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About the Herman Family
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About the Herman Family

The Virtual Resource Center for Sexual Orientation Issues in the Jewish Community is dedicated to the memory of Jeff Herman by his parents, Agnes and Rabbi Erwin ‘zl Herman, “whom he taught so well.” Jeff’s wisdom inspired his parents to become generous benefactors whose funding allowed HUC-JIR to create the Jeff Herman Virtual Resource Center to increase understanding and inclusion for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender Jews and their families in the Jewish World.

The Herman Family - Agnes, Jeff, Judy, Erv – January, 1992

Jeff Herman

Jeff and his younger sister, Judi, experienced all the ordinary triumphs and trials of childhood. Jeff enjoyed boating, swimming, and being active in his temple youth group. He learned to cook helping his mom in the kitchen and his skills with machines and electronics lead him to tinker with cars and motorcycles. After the family moved from the East coast to San Francisco, Judi often joined Jeff on the back of his motorcycle to explore the hills and neighborhoods of their new home, “searching for adventure like two extras left over from [the movie] Easy Rider” according to family friend, Rabbi Al Vorspan.

In high school, Jeff became more distant from his family as he wrestled with a secret he had had for years. Since he was eight years old, Jeff had known that he was gay. It was only when he began college that he shared the truth with his parents. Saddened that Jeff had lived alone with his secret so many years, Ag and Erv Herman remained loving, committed parents and supported him in every way that they could.

After high school, Jeff first enrolled at a local college before attending design school and then working in retail. He joined the Navy Air Reserves, but his time there was cut short when he and a friend declared that they were gay (long before the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy). They both were given a “less than honorable” discharge as a result. In many ways, Jeff was relieved to be out of the Reserves, because once his sexual orientation became public, he was always under the threat of physical harm.

In the years after Jeff came out, the Hermans’ appreciation and understanding of members of the gay community continued to grow, as the stereotypes and misconceptions they had fell away. They recognized the fear and pain suffered by many gay men and lesbians and welcomed into their lives all of Jeff’s friends with open arms.

None was more welcomed than Alex, Jeff’s partner. The two of them shared homes in Lake Forest, California, and in Clear Lake, a small town 100 miles northeast of San Francisco. Jeff, a talented gardener, and Alex, an imaginative designer, created “show houses” together in each home they shared. They had a close community of friends and the Hermans visited Jeff and Alex frequently.

In 1982, both Jeff and Alex were diagnosed with HIV. At the time, early in the AIDS epidemic when there was very little known about the virus, such a diagnosis was a death sentence. Jeff and Alex decided that in their limited remaining days, that they would live their lives to the fullest. They had a respectful, caring doctor, a supportive community and strong resolve that helped them live for much longer than expected and with dignity. In 1992, both Jeff and Alex succumbed to complications of the disease.

Adventurous, sensitive, courageous, embracing, thoughtful, charming, humorous, a caring spirit – these were the words used to celebrate Jeff at his memorial service. As family friend, Rabbi Uri Herscher put it, his life “had quality, was a meaningful life, an uplifting life,” It was one that inspired many people. It was a life that helped his parents grow into persistent champions of equal rights and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Rabbi Erwin and Agnes Herman

Throughout their lives, Agnes and Rabbi Erwin ‘zl Herman have dedicated themselves to caring for and teaching others. Rabbi Herman served as a leader in the national Reform Judaism movement and Agnes assisted people in need as a social worker for a variety of social service agencies.

Like many parents of gay children, the Hermans felt somewhat confused when Jeff came out to them. The professional training Agnes had in social work and Rabbi Herman had in rabbinic school did not prepare them to understand and embrace a gay son. However, for love of Jeff, they confronted their own prejudices and opened their minds and hearts to understanding and acceptance. But their transformation did not stop at the boundaries of their own family.

They used what they learned from Jeff to work vigorously to increase knowledge about gay men and lesbians and to encourage acceptance in both the general and Jewish communities. Agnes has written several ground-breaking articles about sexual orientation issues that have appeared in national publications (and which can be found on the JHVRC and served as a charter member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) AIDS Committee. As Director of both the UAHC Pacific Southwest Council and the National New Congregations Committee, Rabbi Herman helped establish Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world's first synagogue with outreach to gay men and lesbians in 1972, and helped gain its admission into the Union, another first, a year later. (Read the BCC's history here.)

The Hermans’ funding of the creation of the VRC is the most recent example of their efforts to fuel change through teaching and learning about the issues that impact lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews and their families. Their hope is that the students, teachers, researchers, rabbis, parents, teens and anyone that it can reach will use this resource to aid the Jewish community in continuing in its growth as an embracing and loving community to all Jews of every type.

A recent article by Ag Herman - September 2009

Rabbi Erv Herman z"l Biography

Dr. Joel Kushner's Eulogy for Rabbi Erv Herman z"l

A portion of Jeff’s panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt,
made by his mother, father and sister


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