The Rev. Julius A. Goldwater, an early American convert to Buddhism revered for safeguarding the belongings of hundreds of Japanese Americans forced into internment campus during World War II, died June 11 at his Los Angeles home after an illness. He was 93.
A descendant of a German Jewish clan that included late Sen. Barry Goldwater, his first cousin, he became an ordained Buddhist priest in the 1930s, when Buddhism was relatively unknown in the United States and white converts were rare. He went on to teach Buddhism in Los Angeles for almost 70 years.
"As a priest, he was a pioneer in this country," said the Venerable Walpola Piyananda, president of the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, when new waves of immigration brought Buddhists from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Korea and other countries to the U.S., Goldwater helped them get settled and establish temples, often with money from his own pocket. He was part of the group, along with Piyananda, that founded the Buddhist Sangha Council in the 1980s to draw together diverse representatives of the Southland's growing Buddhist community.
Goldwater was born in 1908 to a well-to-do Los Angeles family. He encountered Buddhism as a teenager when he went to live with his father in Hawaii after his mother's death. There he was impressed by the teachings of three men: the Rev. Ernest Hunt, an Englishman who had become a Buddhist minister; Yeimyo Imamura, a Japanese bishop; and Tai Xu, a Chinese monk. In 1928, he started a study group called the Buddhist Brotherhood in America and began to teach Buddhism in Los Angeles.
During the 1930s, he was ordained in Kyoto, Japan, by the Jodo Shinshu sect. He was ordained again in Hangzhou, China, where he spent time in a monastery. He took a Buddhist name, Subhadra.
In the late 1930s, he returned to Los Angeles to become a minister at a large Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo. Then called Homba Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, it was built at First and Central streets, the site now occupied by the Japanese American National Museum.
He had been recruited by the temple's Japanese-immigrant elders, who feared that their American-born children were rejecting Buddhism as too "old country." As one of the very few white Buddhists, Goldwater "was brought in to show that you could be American and you could be Buddhist," said the Venerable Sunyatha, one of Goldwater's disciples.