Deceased August 28, 2015

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50th Reunion Book Entry


In Memory

Walter, one of the most unforgettable human beings I have ever known, died in August. Paula, his wife, sent me ideas for this remembrance. I’m grateful to her for what she sent.

Paula was married to Walter 10 years ago, and they lived in the ancient village of Ein Karem. He was probably Israel’s best known tour guide and was featured on a TV magazine show for PBS as television guide/historian. He also served as editor and talking head on Mysteries of the Bible (A& E).

He was a historian/guide in the 1980s for a Metropolitan Museum exhibit, “Treasures of the Holy Land.” In Israel he published a newsletter called From Jerusalem and was the recipient of a Ministry of Tourism award. He served as Jewish chaplain in Southeast Asia when he was first ordained a rabbi. After making his aliyah, he served in the Israeli army and was in an anti-aircraft battalion. He served as a volunteer police officer in Jerusalem for more than 25 years.

Walter received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew Union College in 2007. He lectured at churches, synagogues, museums and community organizations throughout the United States. He also served on the board of the Jewish Bible Quarterly for several years.

When Judy and I made our pilgrimage to Israel, Walter was our guide. Judy was quite taken by him, as were we all. I can still picture him, wearing his hat with a motor-driven propeller sharing insights about the ancient city of Caesarea and its harbor. He will be missed by a great many of us.

James C. Blackburn ’56

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50th Reunion 

Walter Zanger Here in Jerusalem, at the grand old age of 70, I now REFLECT. How to make sense of a life that has that, on the one hand, been full of adventures but, on the other, was devoid of major decisions or major catastrophes. I never got really sick, nobody really close (with one exception) ever died suddenly or unexpectedly on me, my children and grandchildren are terrific, I live happily with a woman who loves me and all the adventures of my life seem to have just happened on their own. I never remember having to make agonizing choices; not about whom to marry or when to divorce, what career to go into and when and how to change, where to live and when and where to move, what to study and what to change to. I always just did whatever seemed the right thing at the time, and it always worked out. My life has been -- by far! -- more luck than brains, and I feel fine about that.

Can't remember what prompted me to go to Amherst; a decision I made when I was 16 I/2 years old. I was thought (mostly by me and my mother) to be a real smart kid -- like Jewish kids in Brooklyn are supposed to be -- and was not surprised to be accepted by Dartmouth, Williams, Wesleyan and Hamilton (my brother went there, and I could have got a NY State Scholarship). Imagine not accepting Walter Zanger, boy prodigy!

I remember that I had goals and ambition back then. I was going to be a genius, a scholar, thinker, philosopher, etc. I thought of myself as sharp, focused, judgmental, analytical, etc., and bound for glory. Slowly but surely the realization crept in that I didn't have the right stuff to do all that anyhow, One needed to be smarter and/or more ambitious than I ever was.

In the event, it turned out that I was a modest talent with modest accomplishments, good grades, and a lot of luck. After doing Philosophy and Religion at Amherst with Sterling Lamprecht and Paul Sanders it seemed natural to go to Seminary. The alternative, an advanced degree in philosophy, was unbearable; logical positivism, Russell, Whitehead and Wittgenstein were for masochists. Philosophy (as distinct from real life) had kept me going as an undergraduate. Indeed, my Amherst thesis, on Spinoza, had convinced me that I actually understood the Universe (!), which revelation kept me on a high until the end of my senior year. Then an encounter with Existentialism collapsed that revelation too and it was downhill from then on. One ex-genius now on the market. Freed from a single driving ambition, I was able to do whatever come along, to live anywhere in the world and take things as they came. Which is pretty much what happened.

Two years into the Hebrew Union College -­ the seminary for training Reform Rabbis -- a few of us got stir-crazy and broke out for a year in Israel. Lucky again; my father agreed to finance this too. That set seeds for the next 40 years; a wife I found in Jerusalem, ordination as a Rabbi, two years in SE Asia as Jewish Chaplain - I liked Vietnam a lot -- and then to Israel. All these were easy decisions; no wrenching soul­ searching, just doing what seemed natural at the time.

Walter Zanger Once out of the Air Force, I followed my wife (and newborn son) to Japan for a year. She had arranged to do pottery with a famous man. Thanks to our classmate Susumu Kawanishi, who organized it, I got a job as an English teacher at the Nagoya YMCA. But 1965, when we got back to the States, was a difficult year in America, Vietnam (where I was Chaplain) had turned America sour and we - feeling sour and having no commitments there -- decided we'd really rather be in Israel. So we upped and left. After only 6 weeks in Jerusalem I got a job with the Encyclopedia Judaica -- 16 volumes, (still proud of that) -- that lasted 6 years and got me through the recession of 1966, the 6-Day War of 1967, restoring a great old stone house in our village, and raising 4 kids. When the Encyclopedia was done, I went to the Jerusalem Post, Israel's daily English-language newspaper. That was because one of the 7 guys who had made the jail break from seminary those years ago was now the Editor-in-Chief, and was looking for an assistant in the Advertising Department. Didn't like the job a whole lot and left it 18 months later--just in time to spend 3 1/2 months in the Army (my 2nd army!) in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 - and to go into the much-praised Israel Guides course. I had all the background I needed from seminary; it was mostly about learning the places. Guiding has been my work for the past 30 years and it appears I got very good at it. Occasionally made a lot of money, which would be encouraging except that tourism has been an unstable profession in Israel as people who might come here to travel react to perceived dangers and real fears.

Having gone from the newspaper I still had friends there, and when the paper went into a short­ lived partnership with a film producer to do a television magazine about Israel, they used me as archaeological maven. My being good on camera had nothing to do with looks or talent, or any effort on my part; it just seemed to happen. That set me in touch with the studios and I continued making television documentaries long after I had left the paper. A modest talent, and good luck, had taken me quite far; they're still showing me (in "Mysteries of the Bible") on the History Channel from time to time. No royalties for talent, alas (!), but the fame is nice even when it comes without fortune and people sometimes recognize me and say hello. This happens mostly in airports but once from a motorman on the Times Square Shuttle.

To my sorrow there was a bunch of thing I never learned how to do. I never wrote the book(s) I was meant to write (but still swear I will!), I never learned to play the guitar, or to scuba dive. I still can't dance, or even move gracefully. And I never learned how to make (and keep) money or how to be an easy and compromising personality. I think they are connected). That's what you get from being thought a prodigy at a young age. Nothing traumatic to me about any of these realizations, just a fact. Somewhat sad about the money part and the personality part, but all in all, with only a modest talent and no ambition, I couldn't have expected more. It was all more luck than brains.

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