Herbert Karp was a medical innovator, a music aficionado and the driving force behind the creation of Emory University’s Jewish studies program. For all those things and more, friends and family gathered to celebrate his life with a classical music concert Sunday, Oct. 16, at Emory’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.

Amid the selections from Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Beethoven and Schubert were tributes from friends whose memories of the neurologist, mentor, musician, father and legendary shofar blower had not faded since his death March 11 at age 94.

A comment from Lois Reitzes draws a smile from Benjamin Karp.

A comment from Lois Reitzes draws a smile from Benjamin Karp.

“His knowledge was so vast, his interests were so broad, and his energy so boundless,” said David Blumenthal, who launched what is now the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies in 1976 after Karp helped persuade Emory to add Jewish studies and recruited Blumenthal from Brown.

Blumenthal said the university had two search committees for his position — the official one within the university and an unofficial one in the Jewish community. “Herb served on both.”

One of the first neurologists in Atlanta, and later the first medical director of the Wesley Woods Center, Karp served as the Moses of his specialty, winning it independence as a department, neurologist and former student Linton Hopkins said. “He took the department out of bondage and to the promised land. Also like Moses, he was not allowed to be there with the full flowering of the department.”

Anthropology professor Melvin Konner called Karp “superlative in every way” but also reserved some praise for his widow, Hazel, for the incredible hospitality she offered at the grand Passover seders the Karps hosted.

Classical radio host Lois Reitzes also expressed amazement at Hazel Karp’s effortless execution of seders, Shabbat dinners and Sukkot gatherings, but her domestic miracles fit with the wonders Reitzes attributed to Herb Karp, such as his ability to imitate her and to identify not just the musical selection, but also the orchestra, conductor and soloist within a few notes.

She called him the “godfather of classical music in Atlanta.”

More important, “Herb never needed to consult a moral compass,” Reitzes said. “He was the embodiment of moral rectitude and grace.”

Karp’s son, Benjamin, a music professor at the University of Kentucky, played cello during the concert, which concluded with a movement from a Schubert string quartet that was the first piece of music the father bought for the son.

Recounting the purchase of quartet’s parts for $2.25, Benjamin Karp had to fight back tears, but he recovered to play the music and to assess his father’s place.

“Dad worked tirelessly, as you’ve heard, to make his patients better, to make his students better, to make Emory better, to better the cultural and spiritual life of Atlanta, the city he loved. It takes people like him to make an institution or a city great.”

Tam Anniversary

Emory University’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, the program Herbert Karp helped launch with the hiring of David Blumenthal as the Jay and Leslie Cohen professor of Judaic studies in 1976, is celebrating its 40th birthday Sunday, Dec. 4, with an afternoon of learning and a dinner in the Cox Hall Ballroom.

The schedule:

  • 2 p.m., welcome
  • 2:15, two sessions of faculty panels featuring Ken Stein, Eric Goldstein, Oded Borowski, Gordon Newby, David Blumenthal, Don Seeman, Jonathan Crane, Jacob Wright, Michael Berger, Peter Hoyng, Catherine Dana and Hazel Gold
  • 4:30, presentations on recent books by Deborah Lipstadt, Ellie Schainker and Miriam Udel
  • 5:30, book signing and cocktail reception
  • 6, dinner

Tickets are $65 for the general public and $25 for students; www.js.emory.edu/40thAnniversaryInvitation.htm.