Deaf university selects first Jewish president

Alan Hurwitz, who made his mark as a trailblazer of sorts years ago in his own family, has carved out yet another new path, this one at Gallaudet University.

The 67-year-old native of Sioux City, Iowa, was named the new president of the university for the deaf in Washington, D.C., making him the first Jew to head the institution in its 145-year history. He starts Jan. 1.

All four finalists for the position were Jewish, all were born deaf and all had deaf parents, according to Hurwitz, who grew up in an Orthodox environment where tradition taught that deaf people are exempt from the obligation to learn Torah.

However, once he became a father himself, Hurwitz said through an interpreter, he resolved that his son — who was born hard of hearing — would not be bound by the same constraints that limited his opportunities and those of previous generations in his family.

“My son would learn Hebrew and have a bar mitzvah,” he said, and that pledge was realized. His son is now an attorney in Rochester, N.Y., where Hurwitz has served in various positions since 1970 at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology. Hurwitz and his wife, Vicki, also have a daughter.

Although Hurwitz never had a bar mitzvah ceremony as a youngster, he participated in a brief Jewish coming-of-age ritual about four years ago when he visited a rabbi in Belorussia, where his grandfather had grown up.

Hurwitz, who has visited Israel four times is a member of a Reform congregation with his wife.