Marcia Rothschild Made Own Name as Activist, Student

Marcia Rothschild Made Own Name as Activist, Student

By Suzi Brozman /

Marcia Rothschild for Atlanta Jewish Times
Marcia Rothschild (courtesy of Tam Institute for Jewish Studies)

Marcia Rothschild was killed on her way to doing a religious duty — she was driving to Knoxville for a funeral. It was important to her to remember anyone we had lost. Amid the storms Sunday, April 19, her car hydroplaned, left the road and hit a tree.

Rothschild, 67, was the daughter of The Temple’s longtime spiritual leader Rabbi Jacob Rothschild and his wife, Janice. Born in 1947, she attended the Westminster Schools, then Simmons College in Boston, and earned her master’s degree in early childhood learning from Georgia State University.

Longtime friend Rabbi Leila Berner, who led Congregation Bet Haverim, recalled that Rothschild loved kids. “She worked with kids with learning disabilities. She developed a career around that and was excited when she figured out a way to reach a child. She was frustrated when she couldn’t reach a child and was in heaven when she found the key. She wanted to help the world.”

Her love of children extended to Rabbi Berner’s daughter, for whom she was baby sitter and companion when the rabbi needed her. One summer, Rabbi Berner led a student trip from Emory to Israel and wanted to bring her 4-year-old daughter along. Rothschild accompanied them at her own expense to care for the child with one stipulation: that she be allowed to accompany the group on tours.

She was very involved in the life of the mind. She attended Bible study classes and lectures. She switched careers and made her living as an editor, mostly of scholarly manuscripts. Like many children of clergy, she had difficulties with her father’s religion, but after Bet Haverim and time with Lev Shalem, she returned to The Temple.

“Marcia came to everything. She could have been the recipient of the perfect attendance record if we had one. Every Friday night, every Saturday morning, Torah study, Melton — she was taking a class with Shelly Buxbaum and talked about it all the time. She was extremely knowledgeable, very well read and very smart. She made beautiful contributions to every discussion,” said The Temple’s senior rabbi, Peter Berg.

“Marcia embraced the community. She was a real advocate for justice and dedicated her life to it, to making the world a fair and balanced place. She became a docent at The Temple. She’d meet groups — schools, nursing homes — and would tell them stories and teach the history of The Temple, of Judaism.”

Rabbi Berg said Rothschild followed the example of her father, who was an outspoken civil rights advocate, saw The Temple through the bombing in 1958, brought the Reform community to support Zionism and worked with other segments of the Jewish community. “For example, Rabbi Rothschild worked with Rabbi Emanuel Feldman on selling Israel Bonds. They’d hold meetings at synagogues around town, without demanding kashrut laws be followed, just that fruit plates be offered for Rabbi Feldman. When the meeting was at Orthodox Beth Jacob, the story goes, fruit was provided for Rabbi Rothschild.”

Like her father, Rothschild became a bit of a rebel, taking part in sit-ins and marches. She also came out as a lesbian.

Her cousin Dr. Gus Kaufman said Rothschild was proud of her activism. She worked to bring people into the mainstream and get over homophobia. She was a founder of Congregation Bet Haverim, which began as a gay and lesbian congregation, and of Lev Shalem, an LGBT chavurah.

She was close to her mother, another profoundly intellectual person, and protective of her. Rothschild accompanied her everywhere, including to classes and Emory lectures. She became involved in a lecture series at the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory, where an annual lecture in memory of her father was established several years ago.

Kaufman said Rothschild had so much love to give to friends, children and the community. He said she used to go to Grady Memorial Hospital to hold and rock HIV-infected babies because she knew they needed the contact.

She came out because she was proud of who she was. Because of her sense of ethics and justice, she would not accept prejudice against herself and the LGBT community. “And that’s not easy for a single woman in the South,” Kaufman said. “Boy, what a loss. Here’s a woman who made her own way, found a way to stay close to her family, and kept going and learning, and that’s not easy.”

Survivors include her mother, Janice Rothschild Blumberg, and her brother and his wife, Bill and Brenda Rothschild. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund at The Temple, 1589 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, GA 30306.

A graveside service for Rothschild will be held at Crest Lawn Memorial Park at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 21.

read more: