David S. Ariel, who was president of the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies for 25 years, was remembered as a “visionary in Jewish education.” He died June 16 at age 68.
During his tenure leading the college from 1982 to 2007– which later became Siegal College and today is known as the Siegal Lifelong Learning program at Case Western Reserve University – enrollment and financial support increased, accreditation was achieved, and its faculty and staff were further developed. He stepped down from the presidency to pursue scholarly interests.
Ariel, of Brighton, Mass., was president of Ariel Learning, a global Jewish learning organization. He also was previously president of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford in England.
Brian Amkraut, executive director of Siegal Lifelong Learning program, said he was hired by Ariel to join the faculty about 17 years ago. He worked closely with Ariel during the six years they were colleagues.
“He had an enormous personality,” Amkraut said. “(He) really had a vision for the institution, a vision for Jewish learning both here and nationally. He knew the value of adult Jewish education. He was a great combination of someone who was incredibly knowledgeable, a scholar in his own right, and very engaged with the community.”
Amkraut said Ariel “put Siegal College on the map of higher learning.”
“The man gave 25 years of his professional life to rebuild and strengthen a Cleveland institution,” Amkraut said.
Sandra Arndt, Ariel’s first cousin and a Solon resident, said she and Ariel grew close while he worked at the college.
“What I’ll remember about David is that we confided in one another and supported each other when things were tough,” she said. “I think it’s clear that David was a very brilliant man. His father was a rabbi, grandfather was a rabbi – he came from a rabbinic background.”
Mitchell Schneider, president of Lyndhurst-based First Interstate Properties, Ltd., and chairman of the board of governors at the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies when Ariel was president, said he was a “visionary educational leader in Cleveland.”
“He did tremendous work on behalf of the Cleveland and national Jewish community, bringing significant innovation, creativity and leadership to all aspects of Jewish education,” Schneider said in an email. “He was missed after his departure from Siegel College of Jewish Studies.”
Ariel graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a degree in Jewish thought and received his Master of Arts and doctorate in Jewish studies from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
He also authored four books: “Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest,” “Spiritual Judaism: Restoring Heart and Soul to Life,” “What Do Jews Believe?” and “The Mystic Quest: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism.”
Ariel is survived by his mother, Lenore Feierstein; his children, Judah, Micah and Aviva; and his sisters, Nina Aines and Judy Feierstein. He is predeceased by his father, the late Rabbi Milton Feierstein.
Funeral services were held June 18 at the Stanetsky Memorial Chapel in Canton, Mass.