In Memory of Michael Signer

Michael Signer

Born in Los Angeles in 1945, Michael Signer initially studied at UCLA (the University of California—Los Angeles) before proceeding to Hebrew Union College (HUC), where in 1970 he obtained Masters degrees in both Jewish history and rabbinic literature; he was ordained the same year at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Cincinnati campus. His 1978 PhD dissertation studied Andrew of St. Victor. An expert in the fields of Jewish liturgy, and the medieval interpretation of the Bible, Signer served as professor of Jewish history at HUC Los Angeles (1974 to 1991). In 1992 he came Notre Dame’s Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture in 1992. He also was a guest professor in Poland, Germany, Italy and Israel.

Dr. Signer wanted his students “to investigate the darker moments of rivalry and even persecution that mark the pages of history” but also “those invigorating engagements between scholars of the two communities”. While not ignoring the negative aspects of the past, he sought to weave a more positive future, of mutual understanding and respect, through his research and teaching. He was instrumental in organizing Holocaust education programs, including seminars for the Center for Dialogue and Prayer at Oświęcim [Auschwitz] and the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Kraków.

A key aspect of his legacy was as one of the four authors of the groundbreaking 2000 statement Dabru Emet. Subtitled “A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity,” Dabru Emet sought to offer a thoughtful Jewish response to more than 40 years of statements issued by Christian churches and groups about the Jewish-Christian relationship.

Dr. Signer received numerous awards and distinctions, including in 2005 the “Person of Reconciliation” award from the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. The Council of Centers for Jewish-Christian Relations (CCJR) unanimously passed a resolution at its 2008 annual meeting, acknowledging his lifetime of contributions (which included serving as its Vice-Chair). Upon his death in January 2009 he was widely mourned by students and colleagues as a wise and highly-respected voice in the renewal between Jews and Christians. These tributes appear below, concluding with recollections from his widow, Betty Signer. 


John T. Pawlikowski, "Colleague, Friend, Spiritual Companion"

Michael Signer held a special place in my life. I profited enormously from his writings and from the interchanges we had in academic settings at Notre Dame, in Houston, at Catholic Theological Union, etc. He was also a special friend whose presence brings the special joy to one's life that only true friendship can produce.  Some of my favorite moments were at the Starbucks down the street from my residence where Michael and I would often meet for coffee when, as he always put it, Betty would give him permission. Michael and Betty lived in our parish when at their Chicago condo (In Chicago everyone belongs" to a Catholic parish!) In this setting Michael and I would review developments in the C-J dialogue, celebrate occasional progress and more often than not in recent times bemoan negative setbacks. But Michael always ended these conversations on a hopeful note insisting that we must keep at it and most of all train future Christian and Jewish leaders for new rounds of the dialogue.  It was also in these moments that Michael became a true spiritual companion. I could glimpse the depth of the divine presence within him and felt spiritually enriched as a result. I remember when I presented my critique of Dominus Iesus at a meeting of the Catholic Theological Society that this spiritual encounter with Michael stood at the forefront of my reflections. I knew in my heart that I could never speak to Michael in the words and tone of DI because the depth of his spirituality forged within the Jewish tradition but also drawn from his encounter with Christianity demanded something more positive and personal. There is no way at the level of such personal encounter that I could say that my spirituality was superior to his despite my deep commitment to the gospel. So I say farewell to Michael, my cherished colleague, sincere friend and spiritual companion. He was with us for too short a time but indeed it was a truly enriching time. Our best lasting memorial to him would be to maintain hope in the dialogue and continue to instill its values in a new generation of students as well as to continue to offer hope and strength to Betty who was such a pillar and source of constant love in his life.

John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D Catholic Theological Union, Chicago 

Eugene J. Fisher, "Tribute to Michael"

I have been having great difficulty in putting into words the depth of my feelings at the loss of our dear Michael, who has meant so much to all of us each in our own ways. I knew him professionally and personally, in good times and in some very tough times, for three decades, going back to his activities with the inter-seminary faculty exchange program in Los Angeles. I have been enlightened by his scholarship, challenged by the precision of his mind, buoyed up by him in spirit in those hard times, and always, always profoundly enjoyed the experience. Michael is taken from us to be with God. May his spirit live with and in us, as his great body of work remains to challenge the dialogues and scholarship of the future. May he rest in peace and may his name be for a blessing.

Eugene J. Fisher Associate Director (emeritus) Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 

Michael McGarry, "From the Holy Land"

Like others, I am so very saddened at the news of Michael's death, tempered only by gratitude for the privilege of having known and worked with him. I still savor celebrating his 60th birthday a few years ago at Ticho House in downtown Jerusalem with many of his Jerusalem friends.  

There is one aspect of Michael I wish to share and that is my admiration for his regular visits to Tantur when he was in his beloved Jerusalem. Unlike many others, when Michael came to Jerusalem, he came to Tantur and he got to know some of our Palestinian staff. He called them by name, listened to their experience, and asked about them when we met at the University or at some other venue. For Michael, these Palestinians were not simply ciphers of Israel's enemies, but human beings with feelings, families and aspirations. Michael's sensitivity for the other, best known in his tireless work at dialogue and reconciliation, went beyond the usual partners and included those whom others ignored or stereotyped. Michael was above that insensitivity.  

 A great man on many counts. This is just one I treasure. And, like others, I miss him dearly.

Michael McGarry, C.S.P. Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem

David Rosen, “He accomplished much in a short time”

The departure of Michael from this world is an enormous loss for both the worlds of scholarship and the world of interreligious dialog – most specifically Christian-Jewish dialog. Michael's knowledge and wisdom combined with social insight and compassion, made him a unique figure of inestimable value for all of us who learnt from him and consulted with him. Above all we have lost an exceptional human spirit, colleague and friend, whose wonderful humor would always enable us to make the best out even a bad situation.  I can think of no better a passage of consolation for our loss than the eulogy of Rabbi Ze`era for Rabbi Bun bar Hijja, who died at a very early age. Ze'era told a parable about a king who had hired many laborers, but one completed the work long before the others. So the king took him by the hand and walked up and down with him till the evening. When the laborers came to receive their wages, each of them received the same pay. Then the others murmured and said: “We have worked the whole day, and this man only two hours, yet you have paid him the full day's wages.” The king replied: “This man has done more in two hours than you have done during the whole day.” Similarly declared Rabbi Ze'era, Rabbi Bun accomplished more in his life than many a venerable scholar in a hundred years (Talmud Yerushalmi Berakhot 2,5c).  Michael's work and his memory are for us all an eternal blessing.  

 Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, KCSG Chairman, International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee (AJC)

Deborah Weissman, “May the Makom comfort you.”

On behalf of the International Council of Christians and Jews, I would like to express our most sincere condolences on the tragic and untimely loss of Michael. z"l. 

I am envious of the many people I know who had much longer relationships with him. 

Michael was indeed a pioneering leader in the field of interreligious relations. His death is not only a deep personal loss to his wife, his family and all who knew him, but also to the academic and interfaith communities of which he was such an integral part. We will try to continue his work as a legacy. 

May you be comforted together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.   

In the traditional formulation, we say,  “May the Makom ["the place"] comfort you." I once heard a beautiful interpretation of this: The place referred to here is the place you make in your heart for the good memories. They are, after all, what bring consolation. 

Many of us share in those memories.  

Best wishes,

(Dr.) Deborah Weissman, Jerusalem President, International Council of Christians and Jews

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, "Michael was Torah"

Although Michael Signer and I were ordained in the same year by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion we were students at different campuses. Nonetheless from those times in which we met and learned together and grew Jewishly and humanly we shared a bond of friendship which I know he shared with so many. The fact that he continued his studies at the Pontifical Institute and the University of Toronto (my alma mater) only cemented the relationship further.  He was a loyal and extraordinary Jew, Rabbi and educator who understood the need for deeper and far more profound understandings and relationships between Judaism and Christianity. He worked hard at building those relationships while at the same time raising generations of rabbis and teachers who would transmit values to future generations, among them my son. For my son and his colleagues, as he was for us, Michael was Torah. His life was the embodiment of the finest ideals and values of Torah combined with a love of learning and a deep respect for what he learned and felt we all needed to learn from Christian faith and values. He embodied the ideal of haver and rav of the earliest rabbinic traditions. He spoke a universal language which we all could feel and understand, and his life remains a lesson of the best we can be. We are better and our lives are better because he lived and because he will continue to bless our lives with his teaching and goodness.   

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman   

Ruth Weyl, "The Gift of Listening"

Over the past years I had the joy of meeting Michael, also briefly here in London. Conversation flowed easily as Michael had the gift of allowing a non-scholar to express ideas and even the occasional critical comment, suggestion or tentative expression of doubt.  And there was the occasional burst of infectious laughter, too. Such gifts are rare and a blessing. Despite the sadness I shall remember Michael with a smile.   May such memories of a more distant friend bring consolation also to Betty and their daughters.  

Ruth Weyl, Consultant, International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ)  

David Neuhaus, SJ, "From Jerusalem"

It was always a pleasure to meet Michael and it is very sad to think that these meetings will be no more. His willingness to engage and to share his thoughts matched his warmth and expression of friendship. Last night, in our little Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem we remembered him in our prayers and recalled that just a few months ago he and Betty visited our little chapel.  

 He has left a void in the circle of those committed to Jewish-Christian dialogue and we can only pray that the many inspired by him and taught by him may be challenged to walk in his footsteps.  

 David Neuhaus, SJ Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel

National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education, "Gentleman, scholar, friend"

Dr. Michael A. Signer, gentleman, scholar, friend has been gathered unto his people. We cherish his memory that has blessed and will continue to bless so many. For us at the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education we have especially appreciated what he did to bring about “Dabru Emet, A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity,” his personal support for the work of our Center, but above all for his friendship. May the Lord give comfort and strength to his beloved wife, Betty, and his two daughters.

Dr. JoAnne Boyle, President Sr. Lois Sculco, Sr. Gemma Del Duca, Sr. Mary Noel Kernan, Wilda Kaylor National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education Seton Hill University Greensburg, Pennsylvania 

Philip A. Cunningham, "Model of Interreligious Empathy"

The untimely loss of Michael Signer is certainly a blow to the interreligious community and to his many colleagues and friends. I first met Michael while I was working on my doctoral dissertation, and in the nearly twenty years since he has constantly been a ready listener and an eager helper—always ready to lend his counsel and support. Even when discussing conflicts or disappointing developments, he unfailingly urged perseverance in the work of Jewish and Christian understanding and amity. He kept his eyes fixed on the long-term goal of interreligious communio, and never let the current dispute divert him from it. Instead, he imparted this tenacity to others. He was also intensely committed to bringing the next generations into the dialogue.   While not overlooking his important scholarly contributions, I want to testify to Michael's amazing capacity for what might be called "interreligious empathy." No doubt due to his long study of medieval Catholic texts, but also because of his innate gifts, he was able to enter into the Catholic thought-world to a remarkable degree. He was quite literally fluent in Catholic speech: I often joked with him that I heard more Latin coming from his mouth than from any Catholic cleric in my memory. This was not just a matter of language. He could function within Catholic and broader Christian cultural horizons and understand its idiosyncrasies, all the while enriching the conversation from the treasure of his own deepening Jewish identity and heritage.  We have all lost an invaluable colleague and supportive friend. However, his name is already a blessing for his family and for his many, many friends and co-workers. 

Requiscat in Pace  

Philip A. Cunningham Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia

Hans Hermann Henrix, "A Visionary from Across the Atlantic"

Finding the right words of sympathy, love and condolence to express my heart and to reach Betty’s heart is difficult―and not only because of linguistic limitations. It is the shock caused by Michael’s death. He had a special place in my life.  

It is more than a quarter century ago that we first met. It was in Cincinnati. Jakob J. Petuchowski, whose generous friendship and great erudition I had enjoyed since the 1970's, had organized the first Sol and Arlene Bronstein Colloquium, “Defining a Discipline. The Aims and Objectives of Judaeo-Christian Studies” in November 1983. The intention of this conference was to deal with the question of how we can―in mutual understanding and with full appreciation of both what unites and separates Christians and Jews―teach our two peoples who are connected in a “bond of community and non-community” (Franz Rosenzweig). I was invited to present a paper “The Aims and Objectives of Judaeo-Christian Studies. A Christian View.” And Michael Wyschogrod was the planned Jewish counterpart. But a day before the symposium Michael Wyschogrod telephoned from Amsterdam that a thick fog had grounded his plane. So the “Pet” asked Michael to help out. Overnight Michael hastily created a brilliant paper. Subsequently, Michael often admitted that this symposium was his first encounter with a theologically-grounded dialogue between Jews and Christians. And it began a long and cordial  “transatlantic “ journey and comaraderie with him. It had a lot of high points – professionally and personally.  

Michael was introduced to a German audience as an expert in medieval biblical exegesis during a later 1989 Sol and Arlene Bronstein Colloquium in Augsburg. The topic was “Atonement and Reconciliation in the Jewish and Christian Liturgy.” Michael gave an exegesis of Leviticus 16. It surprised his Christian colleagues that he was familiar both with Jewish exegeses between 1100 and 1300 (Rashi, Abraham ben Meir ibn Esra, Mose ben Nachman) and with the exegeses of the Church Fathers and the representatives of medieval scholasticism (Origines, Hrabanus Maurus, Rupert of Deutz, Ralph of Flaix). It was not only in the Augsburg symposium that Michael was a living commentary of reconciliation. Often I would experience his great ability and talent in authentic encounter: in frank articulation of differences and in the simultaneous bridging of the gaps between people of different traditions.  

I had the privilege to host Michael several times in the 1990's as a guest speaker of the Catholic Academy of the Aachen Diocese. He was a beloved teacher of the participants of our Jewish-Christian conferences. He captivated his audiences with his humour, graciousness, and wisdom. He took every question seriously, encouraged his  questioner by tackling whatever problem was presented, and always gave a well-founded and carefully reasoned answer. Translating his papers was always a great challenge, learning and pleasure.  

One of our special personal encounters was a joint day in July 2001 in Constance, South Germany. During his and Betty’s holidays near Lake Constance, we spontaneously arranged a  meeting. We―Betty and Michael, my wife Ursula and I―visited the Cathedral. It was “natural” that Michael was acquainted with the Church as the assembly hall of the Council of Constance in the early 15th century and of the condemnation of J. Hus. We walked through the historical center with its southern atmosphere and discovered many traces of past centuries. During lunch in a restaurant we discussed cooperative projects.   

One project was a conference about Dabru Emet, held in November 2002 in Aachen. Michael presented in English a paper about the composition and content of that Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity. I had prepared a written translation of his lecture in German for the audience. Michael so inspired and fascinated the auditorium with his vision that a  “Pentecost miracle “ happened: During the following discussion of his paper Michael not only understood all the German questions of the participants, but also answered their questions in German! He was amazed by the experience of the effectiveness of his German in a public discussion. It was a very special conference and a great personal success that he remembered often in the following years. At the great 2003 Ecumenical Kirchentag in Berlin, Michael was the main guest speaker on Dabru Emet with hundreds of participants; he ended with a vision of hope, and the great assemblage thanked him for his ecumenical engagement and charisma with a standing ovation. Not to be forgotten is his contribution to the jubilee conference of the historical synod-document of the Protestant Church of the Rhineland in October 2006 in Wuppertal. His pleading for a new Christian approach to Judaism as a result of hermeneutical praxis had no naive illusions but was nevertheless visionary and encouraging. His cordial interaction with the Protestant audience in Wuppertal challenged my supposition that Michael was most comfortable in Jewish-Christian dialogue in conversation with Catholics. Nevertheless, his professorship at the University of Notre Dame, his significant participation in the discussion group “Jews and Christians” of the Central Committee of the German Catholics, and his love for the “latinitas” are all signs of his closeness to Catholics. 

Ursula’s and my thoughts and prayers are with Betty and their daughters during this difficult time. Michael’s death is a great personal loss and also a tragic loss to the transatlantic ecumenical/interreligious community of which he was an outstanding authority. He will always be in our hearts and memories. 

Hans Hermann Henrix, Director Emeritus of the Catholic Academy of the Diocese of Aachen

Murray Watson, “In respectful gratitude"

Although I was never fortunate enough to meet Michael Signer during his lifetime, I am one of a younger generation that has benefitted considerably from his writings, which I always found thoughtful, brilliant and incisive. I am deeply grateful for his personal witness, for his intellectual gifts, and for his unfailing commitment to J-C relations, especially in some of the tough times. His work will continue to inspire, educate and guide many future generations, and his pioneering vision will not be forgotten.  

 May his memory be for a blessing, and may he rest in peace.  

 Father Murray Watson

Phyllis H. Kaminski, "A Scholar-Teacher Who Understood"

I knew Michael Signer primarily through one of his students who is a colleague of mine. I met him only once at a luncheon sponsored by our Center for Spirituality. His wisdom and gracious vision still live in my memory as he spoke of the needs of women students on Catholic campuses. It was a joy for me as a feminist theologian to discover such a staunch ally and quiet presence so close at hand. 

Phyllis Kaminski, Department of Religious Studies, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN

Mary C. Boys, "With gratitude"

In the early 1980s while I was a relatively new faculty member at Boston College, a rabbi from Los Angeles called me out the blue to invite me to participate in an interreligious event for the seminaries in the LA area. I thought to myself that I had no business accepting this invitation, but he was so intriguing, charming and humorous that I found myself saying yes!  

And so, I came to meet Michael Signer, then a faculty member at Hebrew Union College; it was through him that I came to know his colleague Sara S. Lee. Over the years, we met relatively often, and I witnessed not only his considerable erudition but also his warm humanity. Michael was a giant in Jewish-Christian relations, and his death is a profound loss to our dialogue. Yet I believe he will be a presence among us, albeit in ways beyond the tangible.  

Last August a small group that I am a part of, “The Christ and the Jewish People Consultation, “ met at Notre Dame, thanks in large measure to Michael. Just before our arrival, he had learned of his diagnosis; he and Betty were, understandably, in shock. We, too, were stunned, and decided that the one thing we might do was pray for his healing and peace and courage for them both. So we had a prayer service. Whatever the complexities of Jews and Christians praying together, this service (led by Rabbi Ruth Langer) was deeply moving. As we left the campus, someone told me that the ND theology department would be reciting Psalm 23 each day for Michael, and I have joined them from afar. I shall continue that practice in gratitude for him and for consolation to Betty and all who loved him.  

May the memory of Michael's ebullience bring vitality to Jewish-Christian dialogue, and may his scholarship continue not only through his published works but through his students.  

Mary C. Boys, SNJM, Union Theological Seminary, New York

Ed Kessler, “A supportive teacher”

I will always remember Michael for his enthusiasm and encouragement of my work in Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Jewish Relations. He always listened sympathetically and offered words of support with kindness and generosity. May his memory be for a blessing and may those of us who are also touched by the angel of interfaith dialogue build on his work.

Ed Kessler, Director, Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths, Cambridge, U.K.   

Stacy Davis, “My Teacher”

Rabbi Signer was my professor in 1999, and I was his TA in 2000-01. Without him, I would not have the love for medieval exegesis that I do. Being his TA in Jews and Christians Throughout History was my first introduction to the academic study of Jewish-Christian relations. But I quickly learned that for Rabbi Signer, Jewish-Christian dialogue was not just an academic exercise. He truly believed in the blessings of communication, and he knew how to listen. When as an insecure graduate student, I questioned his reading of a particular rabbinic passage, he not only heard my nervous rambling but understood it, using my argument in class the next day. His love of learning and his open-door policy for students are two things that I hope to emulate in my own life. The course I now teach on Jewish and Christian readings of the Hebrew Bible is my way of thanking him for the time he put into my academic and personal development; he had a way of always making me feel better about a situation after talking with him.  

My last conversation with Rabbi Signer began with a favor – a student of mine wanted to take his summer course on Judaism but felt awkward about asking for his permission. So, I asked. Naturally, the answer was a hearty, “Yes, of course!” and we spent the next half-hour chatting about the joys of teaching. I will miss him terribly, but I know that he will forever dwell in God's house.  

Stacy Davis, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN

Virgilio Elizondo, "A colleague with great love for humanity"

One of the highlights of teaching at Notre Dame was working with Michael, especially on Jewish / Catholic Hispanic issues. We immediately became great friends and I loved being with him. He was not only a brilliant scholar, but a man of great passion and love for humanity. Our conversations were always challenging, inspiring, informative and most of all, a lot of fun! He has enriched our lives and brought about a deeper appreciation of our religious traditions -- his body might have died but his spirit will continue to live and be a source of life for generations to come.  

Virgilio Elizondo  

Rita George Tvrtkovic, "Building Personal Relationships"

I must admit that the first time I took a class with Michael Signer—his doctoral seminar on Jewish-Christian Polemics in the High Middle Ages—I was rather intimidated. Here was this man who was both a medieval scholar and a framer of the contemporary Dabru Emet. But it was not until I went to Poland with him and a group of Jewish and Christian students that I saw the softer side of this towering scholar. While Michael was telling a moving story (I forget the exact details, but it was a personal recollection about a meeting between a Jewish Shoah survivor and a Christian), he teared up. It was then that I realized how deeply he cared about reconciliation—not just between “Christianity” and “Judaism”—but between individual Jews and Christians. Michael exemplified interreligious dialogue in the best sense, because at the end of the day, dialogue is about building personal relationships. And that is precisely what Michael Signer helped Christians and Jews learn to do, not only through his scholarship, but with his very life. He will be greatly missed.  

Rita George Tvrtković, PhD (2007), History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

Victoria Barnett, "A hands-on scholar"

I did not have many conversations with Michael Signer, but each one left a deep impression on me. He had a delightful sense of humor. He was brilliant, provocative, decent, and honest. He listened well. Most importantly, he cared, and he made others care. Those qualities shine through in his writings and helped make Dabru Emet the groundbreaking document it was. I was always struck by how this scholar—one of the most brilliant people I've ever encountered—was so “hands on “: he cared as much about his students, his colleagues, his dialogue partners as he did about the truth (and I think he cared a great deal about the truth). It was always good to see an email from him with a comment and know he was working out there in the field, reminding us of the things that were most important. May his memory inspire us as we go about our life and work together. My thoughts and prayers to his family.  

Victoria Barnett, Church Relations, U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Susie Paulik Babka, "A True Gentleman-Scholar"

I have known Dr. Signer since I was a grad student at Notre Dame. He was not only an outstanding professor, but he was extraordinarily patient and kind—a true gentleman scholar. His presence at Notre Dame was a gift and his loss irreplaceable. I am stunned and deeply saddened by his death, but am greatful for his legacy, in words and relationships, that will continue to impact us for years and years to come. Our prayers are with Betty and their family and all those whose lives he touched around the world.  

Susie Paulik Babka, Asst. Professor, University of San Diego

Whit Young, "To A Wonderful Teacher"

I met Rabbi Signer when he allowed me to audit his Introduction to Judaism class this past summer.  You could tell he was not only committed to teaching but respected and valued his students’ opinions and advocated for dialogue between Jews and Christians.  Rabbi Signer cemented my own love of Judaism and I will be forever grateful to him for that.  I am so thankful I had the privilege to meet such a wonderful man.  

Whit Young  

Michele Petersen, "Beloved teacher and friend"

Michael was my beloved teacher and friend, and chaired my master's comprehensive exam committee at Notre Dame. He was brilliant and beautifully inspiring, touching my life in so many ways.    One of the most enduring memories I have is while Michael was teaching one day, experiencing a deep moment of realization in coming to understand and trust that one can lead an integrated academic life without in any way neglecting committed action. His life exuded deep wisdom and compassion. His heart was huge and knew no bounds. His enthusiasm was infectious; his sense of humor was delightful.   Michael exercised a profound influence on my intellectual development, and my subsequent pursuit of philosophical hermeneutics. As a teaching assistant now meeting with my own students, I am continually reminded of the graciousness and generosity of spirit with which he attended to his students. As I shared in one of the last communications I had with him this fall, I sometimes find myself asking, "How would Michael respond?" A part of him shines through each encounter.   Friendship with Michael was the impetus behind another deep and abiding friendship and dialogue I share with a rabbi. As he so well exemplified and taught, "Dialogue happens one relationship at a time."   Michael once shared in class how when he was out in his yard one evening, he consoled a neighbor who had lost someone dear by assuring her that her loved one would always live on in her memory. And, so it is now in the stillness and silence of this deep winter that I hear those words of his resonate once again, as I treasure in my heart and mind the gift that Michael was to me, and to so many others. And, I pray for the strength to carry on, even if in some small way, his towering work.   My heart goes out to Betty and to his daughters, as well as to all those who knew and loved him.   

Michele Petersen, PhD Candidate, Department of Religious Studies University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 

Didier Pollefeyt, "His Hope for Dialogue Will Never Die"

It is with great appreciation and gratitude that I write a tribute to Michael Signer. Professor Signer already made a deep impact on me as a young researcher many years ago. He was one of the key initiators behind the statement Dabru Emet, beyond doubt one of the most inspiring documents in the history of interreligious dialogue and one which has quickly become a classic within Jewish-Christian relations. Today no one can seriously read about Jewish-Christian dialogue without coming across Professor Singer’s ideas.  When I had the good fortune to meet Michael several times in person, my admiration for him only grew all the more. Michael lived what he wrote. He really listened and always remained himself. He “spoke the truth”yet could also hear, recognize and respect the truth in others. He certainly brought intellectual rigor but in a life-giving atmosphere of dialogue and respect.  He will undoubtedly continue to live on in the thoughts and minds of countless new generations of students the world over. But we ourselves will simply miss Michael: his friendship, his hospitality, his humanity.

Didier Pollefeyt, Vice-dean, Faculty of Theology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium Chair of Theology of Jewish-Christian Relations

Pim Valkenberg, "Friends Beyond Boundaries"

My first encounter with Michael Signer is when I met him at the University of Notre Dame and told about my research. He immediately gave me two books that characterize his passion: one on Medieval Exegesis, and one on Dabru Emet. My last vivid memory of him is sitting next to him in a Palestinian restaurant in Jerusalem, talking about dialogue with great passion.  

He had a passion for friendship. I will remember him in my prayers to the One about Whom he recognized we know so little but hope so much  

Pim Valkenberg, Loyola College in Maryland

Audrey Doetzel, “Erudite Scholar, Man of Faith, Dear Brother”

While in recent years my contact with Michael Signer was primarily though CCJR-related events, I first encountered this exceptional rabbi about seventeen years ago while I was directing Relation and Encounter, the Christian-Jewish ministry of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in North America. Michael was on our Board of Directors and I remember most vividly when, at his first meeting with us, we were acquainting our Board members with the three-fold commitment of our religious community: “to the Church, to the Jewish people, and to a world of justice, peace and love.” Long before the day was over it was obvious to us all that Michael did not need an introduction to this three-fold commitment. He embodied it in his person and in his life. From that moment on Michael was not merely an erudite scholarly mentor to us and not merely a friend. – He was our brother! I know that I speak not only for myself but for all the Sisters of Sion who had the good fortune of knowing Michael when I say that we will miss him terribly. Our hearts go out in compassion and loving support to Betty and to his family.  

What will remain uppermost in my memories of Michael is the depth of his faith and the ease with which he shared this in the interfaith environment. On numerous occasions Michael – who I am sure knew more about the history of theological developments in Roman Catholicism than I did – would throw me back on myself in a manner which deepened my appreciation of aspects of my Catholic faith which I easily took for granted or perceived in a somewhat jaded manner.  

I particularly remember the time I shared with him my first synagogue experience when, at the time of the procession with the Torah scroll, the entire congregation suddenly swept toward the aisle with outstretched hands to lovingly touch the scroll. I was rooted to my spot, overcome with the holiness of the moment. As I recounted this Michael’s smile gently widened leading to his response: “You know, that sounds so similar to what I experience every time I am in a Catholic church at communion time watching the people waiting in long lines – without an iota of impatience – to receive the Eucharist. In our fast-paced life today we do not wait patiently, even in a short queue! I never cease to be in awe at the message this sends to me about Catholics’ belief in and love for this sacrament.I was stunned and sat with this observation of Michael's for a long time. Unconsciously, I had viewed our communion lines somewhat like a motley collection of nondescripts slowly shuffling forward until they received the host (and wine) and then were able to return to their pews. Since this conversation with Michael I have a new depth of appreciation of our Eucharistic ‘time of waiting’. Thank you, chaver!  

In Psalm 147 the psalmist tells us that the Holy One knows the number of the stars and calls them each by name. I know that, now, one of the brightest stars in the heavens is named Michael!  

Audrey Doetzel, NDS, Associate Director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College

James Rudin, "A giant has fallen"

Although people like us use words as our primary tools of work and communication, I am truly without adequate words to describe my sense of loss when I learned of Michael's death. Michael impacted upon two generations of my family.  

He was my dear friend, sounding board and colleague for well over twenty years. There are so many vivid memories of him, but the most lasting was the time we spent together some years ago when he was a teacher at a Polish Catholic seminary. His extraordinary spirit, erudition and humanity came through to his awed students whether he spoke in English, Latin or Hebrew. Michael was my ally, my conscience, and my brother as together we sought to create human bridges of mutual understanding and knowledge between Jews and Christians.   

Michael was also the teacher of my daughter Eve during her Los Angeles years at Hebrew Union College. Michael was her favorite teacher and she is a better rabbi today because she was Michael's student. Indeed, Eve is the living legacy every teacher yearns to achieve. Michael did it with charming wit, profound wisdom, and a sincere welcoming spirit.   To say we will miss Michael is a banal cliche. The truth is a giant has fallen, and we are bereft. Zacher Tsadik Livracha!     

Rabbi James Rudin Senior Interreligious Adviser, The American Jewish Committee

Peter S. Zaas, "An Ability to Foresee Consequences"

What Michael brought to our discussion was clarity, combined with a deep appreciation for humanity. No one had so keen an ability to foresee the consequences of decisions, and no one had a greater interest in sparing the other's pain. It was a powerful combination of attributes, and one that we will not easily replace. L'hitraot, Michael.

Peter S. Zaas, Hayyim Kieval Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies, Siena College Loudonville, NY   

Ruth Langer, "Zekher Tzaddik Liverakhah (May the memory of the righteous be a source of blessing)"

I went to Notre Dame last summer for a conference with great anticipation. I knew that it would be a quality meeting of minds – but my anticipation was as much because I would finally get a chance to see Michael in action in a sustained way and engage with him for more than a few minutes at a time. In recent years, since beginning my involvement in Christian-Jewish relations, Michael was always a most supportive mentor, ready to answer phone calls and emails with substance and real help. I had great admiration for his abilities to think theologically about both Judaism and Christianity and for the breadth of knowledge he could bring to discussions. In all this, he was very much a role model for me too. It was an honor to be a junior colleague in this work, and I only hope that others will be able to fill his shoes among the Jewish participants in the American and world-wide dialogue. I have also had the privilege in recent years to meet and work with a number of Michael’s former Notre Dame students, all of whom were deeply influenced by him and who themselves have become contributors to the dialogue in their various ways. This too will be a significant part of his legacy.  

May that legacy—of deep wisdom, broad knowledge, and a warm, embracing personality—be a source of inspiration and blessing to us all.  

Ruth Langer, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Theology Department, Boston College

David Ellenson, "Eulogy for Michael Signer"

Michael Signer's funeral service was held at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles on Wednesday, January 14, 2009. The eulogy was delivered by Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is posted on HUC-JIR's website HERE.

Marc Krell, "A true mensch"

I have had the privilege of knowing Michael as a teacher and colleague throughout my career, but what I valued most was his friendship and support during a very difficult time in my life.  

I first came into contact with him as a graduate student planning a course in Jewish-Christian Relations for my comprehensive exams at the Graduate Theological Union. I emailed Michael to ask him for a sample syllabus and he readily agreed even though we had no prior contact. That was the beginning of his effort to help forge a career path for me in the field of Jewish-Christian Relations. I would later see him on panels at the AAR and AJS, and I would write about his monumental contributions to the field with Dabru Emet and Christianity in Jewish Terms. HIs work truly inspired me to add my voice to the continuing conversation.  

I later grew to appreciate his sincere friendship when he came to my strong support during one of the most difficult periods of my life. He along with other senior colleagues in the fields of Jewish Studies and Jewish-Christian Relations came to my defense in my tenure appeal proceedings by writing a very strong letter to the UA President. Through his efforts and others, I convinced the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to recommend to the President that I be given a fair tenure process or just give me tenure on the merits of my work. While their unanimous recommendations unfortunately fell on deaf ears, I felt as if I had the gained the support of colleagues like Michael whose work I had admired and now could call friends.  

Michael would later email me periodically about possible job announcements and he even tried to intercede on my behalf for one position. I'll never forget one breakfast meeting we had at the AAR at 7 am just to talk job strategy. I felt truly blessed to have Michael as an ally in my career, and most importantly a true confidant. Even though we lost touch over the last few years, I always tried to keep up with Michael's career. When John Pawlikowski recently told me about his ongoing illness, I was shocked and saddened. As James Rudin has written, a giant in the field of Jewish-Christian Relations and Jewish Studies in general has fallen. Yet I will always remember him as a true mensch. His memory is indeed a blessing!  

Marc A. Krell, Ph.D., Teacher of Judaic Studies at the Adelson Educational Campus, Las Vegas, NV

Robert J. Simon, "From an old friend"

I met Michael in 1956 when we started Junior High School together. As neighbors and both being least likely to become sports heroes of the school we developed a friendship based on humor and intellectual curiosity. This friendship lasted through the years of senior high and college at UCLA. Michael never failed to see every issue clearly and with insight beyond his years. He maintained that sense of humor at all times softening the intellectual edge. While we lost touch in later years, he remained part of my fondest memories of the early days. He will be sorely missed.  

 Robert J. Simon, M.D.  

Ranen Omer Sherman, "Multifaceted mensch"

Michael's (and Betty's!) warmth, support, and hospitality meant a great deal to me during my years as a graduate student at Notre Dame. I have especially fond memories of his yearly commentary on Jonah during Yom Kippur services at a local South Bend synagogue. He returned to this text again and again, challenging himself, and always succeeding, to make it fresh and compelling. Michael was extraordinarily erudite, but he balanced that with an infectious sense of genuine excitement and discovery that I will never forget.

Ranen Omer-Sherman, Associate Professor of English, Gabelli Senior Scholar of Arts & Sciences, University of Miami 

Susan Handelman, “With warmth and love for Michael”

As I look at the photo of Michael at the top of this page, it seems so perfect an expression of him… that slightly crooked warm smile, that informal welcoming pose, that sense of delight and humor, someone so welcoming  

I met Michael through our mutual friend and colleague Marc Bregman, who then taught at Hebrew Union College, the Jerusalem branch ... we used to jokingly call him “Monseigneur” Signer. I think Marc had introduced me to him at an AJS conference back when it was held in Boston and about 20 years ago. I had done work on rabbinic hermeneutics and midrash, and Marc thought I would enjoy meeting Michael. The three of us immediately wound up laughing and joking, and alternately talking seriously about hermeneutics, and then all kinds of other silly and funny things. It was the highlight of the conference that year for me.  

I think Michael called me “Reb Susie” after that. I would meet him now and then at academic conferences or on one of his trips to Jerusalem. And have an occasional e-mail correspondence. But he was the kind of person one immediately felt a bond with, and you just stay friends with always even if you didn't see him for a long time.... he had a wonderful combination of intellectual brilliance, openness, humility, humaneness, respect for others, and spiritual sensitivity.  

It's so painful for me to think he's left us.  

Michael, thank you for gracing us with your presence ... with her love and wisdom and integrity. I miss you.

“Reb Susie," Susie Handelman Chair, English Department, Bar-Ilan University, Israel.  

Elliot R. Wolfson, "The Righteous Protect the World"

In the fourth section of the Tanya, Shneur Zalman of Liadi wrote, “And this is what is written in the holy Zohar, that the righteous one, who has passed away, is found in all the world more than in his life . . . this is with respect to the worship of God, in heavenly matters, and with respect to mundane matters, it says explicitly in the holy Zohar, that the righteous protect the world, more in their deaths than in their lives, and if not for the prayer of the righteous in that world, the world would not exist even for a moment.”  

Many words will be written to describe the life of Michael Signer but none will be adequate to capture the depth of his spirit and the vibrancyof his mind. In my last message from him he said, “haver, we will speak soon or we will continue to communicate in silence as we have always done.” The burden to bear this loss seems overwhelming at the moment, but we can be confident that Michael's presence in the world will only be augmented and that he will protect us in these trying times. May his soul be bound to the bundle of life and may his family and friends be comforted in their grief.  

Elliot R. Wolfson, Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University

David Berger, “He exuded friendship and humanity”

Michael and I shared a scholarly interest in medieval Jewish-Christian relations and a concern with fostering amity between Jews and Christians today.  He was, first of all, an excellent scholar.  The number of people who are deeply familiar with classical Jewish texts in the original and also exercise sovereign command of medieval Latin materials can be counted on the fingers of one hand—with some fingers left over.  Michael was at the forefront of this tiny coterie.  Moreover, as many of these tributes indicate, his qualities transcended his scholarly credentials, impressive as they were.  He exuded friendship and humanity.  The two of us had differences with respect to important issues in contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue, and CCJR asked us to present divergent perspectives on Dabru Emet at what I believe was its first event.  A public debate, even with a friend, can hardly be free of some sense of tension.  In this case, however, Michael’s self-effacing warmth and good humor left me feeling no different than I would have felt had we agreed on every single point. People who did not know him will surely have trouble believing this.  Those who did will not be surprised in the least.  Yehi zikhro barukh.  

David Berger, Dean, Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University "

Hanspeter Heinz, “Our friendship remains a sacred obligation”

I was lucky to come to visit Michael in the first days of December when he was well enough to enjoy my being there. It brought us much pleasure to see each other and be able to say goodbye.  

Michael was one of my closest Jewish friends. I got to know him in 1989, when I held a theological symposium in Augsburg, together with my colleagues Klaus Kienzler and Jakob Petuchowski. Petuchowski’s former students, David Ellenson and Michael also took part in it. Within the first few days we established a friendship.  

Michael was not only an excellent scholar of Jewish tradition, he understood Christianity and its history and could even see it from an inside perspective as well. He was also good at making friends; he has established friendships with Jewish and Christian colleagues in all English-speaking countries as well as in Israel, Germany, and Poland. I admire how he stood in close contact with young people, not only with his students.  

Since 1989 we have met at least once a year when Michael was on his way to or from Israel and passing through Germany or when he came to conferences and lectures in Germany. It was his talent for language that made him so daring as to hold two lectures in German in 2007! Together with Betty, our “chief rabbi”, and coordinator, we held international seminars with Jewish and Christian participants at Auschwitz, Crakow, Nuremberg and Lublin. Our main goal has been to win students, graduates and scholars for the Jewish-Christian dialogue and to educate them about the topics linked with this. They are our hope for making the Christian-Jewish dialogue go on for the next generation and for the one after that.  

Our friendship remains for me a sacred obligation to continue on the road of dialogue and reconciliation.  

Prof. Dr. Hanspeter Heinz, Augsburg, Germany January 20, 2009

Marcia Cohn Spiegel, “He forced me to be a serious scholar”

Michael was my professor at Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion. He quickly became my friend, and we giggled a lot over silly and ridiculous things. When I wrote my thesis on alcoholism in the Jewish community, he was not on my advisory committee, but read the manuscript as a friend. When he gave it back it was filled with notations and underlinings. I was devastated at some of the comments.  “Cocktail party chitchat,” was one of the lightest. When I asked him why he was so much harder on me than my advisors, he said, “This is important new material. I don't want even the most orthodox scholar to be able to pick it apart for lack of documentation.” He forced me to be a serious scholar.  

Over more than 30 years of friendship, we shared joys and sorrows together, celebrated holidays and holy days with good food and wine (thank you Betty!). Over the past months I have been looking for things that would make him laugh. I think I'll keep him with me a while longer as I continue to seek things that would bring a smile to his face.  

Marcia Cohn Spiegel, Rolling Hills Estates, CA

Joseph Sievers, “Companion, colleague, and counselor”

As for so many of us, words fail me when trying to write a tribute to Michael, dear friend and companion of a long journey, colleague, and counselor.  I met Michael for the first time more than twenty years ago, in Los Angeles. Since then we have been in touch on numerous occasions. Together we participated in a significant conference on Reconciliation in Jewish and Christian liturgy, held in Augsburg, Germany, with the participation of Jakob J. Petuchowski and David Ellenson, in 1989. We talked in Jerusalem, after having met by chance on the road to Tantur. We met in Rome during several of Michael and Betty’s visits here.     As director of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies I was privileged to welcome Michael as Richard and Susan Master Visiting Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University for the entire spring semester in 2005. Michael made friends everywhere and left a lasting impression on his students and many people he encountered here. But he also let himself be influenced by those friendships and by the experience of viewing Rome not as a tourist, but as a resident. His presence and his wise counsel were deeply appreciated.     My last encounter with Michael took place at Notre Dame last August, a few days after his illness had been diagnosed. Despite his condition, he participated in substantial parts of our sessions on “Christ and the Jewish People” that he had made possible. No one of those present will ever forget the moment of prayer for healing that united Jewish and Christian participants more than anything else could have done.     May his memory and the work that he patiently carried on continue to be for a blessing,

Joseph Sievers, Director, Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies, Pontifical  Gregorian University, Rome   

Dow Marmur, “From Toronto”

I didn't know of Michael before I came to Toronto in 1983. I soon found out that a lot of people there did. They got to know him when he did graduate work at the university. Jews and Christians alike remembered him fondly as a teacher and as a friend. In time I found out why and was privileged to feel included in his magic circle across continents and congregations. We had warm, though infrequent, meetings, mainly in Jerusalem. He has made a great contribution to Christian-Jewish understanding and I am most grateful for what I have learnt from his writings. I will miss him as will so many others.  

Rabbi Dow Marmur, Rabbi Emeritus Holy Blossom Temple Toronto, Ontario, Canada  

Peter von der Osten Sacken, Mut zum Dialog und zum Konflikt

Der Journalist sollte über etwas schreiben, das ihm gänzlich fremd war. So saßen sie in einem Jerusalemer Cafe zusammen, und Stunde um Stunde erklärte der jüdische Professor aus den USA dem israelischen Zeitungsmann, was es auf sich hatte mit den Beziehungen zwischen Christen und Juden einst und jetzt, von der Antike bis in die jüngste Zeit. Bald schwirrte dem Israeli der Kopf vor lauter kirchlichen Erklärungen der letzten 50 Jahre, in denen Christen ihr Jahrtausende altes desolates Verhältnis zum jüdischen Volk neu bestimmt haben.    

 Gibt es auf jüdischer Seite Ähnliches? Die uner­wartete Frage brachte den Dozenten aus der Fassung und ließ ihn fortan nicht mehr los. So erarbeitete Rabbiner Michael Signer, Profes­sor für jüdische Kultur und Geschichte an der katholischen Notre Dame Universität nahe Chicago, zusammen mit anderen eine jüdische Stellung­nahme zu Christen und Christentum, die auf den „dramatischen und beispiellosen Wandel“ in den beiderseitigen Beziehungen reagieren sollte. Unter dem Titel Dabru Emet (Redet Wahrheit) wurde sie schließlich von weit über 200 Rabbinerinnen, Rabbinern und Wissenschaftlern aus aller Welt und allen Richtun­gen des Judentums unter­zeichnet. Sie hat das jüdisch-christliche Gespräch auf eine völlig neue Grund­lage gestellt und ihm, weil akzeptiert und umstritten, wesentliche neue Impulse vermittelt.  Michael Signer, geboren 1945, war für diese immense Aufgabe wie geschaffen. Bereits früh war er an Fragen des interreligiösen Verhältnisses interessiert, dazu durch seine Doktorarbeit aufs Beste mit Geschichte und Theologie der katholischen Kirche vertraut. Er verstärkte seine interreligiöse Arbeit, als er zunächst an der Theologischen Hochschule des liberalen Judentums in Los Angeles und ab 1992 an Notre Dame lehrte. Schwerpunkte seiner international anerkannten Dialog- und Versöhnungsarbeit außerhalb der USA waren die Bundes­republik und Polen. Noch von Los Angeles her gehörte er zu den Dozenten, die die Christlich-Jüdische Sommer­­univer­sität des Berliner Instituts Kirche und Judentum von jüdischer Seite aus getragen und geprägt haben. In seinen Seminaren war er als offener, gediegener, streitlustiger und humorvoller Lehrer hochgeschätzt. Eine monatelange schwere Erkran­kung hat sein durch staunenswerte Energie, durch Mut, Phantasie, Zuwen­dung und Kompetenz bestimmtes Wirken und Leben am 10. Januar schmerzlich früh beendet. Sein Andenken sei zum Segen.  

Peter von der Osten-Sacken Institut Kirche und Judentum, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany "

David S. Hachen Jr., "Michael Signer"

Michael was an angel, figuratively and maybe even literally. He dwelt among us so we could see how a person could be righteous, thirst for knowledge and wisdom, love Torah, and build bridges to the Other. His love of words and the books that are filled with them was not just because they contained insights into both the divine and the human, but because through our interpretations of them – through Midrash – words provide us with a vehicle whereby we can learn about and see who we are, and reflect on what we aspire to be. Though words and Torah were his life, his eyes saw the Beauty in the world and never seemed to fixate on just one thing. He could be quiet, meditative and full of prayer, or an animated teller of stories. Michael was not a preacher, nor a judge. As a Rabbi, a teacher, he knew that his students had to discover Truth and decide for themselves what is Good. As an angel he created paths that people could take to go places that they did not know existed.  Now in his passing Michael has taken one of those paths. Though he is gone, the paths are still there.  

David S. Hachen, Jr., University of Notre Dame

Barbara U. Meyer, “Ecumenical Humor”

The first thing I see and hear when thinking about Michael is his laughter. I miss it. His humor is not just a wonderful Jewish humor, it’s Jewish humor with ecumenical expertise. I wish I could remember the jokes he was telling. I don’t remember jokes. But I have memories of Michael telling jokes and laughing with us, going back to 1999. Jokes on Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Reform Jews. On Catholic Jews, on Protestant Jews – and he was open to hear about Jewish Catholics, Jewish Protestants...   Here in Israel I learned to refer to myself as Christian, engaging in ecumenical theology and resisting being reduced to a denomination. But with such wonderful Catholics I enjoyed being Protestant just for the sake of more laughter! Humor is not just one of the most beautiful gifts of haShem, it’s a charisma in the very Paulinian sense. It opens us to each other, promotes self-criticism and invites grace. Michael’s humor let you know that you are fine as what you are. And that you are also more than what can be said about you in terms of religious affiliations. That we transcend ourselves in dialogue – and can enjoy that.  Maybe haShem enjoys us transcending ourselves. And we will not be less ourselves if we are more than confessional categories provide. We will be great Christians once we decide on deep tshuva. You are not less Jewish when you recognize Christians worshipping the same God. We grow spiritually when we perceive the other’s tshuva and the other’s vulnerability.   I met Michael first in Jerusalem, he was teaching in Berlin at the Jewish-Christian summer university and I saw him among his Catholic friends in Rome. He was at home in any of these surroundings. Last year he and Betty even came to Tel Aviv (thanks to Betty), and: he started liking Tel Aviv, too!  We are true colleagues, teaching one’s own to the other, but do the teaching as ongoing travel. Michael knew how to express recognition - of someone else’s tshuva and of someone’s aliya, of others’ journeys, ejn kamohu.

Barbara U. Meyer, Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem     

Shaul R. Feinberg, “We are blessed”

Michael, dear one: your photo, accompanying these postings, is so much YOU. Handsome, vibrant, "leaning into" your mentees—I don't think you ever "just" taught, but mentored, in the full sense—students learned not only the "subject" at hand, but they learned Michael Signer: the person, and what a person! (they learned how you tied your shoelaces! the man!!  ...And what a man: dearest one to those closest and to those not so close, one who impacted uniquely. From our years of learning together in Cincinnati and growing together over the years of your visits to Jerusalem, to the College, to our home, my esteem grew. Always, the glint in the eye, the interest in the other, the almost bashful way of talking about yourself, at least so that we would know what you were up to. As we remember, these recollections and so many, many others, compounded by the multitudes of those of all ages who know you literally across the USA and beyond—we are blessed.  Dearest Betty: how grateful I am, we all are, how she kept us (as if) at your side continuously with changes for the better, and for ... the not so better. The book will be written in one way or another, "Lifetime with Michael."  With great affection!!  

Rabbi Dr. Paul (Shaul--you enjoyed making this "change!") R Feinberg  [Shaul Feinberg and Michael Signer shared several years studying together on HUC's Cincinnati campus, as well as numerous visits of Michael's to Jerusalem, and to the Hebrew Union College for Shabbat services.] 

Andrew Prevot, “Dialogue and memory”

Two years ago, I had an opportunity to take a course with Michael Signer on Jewish-Christian dialogue in Germany before and after the Shoah. The course was supposed to have a German-language reading component, but, perhaps to his slight disappointment, Michael discovered on the first day that only one student was interested in taking on this extra burden. I was the one.  “Why not?” I thought to myself.  “This will be a good chance to work on my language skills.” At the time, I did not realize that this experience would not be memorable for the German but for the chance to spend time, one-on-one, with a truly caring and inspirational professor and friend whom I will never forget. 

So, not deterred by the general lack of interest, Michael agreed to meet individually with me several times throughout the semester, and we made our way through some German texts together. The text that I remember most was an essay by Johann Baptist Metz, a Christian theologian who argued that Christian thinkers have an obligation to understand themselves, not only in relation to Judaism, but also and more importantly in conversation with Jewish people. Theology could not proceed without dialogue. As I look back, I am struck by the fact that we were, in a small way, performing precisely the task that Metz had laid upon us. In the midst of our conversations--which were certainly not all about German! — I had a chance to learn a little bit about what it was like for Michael to be a Jewish Rabbi, working in a Catholic theological institution. I was able to see, and ultimately I was profoundly shaped by, his commitment to dialogue among Christians and Jews. I remember his almost constant refrain: “God has spoken once but has been heard twice, “ which I continue to think is a beautiful metaphor for the kind of positive Christian-Jewish encounter which Michael tirelessly advocated.  

When Michael invited me to attend a week-long Jewish-Christian dialogue in Poland, along with several other Notre Dame students, and students and faculty from other institutions in the US, Germany, Poland, and Israel, I jumped at the opportunity. I had no idea at the time that I would be a witness to one of Michael's last trips. Over the course of the week, it became clear why he was so loved and admired by students and colleagues around the world. He somehow managed to combine a contagious and uplifting sense of humor with a sense of profound seriousness and reverence before the greatest tragedies in history. He was warm and approachable, while at the same time full of incisive and thought-provoking insights. 

In the final months, Michael mentioned to many friends that his doctor had told him that “his work was not done.” And I believe that his work still lives on, in my own thoughts and scholarly activities, as well as in the lives of all the students and peers with whom he has interacted. Yet I am very sad that he is not still living among us. I'm sad that when I walk through Malloy I won't, on occasion, happen to run into him, or have a chance to ask him about conferences that he's just returning from or books that he's reading. He was a presence in my life that I will never forget. In his absence, in the midst of my sadness, I am comforted a little by my living memories of him, and by the hope that one day we will meet again.  

Andrew Prevot, Ph.D. student, Systematic Theology, Notre Dame

Frances and Samy Ezerzer, “A very special friend”

Our connection to Michael (and Betty) is not academic, but social, dating back to the late 1960’s or early 1970’s (we need Michael to remember the exact dates) in Toronto, Canada. Samy first met Michael in the underground parking of our mutual apartment building where we parked side by side. Michael and Betty had recently taken up residence in Toronto where Michael was studying for his doctorate at the University of Toronto. Samy and I had recently returned to Canada from Israel, where we lived, shortly after the 6 Day War. There was an immediate connection between Michael and Samy and our friendship as couples grew through the years to the present time. We were so looking forward to Michael and Betty’s return to Toronto for the Fall 2008, when Michael was planning to teach at the University of Toronto. Instead, we received the overwhelmingly sad news of Michael’s illness.  

 We are ever so grateful that we did have the opportunity to spend a delightful evening with Michael and Betty as recently as the winter of 2008 when they were in Toronto and also in November 2005 when they came to our daughter’s wedding in Toronto. As Michael always reminded us with his infectious smile, it was the birth of their first daughter that inspired us to have our only daughter, the greatest gift in life.  

 We knew that Michael had made great scholarly achievements and was a highly respected member of the academic community, but it was wonderful to read the multitude of tributes and learn more about Michael the academic. We have so many fond memories of Michael and will forever remember him as the very special person he was. We will miss him greatly.  

 Frances and Samy Ezerzer, Toronto, Canada

Sherry H. Blumberg, "Teacher, dissertation committee member, friend"

Michael was my teacher, dissertation committee member, and friend. He inspired me to continue to work in interreligious dialogue, even when it was difficult. I enjoyed his sense of humor, his ability to make Biblical Commentary and History come alive, and I loved the moments shared in his classes or in our meetings.  

 When I wrote to him while he was being treated, he said he admired my courage. How like him, to find the strength in others, to remember us. I shall miss that about him. When once, as a graduate, I had to face a crowd of people who were not going to look at me with respect, Michael gave me a wry smile and said:  “it cannot possibly be as bad as... “ and reminded me of one of the worst days of our early Ph.D. program when two professors and two students sat in a class together, always on...Never getting to relax, and all four were type A!!! I take the same deep breath and go on now, as I did then.  

Rest well Michael, and help God sort through the historical documents we cannot find!  

Dr. Sherry H. Blumberg 

Ann W. Astell, “So much light”

The word that comes most readily to mind when I think of Michael Signer is “luminous.” So full of life, Michael always seemed to shine from within, illuminating the goodness in others, discovering the noble intention, smoothing over the misspoken, finding the possibility of new, positive meaning in the most familiar words, phrases, stories. That luminosity dispersed the shadows, renewed hope, repaired the world. Michael had the ability to warm hearts, to fill a room with laughter and good spirit, but also to enkindle a fire of pure, intellectual intensity. Of him it may truly be said, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan.12:3).  

I first came to know Michael in the context of the interreligious Scriptural Reasoning seminar at Princeton’s Center of Theological Inquiry. Michael’s great learning, his attitude of openness, respect, and gratitude for everything good, combined with his contagious zest for life, helped to make the days we Jews, Muslims, and Christians spent together a mountain-top experience that I’ll never forget. None of us will. Michael’s great hope was that reading the Scriptures together, sharing our derash, would make us “partners in understanding the divine word to be a blessing to the entire world.” His example taught us to share that hope.  

There are more personal memories: the walk Michael and I took one October day when I came to Notre Dame for my job talk; the convivial meals shared with Michael, Betty, and their visitors from all over the world; the way he called me  “Annie “; the oatmeal breakfasts we had together (in grateful memory of coffee breaks he had had with Tom O'Meara); the deep gratitude with which Michael spoke of his mentors at Toronto and in Rome; the fatherly affection he lavished on his students and the pride he exhibited in their accomplishments; the way he held my Levinas and Medieval Literature manuscript in his hands to bless it, before I mailed it off to the Press (knowing that his own Levinas book, co-edited with Kevin Hart, would be published the same Spring); the delight he took in being photographed with  “his “ Nashville Dominicans; the gift of friendship that he and Betty gave together, so warmly, to so many people.  

In the end, thinking of Michael simply makes me grateful to be a human being and wanting to be more fully human. Bless the Lord for the blessing of Michael.

Ann W. Astell, University of Notre Dame

Peter H. O'Donnell, “He Lived What He Taught”

Rabbi Michael was one of the greatest influences on my learning and growing-up while an undergraduate at Notre Dame. Most of all, he taught me to always consider how the 'other side' might feel in any relationship that one engages in, or any dialogue that one is having. For it is in doing that--and only in doing that--that the relationship, the dialogue, truly becomes meaningful. Rabbi Michael preached this truism often. But more importantly, he lived it. Everyday. In a faith community in northern Indiana that was very much unlike his own. He made The Dialogue meaningful every day of his life by living it. And that's how you knew that he meant what he preached.  

Rabbi Michael would want us all to live our dialogues that way, too. It's the greatest way that we can honor his memory.  

I will miss my great teacher who became my great friend.  

 Peter O'Donnell, ND '98, Chicago, IL  

Teresa Ghilarducci, “I and Thou: Michael, we miss you”

Michael was a good friend to my husband, William O'Rourke, my son Joe, and me. That is just that, a friend who committed himself to his definition of friendship, attentive, gentle, and loyal. John Cavadini wrote once that Michael always started where people were and joined them at their level, whether it be intellectual, spiritual, or an emotion endeavor. He asked my teenage son about math -- which is pretty funny if you knew Michael -- me about bricklayer unions, and kept William talking about Dick Cheney. As I began to pay attention as much as he me I encountered a brilliant, loving man. It is clear reading the bound manuscript that will become his festschrift, that Michael thankfully got to read before he died, that I am not alone appreciating Michael for his kindness. Martin Buber writes “when I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him. … He is no longer a dot in any world grid of space or time.” So it was with Michael, he treated you like a You. Anyone reading this wants to remember Michael and how can you without his humor. I wish he didn’t die, he really wanted to go to Kenya though he expected to preach to the zebras, because he didn’t know if the people were ready for him. Many weren’t but his love was as big as the universe and he was ready for them, for us.  

Elizabeth Groppe, “A Tribute to Michael and Betty Signer”

I smile with recognition as I read through the beautiful memories of Michael posted by other Notre Dame students. In my own years in the graduate program, I had on multiple occasions witnessed Michael’s ebullience and brilliance in public lectures and events, but I embarked upon my dissertation without ever having taken one of his courses. This did not stop him from welcoming an inquiry about Jewish theologies of the Holy Spirit occasioned by a short section of my thesis on the pneumatology of Dominican Yves Congar. Michael so engaged me in this question that what originated as a footnote in a dissertation has become a major part of my theological work.  

Some of my most vivid memories of Michael are from a week at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, Poland in the fall of 2000. As others have noted, Michael and Betty organized these events on the edge of Auschwitz to bring together Christians and Jews from Poland, Germany, Israel, and the United States. It is not an easy journey to make. One of the Jewish participants in the event was invited to return a subsequent year and declined – it is just too hard to be there, he said – and rightfully so. Yet Michael and Betty returned, again and again.  

During the week, Michael mentored Rabbinic students from Hebrew Union College, used his language skills to help Poles and Germans communicate with each other (breaking at one point into Latin), engaged in intense discussion of Levinas with a German Christian graduate student, and had a heart-to-heart conversation with Polish students about Fr. Maximilian Kolbe (a proponent of anti-Jewish theology before his incarceration at Auschwitz – and a hero to Poles because he asked the Nazis to take his life in place of another prisoner.) Throughout the week, Michael and Betty modeled the compassionate listening and truthful speaking that is essential to authentic interreligious and international dialogue.  

I will never forget the evening that concluded the week of dialogue. After walks through the death camps, lectures, and intense and difficult discussions, we gathered on Friday evening in the dining room of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer to welcome the Sabbath. Oblong tables had been joined at the edges to make one large dining table which was covered with a white cloth and adorned with cuttings of Polish wildflowers. Sabbath prayers were said, the Sabbath candles were lit, and the <em>challah</em> bread was blessed and broken and shared. Faces were aglow, reflecting the light of the candles and the ruby red of the wine. There was laughter, and conversation in four different languages, and the clinking of silver, and the sharing of food. And then there was song. It began at the head of the table, where three rabbinical students sang rousing melodies in Hebrew. Then the song moved to the center of the table where a German priest sang Salve Regina. The song swelled as the Polish students, who were the most numerous group in the gathering, joined the chorus. The Americans sang in English, and then the music moved back to the rabbinical students who sang Hinei ma tov uma naim, Shevet achim gam yachad. And then, immediately after they had finished, the Polish students at the opposite end of the table began-in unison, without prompting-to sing exactly the same melody, with Polish words: Zobaczcie jak jest dobrze przebywac razem z bracmi. Both the Hebrew and the Polish versions of this song have exactly the same translation: “Behold, how good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together as one “ (Psalm 133).  

“This evening,” someone commented as we reluctantly began to rise from the table,  “was a victory over Hitler.” It was, indeed. And it was a victory that would not have happened without the faith and courage and compassion and vision of Michael and Betty Signer.  

Elizabeth Groppe, Xavier University 

Hinda Lee Sheffer, “Heartfelt condolences”

I was Confirmed with Michael. It was so nice to read of his achievements and accomplishments. I saw him recently on "Shalom TV." My heartfelt condolences to his family.

Hinda Lee Sheffer (Los Angeles, CA)  

Peter Ochs, “Philosopher of Love between the Words"

Dearest Michael, z”l, leaves us much yet to discover in his words, let alone our memories. Each day offers another image to feast on, longingly. Today, this phrase comes to mind: Michael as a “philosopher of love between the words.” The phrase makes me smile for several reasons.  

One smile is about what Michael always seemed to uncover “between the words.” I am one of many who often say, “I never met a finer reader than Michael.” We witnessed that for years in the “Society for Textual Reasoning,” a gathering of Jewish text scholars and philosophers that he nourished with his text commentaries; and in the small group that generated Dabru Emet; and more recently in a three-year gathering of Abrahamic scholars at the Center for Theological Inquiry. A delightful sight and experience to behold a bunch of Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars leaning in toward Michael’s chair so as not to miss a word of what he was unraveling from this day’s medieval commentary and its text sources and parallels and contrasts. But he did not seem to notice how much we leaned on his textual learning and wisdom: either that or his humility simply swallowed up whatever he noticed.  

Another smile is specifically about the “between.” An excellent reader, we might say, has much to teach us about the words. But a sage reader also lets us peer in at what to the rest of us seems pretty much hidden between them. Like his mentors Rashi and Rashbam, Michael’s reading added yet one more step: beyond the pastoral ingenuity of midrash, this was to uncover the deeper “plain sense” of the text within the literary corpus to which it belonged. A meeting place of wisdom and textual science: and a place of great hope if, in Michael’s fashion, we learn how to read not only in and between the words but also in and between strictly academic and strictly denominational or lived approaches to the text traditions.  

Another smile is about the word “love.” I cannot think of Michael without thinking of love: the love between Betty and Michael and what it means to visit their shared space; the love of all the friendships Michael generated and shared in; his love of reading – in scripture and rabbinic texts and commentaries, of Victorines and medieval pashtanim – and the love that surrounded him as reader and scholar: love of God, love of humanity, love of word and Word, love of study partner for the other, and with Michael that meant love among Jewish scholars and between Jewish and Christian scholars and, in the more recent years, among Jewish and Christian and Muslim scholars. When we leaned in to hear Michael’s reading, we were also leaning in toward each other, not only as different individuals but also as members of different communities and traditions. Michael warmed love across the boundaries of texts and of religions.  

Another smile is about the word “philosopher,” because Michael treated the word like a title he coveted but was denied by dint of excelling in something else (perhaps the way I, as a philosopher, covet his mastery of texts). But, as I finally had occasion to write as a chapter in his festschrift (forthcoming), Michael was indeed a “theological philosopher of the plain sense.” His work was infused by a transformative philosophy of deeper plain-sense reading: a vision of the integrative and relational character of this reading and of the wisdoms that are delivered through it. In rabbinic fashion, he did not burden his readers with formalized or abstract sketches of this philosophic vision (the kind of abstraction that often passes as “philosophy”); instead, he re-invested his vision within his text commentary and super-commentary, within his interpretive writing and teaching, and within the fellowships and friendships and bonds of love he nurtured among so many people representing such a variety of confessions, beliefs, and disciplines.  

Continue your teaching among us, Michael; we have so much yet to learn.  

Prof. Peter Ochs (Charlottesville, Va.)  

Benjie Gruber, “Above all he was a mensch”

I met Michael on an interfaith seminar he led in Lublin. in ten short days he taught me so much. Above all he was a mensch. I think of and pray for the family.

Benjie Gruber (Jerusalem)  

Maggie Anton Parkhurst, “What a loss for us Jewish medievalists!”

I studied with Michael for several summers at the UAHC Kallah's in Santa Cruz in the 1990's and used much of his research for the final book in my  “Rashi's Daughters “ trilogy, which takes place during the First Crusade. What a loss for us Jewish medievalists! What an untimely death that he died just before the galleys were available. I so wanted to thank him.  

 Maggie Anton Parkhurst (Los Angeles, CA)  

Grace and Ira Grossman, "An extraordinary man"

Michael Signer was an extraordinary man of brilliant intellect and expansive generosity of spirit. His keen mind was mirrored by his warm heart. I cherished him as a teacher and mentor and Ira and I relished in his friendship. His memory will always be for a blessing. Betty, Aliza, and Hanna we hope that you will find strength from all of us who love you.  

Grace and Ira Grossman (Los Angeles, CA)  

Yehuda Gellman, “A scholar with a heart”

I became close to Michael when I spent my sabbatical at Notre Dame. We studied weekly Hasidic texts. He was a scholar with a heart, dedicated to the Jewish people, and a good friend to me. Rarely have I met such a mensch, warm and giving. Tehei nishamto tsura bitsurat hachayim.  

Yehuda Gellman (Jerusalem, Israel)

David Bergenfield, "We have only wonderful memories"

We only have wonderful memories about Michael and how he welcomed my wife Jen into the family.

David Bergenfeld (New York, NY)  

Harvey Gordon, “My teacher who became my friend”

Michael was my teacher at the Kallah before he became my friend. I have nothing but fond memories of time spent with Michael and Betty. Sandy and I are deeply saddened by the loss.  

 Harvey Gordon (Houston, TX)

Rick Burke, “I fondly recall our conversations”

I was deeply saddened to learn of Michael's passing. I fondly recall my conversations with Michael when I worked at HUC back in the 80's, as well as the time we spent schmoozing while I worked on his home computer. Michael was a top-notch mensch and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him. My heartfelt condolences to Betty and family.

Rick Burke (Los Angeles, CA)  

Adele Lander Burke, “Fond memories of his HUC days”

Betty, Rick and I have such fond memories of Michael from his HUC days. May his memory be a blessing to you and yours.

Adele Lander Burke (Los Angeles, CA)  

Hugh Feiss, OSB, “It was a gift to have known him”

I came to know Michael 30 years ago when we took the same red-eye flight from the West Coast to Kalamazoo. We were both youngish seminary professors then, and we had both done our doctoral work on the Victorines. That was the beginning of a long, casual friendship. The last two times I saw him were at a meeting he hosted at Notre Dame for people interest in the Victorines and then at the airport in Munich when our paths happened to cross (and again we were on the same plane!). It was a gift to have known him. He is in my prayers and I'm sure in peace.

Fr. Hugh Feiss, OSB 

The Kannengiessers, “He reflected our best dreams”

Michael has gone into his eternity and we cannot yet become aware of his absence. He remains the angel of hospitality he has always been for us. He welcomed us in his family, sharing with us his love for Betty and their daughters. He greeted us in his intimate faith, open-heartedly supporting our own believing hopes. With his enthusiastic humility, he instantly participated in any project that might unite us as believers. His dreams reflected the best of our dreams with a vivid perceptiveness, a liberating sense of humor, and an intellectual honesty which transcends all circumstances, including death. Michael, we are close to you in truth and love.

Charles and Pamela Kannengiesser 

Ruth and Sam Perelson, “Always larger than life in our minds”

Michael will always be larger than life in our minds. How do we spell MICHAEL? “E-X-U-B-E-R-A-N-C-E.!”  How do we translate MICHAEL: BRILLIANT.  JOYOUS. TEACHER. COMMUNICATOR, RELIGIOUS SLEUTH,  DEAR FRIEND What did Michael possess best? Joie de vivre…a love of life…past, present, future. We ask ourselves....Why does a light like his go out? Why are we all cheated in not having the physical presence of Michael anymore? We thank you, God….. We can still hear him….may that always be the same. We can still “see” him…may our mind’s photograph remain the same. We can still feel that energy that radiated from him….may that feeling warm our hearts and our minds. We know his legacy….in printer’s ink. And when we “see” Michael…we see right at his side is his Love, Betty. Betty, his soul mate, his “rock,” his complement…sharing and embellishing his work and his life Both, dear friends……always. With our love….always,

Ruth and Sam Perelson   

Violetta Reder, “He Was Building toward the Future”

I take the liberty to present a mix of my personal and institutional witness on late Rabbi Michael Signer. I'd like to extend the metaphor of building that he applied to entitle the international Christian-Jewish seminars in Poland of which he was the spiritus movens: Rabbi Michael was God’s tool, creating facts that built the life of others, and, I am sure, shaped the history. He was a shofar played by God to “tell of new things” (cf Isaiah 38,6) - he participated in a modern prophetic movement.   When on a September morning, 2000, I heard the news on the Polish radio about American Jewish scholars publishing a friendly statement on Christianity, I felt as if I were dreaming or the Messiah stood in the doorway – I was no less stunned than when I watched John Paul II putting his kvitl with the Church’s teshuva into the Kotel earlier that year. Anyway, both events were a voice foretelling my imminent involvement in Christian-Jewish dialogue. I didn’t know rabbi Michael at that time, nor did I know the names of Dabru emet’s authors. A couple of months later, as an English philologist considerably interested in Jewish issues, I was proposed a job at the Institute of Ecumenism and Dialogue in Kraków. The reason was that one American Reformed rabbi (guess who) cherished the idea of organizing an international Christian-Jewish seminar at our Academy in Kraków – after he had met Fr Prof. Łukasz Kamykowski, director of the Kraków Institute, in early 1990’s and at the “Theology at the Edge of Auschwitz” meetings in the Centre for Prayer and Dialogue in Oświęcim later. The idea was to add to the Holocaust context of the Auschwitz meetings the setting of the royal and capital city of Kraków as the old ancient Ashkenazic and Christian culture centre. To have more of the thousand years’ old Jewish life in Poland in the background... That was a two years’ project: first, making academic teachers and leading figures in the dialogue from USA, Germany and Poland mix in Kraków in 2002, and then a full programme involving teachers and graduate students in 2003, entitled “Building toward the Future: Jewish-Christian Dialogue in Inter-Cultural Context”. The project was continued also in other contexts - in Nuremberg, Germany (2005) and Lublin, Poland (2007).   Rabbi Michael’s first educational contact with Poland came in early 1990’s: as a scholar of the American Jewish Committee he was part of the educational tour of American rabbis to the Catholic institutions of higher education at Warsaw, Lublin, Wrocław and Poznań. In 2005, the Polish Council of Christians and Jews awarded him as the Man of Reconciliation.   Rabbi Michael was not just an academic teacher – he was one of those whom you call master. He did not lecture – he set the listeners on fire. He was all involvement. We admired his scholarly passion and his life’s passion for Jewish-Christian dialogue. We were fascinated by his intellectual finesse and wit.   I was charmed with the way Dabru emet came into being. Not only because of the honesty and culture in relating and answering to Christian teshuva, but because of the novelty of Jewish scholars studying Christianity at all. Why did the Jewish scholars undertake their National Project? Because it helped them ask new questions about Judaism - was Rabbi Michael’s answer. (But, clearly, new viewpoint on Christianity and a breakthrough in relations was fruit of this, too.) He spoke about the genesis of the statement during the debate on Dabru emet at our Academy in 2002 in which we involved all the celebrities of the Jewish-Christian world who had come to Kraków for Signer’s seminar: Fr Hanspeter Heinz, Fr John Pawlikowski, Fr Michał Czajkowski, Konstanty Gebert, Stanisław Krajewski. A record of this event can be found in the Catholic monthly ZNAK No 572 (1): 2003 (this issue also includes a Polish translation of M. Signer’s essay: “Why Did Jews Reject Jesus?”).   Raveinu, we keep building, and we are looking forward to the future that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has in Mind.   

Violetta Reder, Assistant for Christian-Jewish relations Interfaculty Institute of Ecumenism and Dialogue, Pontifical Academy of Theology in Kraków

Deana and Seth Linfield, “To Betty”

Dear Betty, We miss Michael. He always knew exactly the right thing to say, and at exactly the right time. We hope to speak to you in the near future. We are thinking of you.

Love, Deana and Seth

Betty Signer, “Things About Michael”

It is three weeks this past Shabbat that Michael is gone from our presence. I am overwhelmed by the number of lives he touched, the memories that people have of him and the beautiful tributes that have been posted or mailed to me.  

We both always knew the outcome of Michael's illness. Yet he never gave up or gave in except at the end when he knew he had lost the fight. It was only about duration. This was one of the few times that he was not the “special” one who would excel and get more time.  

Many of you knew Michael as a teacher, colleague and friend. I knew and loved the more personal side of him. For almost forty years (come June), we had a continuous conversation about ongoing future plans, ND programs, vacation trips, shared books and movies, close friends, our children, and wines and food we chose. Most importantly it was about our many adventures and dreams together.  

He was a perfect dinner and movie partner, travel guide, literary resource and wine expert. One of my complaints about him was that he was mathematically challenged. Somehow he never got numbers but his many other talents made up for it. He was far from perfect, but he was exceptional.  

Michael had such a gentle side to him yet he could be outraged when he felt an injustice being done or if the Pope made a statement that he didn't agree with. He could be very funny and quite serious, laugh or cry when moved, be a silly romantic or get passionate about an idea or sentimental about a friend and also be very cynical. (Usually not at the same time.)  

He was an incurable bookaholic, loved fountain pens, films and medieval art. During our travels he collected boxes, old prints and maps. Others gave him chicken kitsch, a joke from early HUC days. Ever a pack rat, his study is filled with photos and memorabilia from people he loved having near him. He never threw anything out if he thought it might have “historical “ value.  

Michael had many mentors along the way and he chose well. On his computer was a photo of Fr. Boyle watching over him, and on his shoulder, Arnie Band's presence stood “guard.” His best friend David Ellenson taught him how to be generous and gracious. His students and children taught him patience and how to listen.  

Somehow Michael got people and he always “got me.” That is a gift that is hard to find and one I will miss the most. Michael had a way of gently reminding me to turn off the “tapes,” encouraging me to listen to my own voice and always making me feel a worthy partner. I think he also did that for his students. He always said that his legacy would be with them and not in the many more books he wished he had written.  

Last May when we were in Israel we passed a jewelry store window that I had admired on several trips. Michael wanted me to try on a necklace I saw. Since it was not a special occasion. I thought our fortieth would be a better time. It was so out of character for him to persist that I was caught a bit off balance by it all.  

We went in and after I tried on the necklace, he said that he wanted me to have it. Despite the fact I loved it, being ever the practical one, I protested it was too extravagant. Michael was adamant about it. This was not like him at all, I thought.  

After leaving the store box in hand, he seemed so pleased that he had bought it for me. Following that trip, soon after coming home he was diagnosed with cancer. I forgot about having put the necklace away in my drawer. Only while packing to go to his funeral did I accidently find it. It was the first of many bittersweet encounters I have had since then.  

Although he will never get to see me wear it, I wonder if somehow he had a premonition or was it just a coincidence in timing. The sadness of his absence will stay with me forever, but the memory of that day in Jerusalem will as well.  

Michael's presence and absence is felt constantly in our house; in his study and library and in the many memories you have shared. For that gift my family is most grateful. It is the deep loss of not having him along to continue our journey together that is the most difficult to accept. Sharing my life with such a unique man was indeed a privilege and most often much fun. Our time together was all too short and now much too quiet. I so miss the conversation.  

In Loving Memory, Betty Signer