Amy Apfel Kass died Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at home in Washington, D.C. She was a teacher at The College of the University of Chicago.
Born Amy Judith Apfel in 1940, Kass grew up in New York City, where she graduated from the High School of Music and Art. She was educated in the College of the University of Chicago, and then earned a Master’s Degree at Brandeis University and a Ph.D. in the history of education at The John Hopkins University. She began teaching at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, Mass., and later at St. Johns College in Annapolis, M.d., but her vocation was fulfilled during 34 years teaching at the College of University of Chicago. There, through her intimate seminars, she brought to life great works of Western Civilization and opened the hearts and broadened the minds of hundreds of undergraduates. Through her searching questions, freely yet tenaciously pursued, students were invited to think deeply not only about the works of Homer and Shakespeare, George Eliot and Tolstoy, Tocqueville and Melville, but also about themselves, our common humanity, and the path they might chart toward living a good life.
Generations of her students benefited from her deep interest in who they were and who they might become. Treating them as better than they knew themselves to be, she enabled them to raise their sights and to aspire to meet her expectations of them. Her practice of educating for thoughtfulness is institutionalized at the College of Chicago in the ongoing Human Being and Citizen common core course, which she co-founded (with her husband and colleague, Leon Kass) and led for three decades, and in the Fundamentals: Issues and Texts Bachelor’s Program, in which she was a most influential teacher and advisor.
In addition to her teaching, Kass served on the National Council on the Humanities for the National Endowment for the Humanities, as a consultant to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Corporation for National and Community Service, and most recently as a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. She founded the “Tocqueville Seminars on Civic Leadership” and nationwide “Dialogues on Civic Anthropology”, authored numerous articles, and edited anthologies on American philanthropy. With her husband, she produced two or more anthologies, one on courting and marrying (Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar), and one on American national identity and civic detachment (What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song), as well as a series of e-books on The American Calendar, one for each of ten national holidays.
Kass is survived by her husband of 54 years, Leon R. Kass; her children, Sarah Kass (of Jerusalem) and Miriam R. Kass and her husband, Robert Hochman (of Chicago); her granddaughters, Polly, Hannah, Naomi and Abigail; her siblings, Dr. Roberta J. Apfel, Dr. Franklin J. Apfel and David J. Apfel and hundreds of family members, friends and former students.
Funeral services were held at noon on Friday, Aug. 21 at Ohev Shalom – The National Synagogue, 1600 Jonquil St., NW, Washington D.C. Interment was held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 23 at Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 E. 67th St., Chicago, Ill. Contributions in her memory may be made to the Leon and Amy Kass Odyssey Scholarship Fund at the University of Chicago. Arrangements entrusted to TORCHINSKY HEBREW FUNERAL HOME, Washington, D.C. 202-541-1001 or 1-800-500-5401 (endorsed by The Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington).