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In Memory of Bill Toll


Dear Colleagues and Friends,

I write with the sad news that our colleague and friend, Bill Toll, passed away on December 20th, 2015, the result of heart failure. He was 74. Bill Toll served the history department at the UO and the profession of history for well over forty years. With his expertise in African American history and the history of Jews in America, Bill was able to construct courses with an understanding of race and ethnicity that was vital to his profession as well as our entire community. For Judaic Studies in particular, Bill taught one of our required courses in American Jewish History and developed a Judaic Studies/History elective course entitled Racism and Antisemitism. Students who love history, loved Bill. Many described him as the best professor they ever had.

On a more personal note, I will greatly miss working with Bill. He had an incisive intellect and an acerbic wit that always put a smile on my face. He was a supporter of the faculty union and very good at pointing out new directions the union should consider as we move forward. I had the pleasure of seeing Bill present on the history of Jews in Oregon and their relationship to the UO at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Judaic Studies program. His talk was both illuminating and engaging. I learned more about our own university that day than in all the orientations I have ever attended or other coverage I’ve ever seen.

Please see below for information on the memorial gathering.

With a heavy heart,
Deborah A. Green
Greenberg Associate Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature
Department of Religious Studies
Director, the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies
Professional Bio

After receiving his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate from UC Berkeley, he taught at the University of Michigan and, from the early 1970s on, first as Assistant Professor and later as Senior Instructor.

Bill’s first book, The Resurgence of Race: Black Social Theory from Reconstruction to the Pan African Congresses (1979), examined the ideas of African American intellectuals as creative social thinkers in the postbellum era. Without abandoning his interest in African American history, he made a transition to the field of American Jewish history, where he produced several important studies. In particular, he focused on urban Jewish communities outside of New York City. He is the author of a pioneering book on Portland, The Making of an Ethnic Middle Class: Portland Jewry over Four Generations (1982), one with significant implications for other cities and other ethnic groups. His detailed use of manuscript census and city directory material was a hallmark of his approach, one that valued both quantitative measurement and narrative synthesis. Women, Men and Ethnicity: Essays on the Structure and thought of American Jewry (1991) brought together several of his articles and essays and contributed to the history of gender and family in Jewish communities. In 2009, he was co-author and a leading contributor to Jews of the Pacific Coast: Reinventing Community on America’s Edge.

Bill is survived by his wife Junko, his son Kenshi, and his brother Mitchell. A memorial gathering will be held on Saturday, January 23, at 2:30 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living, 390 Vernal Street, Eugene, Oregon. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made out to: The Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies, University of Oregon or the Department of History, University of Oregon.