Marvin Schick, a college professor and political activist who served as a longtime leader in New York City’s Orthodox community and whose census reports on Jewish day schools were viewed as vital to the field, died of a heart attack on April 23 in his home in Borough Park, Brooklyn. He was 85.
Dr. Schick taught political science and constitutional law at Hunter College and the New School for Social Research, and served as liaison to the Jewish community in the second administration of Mayor John Lindsay. He was active in several Orthodox organizations, including the charedi Agudath Israel of America and the Modern Orthodox Orthodox Union.
A founder of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), he was the author, in 1970, of “Learned Hand’s Court,” a study of the jurisprudence of the New York judge and judicial philosopher.
Starting in 1998, Dr. Schick conducted for the Avi Chai Foundation influential census reports on Jewish day schools in the United States.
The data helped agencies and philanthropies in their planning for what were boom years in Jewish day schooling. After 2008 and the economic downturn, “Marvin’s censuses,” as they became known at Avi Chai, helped lead a new communal focus on day school affordability and sustainability.
“Marvin was a rare man of ideas who recognized the difference between good and bad ones, and turned the best into action … he was driven by an exceptional sense of urgency,” said Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature Emerita at Harvard University, and an Avi Chai board of trustees member.
“When the board of Avi Chai Foundation decided to concentrate on fortifying Jewish day school education in North America, Marvin asked, ‘how many schools are there, where are they and what do we know about them?’ There being nowhere to look for an answer, he mapped the field. It was very hard work, but everything followed from that,” Wisse said in an email interview. “When Avi Chai conceived of a building loan program as the most practical way of helping Jewish day schools expand, Marvin vetted the schools and administered the program. Devoted to the religious institutions he helped to build, he was exceptionally fair and dispassionate in identifying the potential of every promising branch of Jewish life.”
As an outspoken advocate for fair coverage of the Orthodox community, Schick often criticized the media, including The Jewish Week, for alleged anti-Orthodox bias. Many of those pieces appeared in a weekly sponsored column he wrote for years in The Jewish Week.
David Luchins, chairman of the political science department at Touro College, called Dr. Schick “an iconoclast,” a politically liberal Jew in an overwhelmingly conservative Orthodox community.
“Marvin was a classic Hubert Humphrey liberal,” Luchins said, referring to the longtime Democratic senator from Minnesota and unsuccessful 1968 presidential candidate. “Marvin believed deeply in government helping people, as a power for good.
“He mentored generations of Jewish leaders” through his many positions in the Jewish community and speeches at NCSY conventions, Luchins said.
Dr. Schick, who earned a Ph.D. in constitutional law from New York University, was ordained by The Rabbi Joseph Jacob (RJJ) School, a yeshiva in Staten Island, but did not work as a pulpit rabbi. He served for more than three decades as president of the school, and was a frequent contributor to several Jewish newspapers, including the Jewish Press and The Jewish Week.
He would tell friends that he had been urged by the late Rabbi Aharon Kotler, founder of the prestigious Beth Medrash Gohova yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., into serving the Orthodox community. “Rav Aharon always insisted that of all the causes of Klal Yisroel [the Jewish community], none was an important as Torah education,” he once wrote. “Spiritual salvation is our paramount obligation and yeshivos are the place where neshamos [souls] can be molded and saved spiritually.”
“His major accomplishments … include his insightful writings over many years and the yield of vital information about Jewish education in America,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America. “What motivated him was the sense of responsibility to Jews instilled in him by his beloved Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler … But what fueled his embrace of that responsibility was his deep love and concern for fellow Jews.” n