April 3, 2013

After Fatal Crash, Friends, Colleagues Recall Rabbi Diamond

Every Friday for the past decade, Rabbi James Diamond and Rabbi David Wolf Silverman studied together at Rabbi Silverman’s home. Though the men were 12 years apart, they shared a warm friendship and a love of Jewish learning. “We hit it off,” said Rabbi Silverman, the older of the two, recalling the man who was killed last Thursday in a car crash on Princeton’s Riverside Drive. “He was a dear friend.”

It was around 9:40 a.m. on March 29 that Rabbi Diamond, 74, and Rabbi Robert Freedman, 63, a former cantor at the Jewish Center of Princeton, were leaving a Talmud study group at a home on Riverside Drive. Rabbi Diamond was getting into the passenger side of a parked Toyota Prius when a BMW driven by Eric Maltz, 20, crashed into the front of an unoccupied Toyota Camry parked in front of the Prius. The impact pushed the Camry into the Prius, where Rabbi Freedman was in the driver’s seat.

Rabbi Diamond was thrown from the car and died at the scene. Rabbi Freedman was taken to the trauma center at Capital Health Medical Center and has since been released. Mr. Maltz, who was traveling at a rate of speed between 60 and 80 miles per hour, was also taken to the trauma center for his injuries. He has since been transferred to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Mr. Maltz has been charged with death by auto and assault by auto, and his bail was set at $100,000. Since it involves a fatality, the case is being investigated with assistance from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.

Rabbi Silverman, one of several to speak at Rabbi Diamond’s funeral at the Jewish Center of Princeton last Sunday, reflected about his friend on Tuesday afternoon. “He was convinced that the central texts of the Jewish tradition merited the same sophisticated analyses as those that founded western civilization,” he said. “He taught and embodied both. Like his name, Diamond, he was rare, one of a kind, brilliant, and multi-faceted.”

Rabbi Diamond was director of Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life from 1995 to his retirement in 2003. He was executive director of Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis from 1972 to 1995 and at Indiana University from 1968 to 1972.

“We were campus ministers together at Princeton, and we would meet on a regular basis,” said Reverend John Mark Goerss, who was Lutheran chaplain at Princeton University for 24 years. “He was always a wonderful, caring person who had so much to contribute intellectually, and to share. We very much valued the relationship we had — a really good, collegial one among all the campus ministers. We’d go on a retreat together once a year. This is a real loss to the community.”

Rabbi Diamond was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. According to information from Princeton University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Roosevelt University in Chicago, rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in comparative literature from Indiana University. The author of several books and numerous articles and essays, Rabbi Diamond edited A Handbook for Hillel and Jewish Campus Professionals, published in 1983. He held several major fellowships and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1988.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation. “At this point, there is no scheduled Superior Court date,” said Casey Diblasio, spokesperson for the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, on Tuesday. “We won’t confirm any details of the investigation until it’s an open court case.”

Rabbi Diamond taught courses in modern Hebrew literature and Judaic studies not only at Princeton University, but in the Princeton community. “I really enjoyed his classes,” said Roberta Diamond (no relation) of Towaco, who studied with him. “He was a wonderful, soft spoken teacher, always very kind. It’s such a loss.”