Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum was born in Kosice, (Kassa) Slovakia/Czechoslovakia in 1929, and with the beginning of Nazi deportations, he hid in an attic. When betrayed, he fled to Budapest, linked up with the Underground, and eventually was liberated by Soviet armed forces. He made several attempts to reach Israel, including on the well-known ship the Exodus in 1947.
Ervin Birnbaum was graduated from the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1958 and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Public Law and Government at Columbia University in New York. He served as Associate Professor of Political Science at the City College of N.Y. Professor Birnbaum is the author of The Islamic State of Pakistan (The Pakistan Historical Society, 1957); The Politics of Compromise: State and Religion in Israel (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970); and In the Shadow of the Struggle (Gefen Publishing House, 1990). The latter is a source book on Zionism, aliyah, and the history of Israel. The book follows the movements and personalities in the return to Zion, the successes and failures of each stage of the way, and the institutions, such as the kibbutz, the Israel Defense Force, and the yishuv’s history under British rule. In the New England Reviews of Books Birnbaum’s book was cited as, “The very best illustrated overview history of the State of Israel that we have to date.” Birnbaum also published the “Religious-Secular Conflict with Particular Reference to Israel” and The Religious-Secular Conflict, coauthored with Shlomo Sharan,( ACPR Publishers, 1999). The Secretariat of the Knesset requested that a copy of the book be presented to every Member of the Knesset.
Ervin Birnbaum, Hadassa, and their three sons, Aiton, Liel, and Daniel made aliyah in 1970, settling at the College of the Negev at Sde Boker (Midreshet Sde Boker), where at Ben Gurion’s request, he founded an English Language College Preparatory School, while also lecturing at Haifa University. In 1978 the family moved to Netanya where Birnbaum became the National Educational Superintendant for Foreign Language Programs of Youth Aliyah in Israel and Rabbi of Bet Israel Congregation in Netanya. In 1989 with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the beginning of a large wave of aliyah from the former Soviet Union, Birnbaum founded She’arim Netanya (Open Gates of Netanya) to help new immigrants adjust to their new homeland. In 1999 he was guest lecturer in the Moscow University of Humanities. Upon his return to Israel a semester later, he became National Education Superintendant of the National Institute of Jewish Studies with over 100 educational facilities between the Golan and Eilat.
Birnbaum’s articles have been published in numerous newspapers, particularly in the N.Y. Jewish Press, the Jerusalem Post, and in Spanish and Russian papers. His own testimony of survival through the Holocaust is recorded in the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute.
At present Rabbi Birnbaum is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bet Israel and Director of She’arim Netanya, earning for his work both municipal and national awards. In addition he is a freelance lecturer on world and Jewish history, politics, Zionism, and Judaism. His sons, their wives and 10 grandchildren all live in Israel.