By Jonathan Prinz (2014)
Joachim Prinz was both my father and, for the decade when we shared a pulpit, my colleague. He was a multi-dimensional person whose private and professional life was equally as rich. He was a gifted orator who could move large audiences but was equally adept in intimate settings and one-on-one encounters. Much of his work focused on the serious whether resisting the onslaught of National Socialism in his native Germany, expounding on matters of religious concern from the pulpit or helping families overcome their grief at the loss of a loved one. But he also loved a joyous evening of great wine and food with good friends and family, exploring museums, listening to music and, perhaps most meaningful to me, playing the role of active and engaged parent. While reminding me that learning required both brains and dogged work (mostly the latter), he was never judgmental and relentlessly supportive. Despite five years of seminary, everything I know about being a rabbi was learned from him. And what he taught was to be broad, expansive and ecumenical while at the same time making every encounter personal.
Those who knew him were sure they shared a special relationship, and more often than not that was exactly what they had. He always said, being a rabbi didn’t require liking everyone, but was impossible if you didn’t truly love people. Loving people meant caring about them, which included fighting injustice. He saw all injustice as one, an interconnected evil. That’s why he so immediately related his own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany with the plight of African Americans. He deeply loved his adopted country, his home, but he always demanded that it live up to its core ideals. The same held true for his love for Israel rooted in his own having joined a Zionist youth movement in 1917 and numbering among his friends the State’s founding leaders. But he reserved the right to be critical when he felt it strayed from its own ideals. He was an early proponent of making peace with the Palestinians whose human needs and rights he saw as no different than his own.
A year after finishing my undergraduate studies, we spent an entire summer in Europe, just the two of us. After a wonderful month on the island of Ibiza, we drove from the south of France to Paris, stopping off for spectacular food and seeing the sights, especially the majestic Cathedral of Chartres, one of his favorite places and mine. From there it was on to Switzerland where he had several days of World Jewish Congress meetings. It was the summer when the infamous wall was going up and he was asked to preach in Berlin on the following Friday night. We went, just for twenty-four hours. The community where he had served and spoken regularly before thousands was a shadow of itself, shaken by the uncertainty brought on by the wall. The visit interrupted his and our personal time, his summer break from a very busy and demanding life. There was no question that we would go, not a moment of hesitation. People needed him, and he was there for them. It didn’t surprise me because he was always there for me, for our family and for countless of others many of whom we would never know. He was just being Joachim Prinz.