Rabbi Joseph H. Gumbiner; Civil Rights Activist


Rabbi Joseph H. Gumbiner, founding rabbi of Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood and longtime civil rights activist, has died at Encino Hospital. He was 86.

A resident of the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, Gumbiner died Wednesday of complications of pneumonia, said his daughter, Abigail Gumbiner of Altadena.

Born in Pittsfield, Ill., Gumbiner was ordained at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he earned a doctorate. After serving as a rabbi in Selma, Ala., for eight years during the 1930s, Gumbiner moved to Reno, where he founded Nevada’s first Reform congregation. He later served as rabbi at a temple in Tucson, Ariz., and returned to California and was the founding rabbi of Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood.


In 1949, Gumbiner became director of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation at Yale University and later was director of the Hillel Foundation at UC Berkeley until his retirement in 1972.

A civil rights activist, Gumbiner was arrested in 1961 for trying to sit in a Jackson, Miss., coffee shop with a racially mixed group. In 1965, Gumbiner participated in the famous civil rights march on Montgomery, Ala., led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., among others, and was arrested for leading a demonstration in front of the mayor’s home in a white residential area.

In addition to his daughter, Gumbiner is survived by a granddaughter and a great-grandson. His wife, Sylvia, died in 1986.

Private services are planned. Donations can be made in Gumbiner’s name to the Southern Poverty Law Center, P.O. Box 548, Montgomery, Ala., 36177-9621, or to Hebrew Union College campus in either Los Angeles or Cincinnati.