Jewish leader James Rice dies after years of bettering lives

NEW YORK — James Rice, a former executive with the Chicago Jewish Federation and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has died. He was 84.

A native of Cleveland, Rice graduated from Case Western University and earned a master's degree in social administration from Adelbert College.

In the 1930s he was a caseworker with family and child-care agencies in several cities, including Cleveland, Chicago and New York.

After World War II, he joined the staff of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, working as an overseas field representative in Europe. He administered programs that affected the lives of more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors.

Subsequently, Rice was the JDC's liaison to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

From 1955-1966, he served as executive director of HIAS.

"He literally had an effect on hundreds of thousands of immigrants he helped settle," said Norman Tilles, president of HIAS.

"He was one of the men who devoted his entire life to saving Jewish lives and making their lives better. I wish there were more people like him."

In 1965, he worked with government officials to codify a new immigration law that eased restrictions for the entry of refugees.

From 1966-1979 Rice was executive vice president of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. Under his leadership, the federation underwent a merger and reorganization that expanded services to people in need.

"Jim was of a generation of Jewish communal leadership whose service was framed by the Depression, the war, the Shoah and the birth of the state of Israel," said Steven Nasatir, current president of the federation. "Those experiences were with him throughout his career."

After he retired, Rice was a consultant to the United Jewish Appeal and Chicago's Council for Jewish Elderly as well as other organizations.

Nasatir related Rice's death to "the passing of a generation whose experiences were unique, horrifying and rewarding at the same time."

In an extraordinary period of Jewish history, men like Rice were "vehicles of the Jewish community for reaching out and helping people," he said.