewish educator Rabbi Ron Brauner has died at 83
“Not only was he superbly knowledgeable on all things Jewish, but he was a magnetic teacher, with a real sense of humor who knew how to appeal to all Jews." — Rabbi Danny Schiff
A Pennsylvania native and master teacher, whose courses for the Jewish Education Institute were popular communitywide, has died.
Rabbi Ron Brauner, who was living in Florida with his wife, Marcia, passed away on Oct. 13 and was buried the next day in Kether Torah Cemetery in Pittsburgh. He was 83.
“While we are sad that someone who has served and educated our community for decades is no longer here, Ron’s legacy continues with those in our community touched by his teaching and his love for Torah,” said Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Brauner was born Aug. 5, 1939, in Philadelphia to Anna and Samuel Brauner and spent his early years there, Marcia Brauner told the Chronicle. His career there included years as a teacher and assistant principal at Akiba Hebrew Academy, now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, the oldest pluralistic Jewish secondary school in the U.S.
The family moved briefly to California, where Brauner was the director of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, which now is part of American Jewish University, his wife said. They returned to Pennsylvania for Brauner to take a job at the now-shuttered Hebrew Institute in Pittsburgh. He later taught for the Jewish Education Institute and Agency for Jewish Learning. He also taught at the Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland, later affiliated with Case Western Reserve University, for more than 15 years during his time in Pittsburgh, according to his son Yaacov Brauner.
“He did lecturing, a lot of lecturing,” Marcia Brauner said. “He was an incredible scholar — he devoted his life to teaching.
“He never gave a talk without being prepared — he knew the subject back and forth,” she added. “He loved it because it gave him a chance to study. And he took such pleasure from his students. It was something he truly, truly enjoyed. He was incredible when it came to teaching.”
Skip Grinberg got to know Brauner when the two worked for the former Jewish Education Institute in Pittsburgh. Grinberg served as the organization’s executive director from 1991 through 2004.
“[Brauner] was an outstanding teacher — people would flock to take his courses, his classes, just because of his knowledge,” Grinberg, who lives in Squirrel Hill, told the Chronicle. “He was just an excellent speaker, and his presentations were terrific.”
Zipora “Tsipy” Gur of Classrooms Without Borders, who also worked with Brauner at the Jewish Education Institute before it became the Agency for Jewish Learning, called Brauner “a master teacher.”
“He was an amazing educator,” she said.
Rabbi Danny Schiff, foundation scholar at Pittsburgh’s Federation, mourned Brauner on Facebook, calling him his “predecessor as community scholar.”
“Not only was he superbly knowledgeable on all things Jewish, but he was a magnetic teacher, with a real sense of humor who knew how to appeal to all Jews,” said Schiff in a statement he shared with the Chronicle. “When Ron offered a class, we could always guarantee it would be filled. To our great good fortune, he offered many classes through his years in Pittsburgh. Zecher tzaddik livrachah. May the memory of our scholar, and all he taught us, continue to inspire our community and all those who learned so much from him.”
The Brauners moved to Florida about six or seven years ago but Brauner did not retire entirely, instead teaching classes at Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, the Orthodox shul where he and his wife were members.
“I always enjoyed the conversations we had with each other,” said Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur of Torah Ohr, which bills itself as one of the fastest-growing Orthodox congregations in the U.S. “He had a strong background in Jewish knowledge, and he was a regular in our ‘Rabbis In Rotation’ program.”
In addition to his wife, Marcia, with whom he celebrated a 60th wedding anniversary on Sept. 9, Brauner is survived by his two children, Yaakov, of Teaneck, New Jersey, and Miriam, of Pittsburgh; six grandchildren; and many, many students. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.