philadelphia | Joshua Eilberg, a former Democratic Philadelphia congressman who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during President Nixon’s impeachment hearings, died Wednesday, March 24, of Parkinson’s disease at age 83.
He was the father of Rabbi Amy Eilberg, a Palo Alto spiritual counselor and “Torah Thoughts” columnist for j.
Eilberg became an assistant district attorney in 1952 before serving six terms as a state representative and six terms as a U.S. representative from northeast Philadelphia.
“The family was very proud of his serving on the Judiciary Committee,” said Amy Eilberg, who described her father as a strong Democrat, “an old-fashioned capital ‘D’ Democrat before anybody was embarrassed to say that. Much of his work was for basic democratic issues like housing and education for the poor and middle class, community mental health services, basic equity for the disadvantaged.”
The rabbi said her “own deep commitment to social justice is very much a continuation of his commitments. In my life, it’s more informed by Jewish tradition, but my commitment to these issues is very much part of the legacy that my father left me. And it’s been clear to me for a long time, that being a rabbi is at times a little bit like being a political leader. … What I’ve chosen to do in my own life draws on the model of leadership, which is part of the air I breathed while growing up.”
In addition, she said her father had a strong commitment to Israel, and “the people who worked in his congressional office knew that if the Israeli Consulate called, he was to be interrupted.” In his private practice, he aided immigrants from Israel, the Soviet Union and Northern Ireland.
A graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple Law School, Eilberg was elected to the Pennsylvania state House in 1954 and was elected to Congress in 1966.
Appointed a member of the House Immigration Sub-Committee, he later became its chairman, directing efforts to explore the illegal entry of Nazi war criminals into the United States, finding them and deporting them.
He was defeated from Congress in 1978, under a cloud of suspicion over his receiving a legal fee from a Philadelphia hospital for which he had helped obtain a federal grant. Pleading guilty in 1979 to conflict of interest charges, he received five years probation and a $10,000 fine.
Eilberg later became executive director of Brith Sholom, a Jewish fraternal organization based in Philadelphia, and returned to the practice of law in 1985, first in Philadelphia and later in nearby Jenkintown. He retired in 1998.
“He continued to practice law until he was not well enough to do it, including work as court-appointed attorney for poor defendants, and he took great pride in giving these poor people the very best defense that he could,” said his daughter. “He often spoke of these people — people who had done terrible things — with genuine compassion and curiosity about their life paths that had been so different from my father’s.”
In addition to his wife, Gladys, and daughter, who was the first woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Eilberg is survived by son William Eilberg, a Reno lawyer, and his wife, Kathy; granddaughter Pnina Eilberg-Schwartz and son-in-law Louis Newman.
Contributions can be made to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, 1501 N.W. Ninth Ave./Bob Hope Road, Miami, FL 33136-1494, or www.parkinsons.org.