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Stanley Chyet, 71; Rabbi Was Leader in Skirball's Creation

October 22, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Rabbi Stanley F. Chyet, prominent scholar and professor of American Jewish history, translator of Hebrew literature, poet and force in the creation of Skirball Cultural Center, has died at age 71.

Chyet died Saturday at his home in Sherman Oaks after a two-year battle with cancer.

Along with Rabbi Uri D. Herscher, founding president and chief executive officer of Skirball, Chyet formulated the mission for the 15-acre cultural center that opened in the Sepulveda Pass in 1996. The Skirball, which has welcomed more than 3 million visitors, illustrates the connection between ancient Jewish heritage and American democratic ideals.

Chyet's expertise on American Jewish history was key to developing the center's core exhibit, "Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America."

"Stanley Chyet was a utopian in the truest sense of the word," Herscher said Sunday. "He set aside any personal ambitions for the civility of community and hopes for a better world. He was a brilliant human being with a warm heart, and he has touched us all.

"His scholarship was translated into a living institution," Herscher continued. "His poetry extended the human experience. All those who visit the Skirball for all generations to come will be touched directly by his legacy."

For the last 20 years, as the Skirball was envisioned and developed, Chyet served as assistant to Herscher and secretary to the center's board of trustees.

Born in Revere, Mass., Chyet attended Boston Latin School and was a Phi Beta Kappa in the first graduating class of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., in 1952. He went on to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where he was ordained in 1957 and earned his doctorate in 1960.

Chyet began his teaching career on the Cincinnati campus and in 1976 moved to Los Angeles, where he served from 1978 until his 1997 retirement as director of the Edgar F. Magnin School of Graduate Studies at the College Institute of Religion at Hebrew Union College-Los Angeles.

Concurrent with his teaching, from 1960 to 1978, Chyet was associate director of the American Jewish Archives and editor of the Journal of the American Jewish Archives.

As interested in literature as in history, Chyet became a prominent translator and editor, as well as author of biographies and other books and articles. When he translated the Hebrew poetry volume "Words in My Lovesick Blood" by Haim Gouri for publication in English in 1997, the Jerusalem Post commented that more analysis by Chyet would be welcome, but also said in a review that the "clear achievement in this collection is conveying the poetic feel of each selection."

Chyet translated and wrote poetry for publication in such journals as Midstream, Reconstructionist, Jewish Spectator and the Skirball's publication Oasis. Often with Warren Bargad, he also translated and edited books of poetry, including "Israeli Poetry: A Contemporary Anthology" in 1986 and the just-published "No Sign of Ceasefire."

Next year, the Skirball Cultural Center plans to publish a volume of poetry by Chyet titled "The Lord Has a Taste for Clowning."

Chyet, who served as a chaplain in the Army Reserve, was active in the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Assn. for Jewish Studies, the American Jewish Historical Society, the Labor Zionist Alliance, the Jewish Publication Society of America, Americans for Peace Now, the NAACP and Amnesty International.

He is survived by his wife, Geraldine Ann Hyman Chyet; a son, Michael, and a daughter, Susan Chyet Ware.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. today in the Magnin Auditorium of Skirball Cultural Center.

Memorial donations can be made to the John Wayne Cancer Institute, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, or to the Skirball Cultural Center.

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