Rabbi David Davis - A URI Memory in Our 20th Anniversary Year

27 July 2020, 5:09 PM

By William E. Swing

Today, July 26, 2020, I picked up the obituary section of our newspaper, and there on the first page was the picture of Rabbi David Davis.  Ah, David . . . what a man!  High energy, always smiling, full of fun, highly intelligent, brilliant communicator, always building bridges. 

Born in August of 1936, he was one week older than I, so he always claimed greater maturity and seniority – in jest. We traveled to the Middle East together and were mutually involved in several Bay Area projects together. He was a friend.

When I think of URI’s beginning, I cannot help but remember David.


In 1993, I had this idea of a United Religions. I knew that I could present this idea to a very large audience, because I was helping to host the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations at Grace Cathedral where I served. But an idea by itself might be dismissed easily. So I determined that there would be a fabulous Youth Event – complete with religious leaders the world over – just prior to the UN 50th.  The Youth Event would end by a rousing youth march to the cathedral demanding that a United Religions be created. A United Religions to parallel the United Nations! The key to making that happen was to find somewhere to hold the youth event.

That is where Rabbi David Davis came in.

David was the head of Judaic studies at the Jesuit University of San Francisco. Since his students were off-campus for the summer, David arranged for our United Religions Youth Event to be held at his university. And he helped plan for the great service at the cathedral. That was big in URI’s history – and there is so much more to that story – but that was not, in my opinion, the biggest thing.  Here it is.

As my book says, “The history of URI will cite Sunday, June 25, 1995, as the day that URI was launched – at the UN 50th. Yes, it was huge. But the big launch took place in the Swing family’s living room at 2006 Lyon Street, San Francisco, on Friday, June 30, when 8 people showed up. Their task: to develop a strategy to turn the idea of a United Religions into a reality.

Rabbi David Davis showed up. And I will always remember and give thanks that he did.