Rabbi James Diamond always seemed comfortable with whomever he was with, his friends said. He was comfortable in Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish circles, as well as with people from other religions. He had friends all over the world.
He loved spending time with his family, working with college students, discussing the Torah with friends, and delivering meals to elderly people in Trenton though the program Meals on Wheels.
“He had so many friends, I was alway amazed,” Rabbi David Wolf Silverman said. “He could engage people, and speak to people young and old, wherever they were at. He had the gift of empathetic listening.”
Silverman was one of several people who spoke at Diamond’s funeral service at the Jewish Center of Princeton. Diamond, 74, died suddenly on Thursday after a speeding driver struck a car that then hit the car he was getting in to. Several hundred people filled the Jewish Center for his funeral service Sunday afternoon. Rabbi Anne Tucker officiated, and Rabbi Robert Freedman, who was also injured in the crash, participated in the service.
Diamond was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. His brother Gary Diamond recalled how he left home at the age of 16 to attend a Yeshiva in Chicago, and how unusual it was at the time for someone to leave home so young.
“When he came home to visit, he would help me through difficult adolescent issues,” Gary Diamond said. “Little did I know at first that he was not just coming home to see the family. He was also coming home to visit Judy.”
Judy was his sister Beth’s friend. She became his girlfriend, and then his wife. The couple was married for 52 years, had three children, and six grandchildren.
“Their successful partnership, based on respect and love, became a prototype and model for me,” Gary Diamond said.
James Diamond was ordained in 1963 by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and earned his doctorate in comparative literature from Indiana University.
A Hillel rabbi for 36 years, he was the executive director of the Hillel at Indiana University from 1968 to 1972. He led the Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis from 1972 to 1995, and served as the director of Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life from 1995 to 2003.
He taught courses in modern Hebrew literature and Judaic studies at Washington University, Princeton University, and in the Princeton community, and was the author of many books. At the time of his death, he was working on a translation of the works of S.Y. Agnon.
“Rabbi Diamond was a kind, gentle, justice seeking spirit,” said Rabbi Julie Roth of the Center for Jewish Life, noting that former colleagues and friends traveled from Indiana and Missouri to attend the funeral.
“My grandpa radiated peace,” said Eli Diamond, recalling how the two looked for deer when he visited Princeton, ate soup they made from tomatoes they had just bought at a local farm, and studied the Torah together via Skype every week.
His son, Etan Diamond, said when he was a child he thought his dad had the coolest job working as a Hillel director.
“It was like being a rabbi without being a real rabbi,” he said.
Etan Diamond and his sisters, Shifra Diamond and Gila Shusterman, recalled the variety of things their father liked to do. He biked across North Dakota, visited Israel 20 times (most recently last month), learned tai chi, was the host of a classical music radio program, was an avid baseball and hockey fan, and recently began writing poetry.
“He disliked Facebook and Twitter,” Gila Shusterman said. “That’s probably because he had the ability to reach out in person, via phone, or email. He didn’t shy away from direct connections.”
Gary Diamond recalled telling his brother that he found turning 70 depressing: “He said `Don’t be depressed. The 70s are the greatest age in the world. I am loving it.’ He was enjoying his grandchildren, his new activities, his traveling and his hockey. For him life was just getting going. He was getting his second wind.”
Silverman said his dear friend’s name fit him well. A diamond is rare, brilliant, one of a kind, and many-faceted, he said.
“He was one of a kind,” he said. “But we need more like him.”