Rabbi Richard Jacobs’ Remarks to Board of Trustees Upon His Election as President of the URJ

Aloh Na’aleh-Let’s Get Going to that Better Tomorrow
URJ Presidency Acceptance Speech as delivered by Rabbi Richard Jacobs
on June 12, 2011–10 Sivan 5771

Letme begin by expressing my deep gratitude to Peter Weidhorn, Bob Heller,the Presidential Search Committee, and the entire Union for ReformJudaism Board of Trustees. What an exceptional honor and enormousresponsibility you have bestowed upon me.  

You have called meto lead this great Union for Reform Judaism and I am honored andhumbled.  Honored by the confidence you have shown in me, and trulyhumbled by the towering examples of those who have served before me: Rabbis Yoffie, Schindler and Eisendrath. Their visionary leadershipbrought us far on the path of Jewish creativity and commitment; they ledus forward as we grew in numeric strength and in spiritualimagination. But there are new chapters in Jewish history that we mustnow write.  

Ashraynu, how greatly have we been blessed by the extraordinary leadership of Rabbi Eric Yoffie. Eric’s leadership is grounded deeply in Torah and love for the Jewish people. What an exceptional religious leader he is: forceful and at the same time exceedingly humble. Eric’s strategic initiatives have impacted every part of our Union. During the coming months we will express to Eric all he has meant to us as we also prepare for the next part of our collective journey.

I’m joined today by my beloved wife and partner Susan Freedman and our three children Aaron, David and Sarah. I know you just elected me URJ President but in our house Susan is the president. For over twenty years she has served as the President of the Public Art Fund, which places temporary art work in public places throughout the 5 boroughs of New York City including the one of the most spectacular public art projects ever mounted, the NYC Waterfalls. Susan grew up at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan where her late father served as an active board member. She was privileged to be in one of Rabbi Sally Priesand’s first confirmation classes there. Because my Jewish life was inspired by my many summers at Camp Swig both as a camper and staff member, all three of our children spent summers at Eisner Camp in the Berkshires.  

Aaron will be a senior next year at Brown University and is working this summer as a White House intern.  David will be a sophomore at Brown University and is working this summer at Lawyers for Children in NYC, a unique law firm that represents kids in foster care. Sarah just celebrated the first anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah this past Shabbat by beautifully chanting Torah at WRT. This summer she will be volunteering for a therapeutic horseback riding program called Pegasus working with physically, emotionally, and developmentally challenged individuals. Before her Bat Mitzvah Sarah did similar work in Israel with an extraordinary organization called Intra located near Netanya. 

My family has been enormously supportive of this move which changes our family’s life in so many ways.   Susan and I try to teach our children that to live a life of purpose serving the greater good requires sacrifice but in the end such service helps shape a better world.  I know I can count on their continued understanding and support as I immerse myself in the demands of this new position.  

My rabbinate began just a few blocks from here in an old, rambling brownstone building with a small, diverse congregation of all ages and backgrounds seeking to build a community of meaning and purpose.  

I was hired to be the part-time rabbi and educator of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue.  Our warm and spirited sacred community grew steadily with a willingness to experiment with every aspect of congregational life. On Simchat Torah we closed the street to dance the night away. Artists and grad students helped evolve our own experiential curriculum.  With our minimal staff my “rabbinate” included regularly opening and closing the building, ordering the bagels and  answering the phones.  It was exciting to build a congregation with a group of lay leaders who hungered for more than they had known. 

After a few years I was privileged to become their first full-time rabbi. On my watch we opened one of the first homeless shelters in New York City to be housed in a synagogue. That holy work in the 1980s led us to join an interfaith, interracial coalition of faith communities and what would turn out to be one of the earliest community organizing projects within our Movement. 

Our passion for justice led us to build 1200 affordable housing units not far from here in a neighborhood that had only known decline. Commercial banks wouldn’t give our coalition a construction loan so we created our own bank for social responsibility called Community Capital.  It was here in Brooklyn that I learned that congregations with purpose and imagination can do great things!    

And so it is poignant that my narrative continues today in Brooklyn where I stand before you to talk about our Jewish future.

Demographers keep telling us that Judaism is not a growth industry. I disagree, but it would be folly to ignore the facts behind their analysis. Ties that once bound Jews to each other and to our tradition are attenuating.  The number of interfaith couples continues to rise, with many still not finding any open doors in Jewish life. Men are less likely to stake out a place within our congregations.  While 80% of American Jews affiliate with a synagogue at some point during their lives, their engagement tends to be temporary and tenuous. 

No more than 50% of American Jews are members of synagogues at any one time.  Unless we change our approach, there is little chance that Jews in their twenties and thirties will even enter the revolving door of synagogue affiliation. Hoping is not a strategy; the Jewish world needs new approaches for engaging the future. Together we will shape the strategies that will broaden and deepen our movement.

Everywhere we look, there are dramatic challenges facing our people; yet each is a phenomenal opportunity to revitalize Jewish life. Only very rarely has Jewish history known an era of so much creativity or innovation; no previous generation has possessed our resources and potential.

For two centuries, Reform Judaism has pointed the way forward. For the past forty years, our religious ingenuity has made us the fastest growing theologically liberal denomination in America. And yet we’ve become bogged down. Too many Jewish leaders seem paralyzed by fear of the future. This moment in Jewish history demands bold thinking with big ideas; this is not a time for staying the course. It’s time to reinvent the architecture of Jewish life. It’s a time to cast a broad net, to explore options rather than to rule things out, and to recreate a Movement which will be as meaningful in the future as it has been in the past.

Inclusive religious communities that are serious about learning, spirituality, tikkun olam and community will be attractive to the widest cross section of 21st century Jews and even to seekers of no faith. To be a Jewish spiritual home for “all who are hungry” does not require a minimalist Jewish vision but rather an engaging, demanding and elevating approach to Jewish life.

We must not try to be everything to everyone, but we can inspire and engage an increasingly wider swath of the Jewish community. We were the pioneers of outreach to the intermarried. It was the URJ that first battled homophobia as we welcomed LGBTQ Jews to their rightful place throughout Jewish life. As we clarify our core mission we will not shrink our vision for Jewish life.

A very important part of my leadership as the URJ President will be to help all of our URJ congregations become ohavei Zion–lovers of Zion. But I must admit I was surprised that the questions which have been raised are over whether I am sufficiently committed to Israel – to Am Yisrael, to Eretz Yisrael, and to Medinat Yisrael. Anyone who knows me – and, let me be clear, my critics do not – knows that love and support for Israel is simply in the fiber of who I am. I can no more say that “Israel is important to me” than I can say “my heart is important to me.” Both are deep inside of me, and I cannot imagine living without either.

There will be times during my Presidency when we come together to debate what should be the Union’s stance on specific Israel-related issues. This is not that time. For now, I only want to make two points. 

First, I stand squarely in the tradition of Rabbis Schindler and Yoffie, that I will never, ever compromise on Israel’s security, never. I will ever lift up our efforts to strengthen it as a Jewish and democratic state, and thatI will be proud to work to advance the Israel policies that this Movement has adopted over the past generations.

Second, and just as important, I hope that when the time comes for such a debate, that it will be a machlochet L’shem shamayim – a dispute for the sake of heaven…that we will conduct that debate with passion, to be sure. I hope and pray we will always debate with passion — but with civility and a respect for those who hold differing views.  

I hope we will work to learn what others really think, and have really said, rather than relying on rumors, half-truths and outright lies. I hope that we will talk about real issues, and not find people guilty by association. I hope that anyone who wants to know what I think about something will ask me. As you will learn, I’m not exactly shy.
Aleinu -“it is up to us” to foster a deep love for and engagement with Israel among Reform Jews of North America, young and old. With Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, ARZA and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, we can be builders and supporters of Medinat Yisrael and will continue to do so. Israel is not only a bundle of pressing issues and challenges, but more importantly our dynamic and inspiring Jewish homeland. When Israel gets into our hearts then I know that we will never stop fighting for an Israel that is secure, religiously free, guided by justice and dwelling in peace.  

Our focus cannot rest solely on the present. The future of the Movement – and that of the North American Jewish community – is dependent upon the children and young adults in our congregations and those who would be part of congregations. The Youth Engagement Campaign that Rabbi Yoffie initiated is critical to the bright Jewish future we’re all hoping to shape. I’m committed to moving this forward. 

These issues and many more make up some of the challenges facing our synagogues. 

I became a rabbi almost thirty years ago to serve God and the Jewish people wherever I could do the most good.  I’ve loved my years serving two amazing congregations first in Brooklyn Heights just a stone’s throw down the road and for the past nineteen years at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York. As I prepare to leave the congregational rabbinate, I believe more than ever that vibrant synagogues are the key to our Jewish future. I will be the first URJ President who has spent decades as a congregational rabbi; synagogues are what I know and synagogues are what I love.  

I’ve spent almost thirty years animating my congregations with life-enhancing learning and worship that speaks to the heart, and tikkun olam that shapes a better world. My congregation in Westchester is not alone in the work of synagogue transformation. A growing circle of URJ congregations from Los Altos Hills, California to the Riverway in Boston are blazing similar trails of innovation and excellence in all of the core areas of synagogue life.  It can be done but it can’t be done alone, and that’s where the URJ comes in.   

The URJ can be a catalyst to vision and excellence, the twin doorways to dramatic change and growth.  But the surest way to fail is to start by saying we already know the answer.  We have learned much working with and for congregations across North America. There is always more to learn and for that we turn directly to the dedicated lay leaders and smart professionals in the congregations and the other arms of the Movement — especially the CCAR and the College. And yes, we have a group of prominent successful rabbis called the Rabbinic Vision Initiative.  We must tirelessly seek out the best ideas wherever they are found.

Our challenge will be not only to seek the best ideas but to listen intently and be nimble enough to respond. Many of our partners have brilliant ideas but too often feel we are ignoring their many successes and accomplishments that could be models for others. Others feel like we’re not listening to their pain, their challenges or their fears.  Let’s start with the kind of listening that engages the entire Movement in order to reflect the current realities on the ground.
I’m not suggesting that after listening all we need to do is throw everything we hear into a giant blender and out comes the bold new Jewish future that we so desperately need.  But if we don’t begin by forging a deeper sense of partnership with our congregations and all of our stakeholders, they won’t care about our bold new plans.  And by the way, when we have been listening, we’ve mostly been listening to people who think just like we do here in the beltway of Reform Jewish life called the URJ.   

Fortunately, I will not undertake this sacred work alone. One of the greatest blessings of my decades in the congregational rabbinate was the partnerships I enjoyed with lay leaders.  As I look around the room today all I see are new partners, you who represent the diversity and the dedication of this congregational arm of our movement. Your insights, experience and vision will be key to the direction our movement takes. Together we will work to shepherd them through challenges, celebrate successes and prepare their congregations for the next generation.

My transition team begins our work tomorrow. I am pleased to announce that Rabbi Jonah Pesner will direct my transition team in the coming months. And when I formally begin my presidency Jonah will join me in the senior leadership of our movement. He is an exceptionally talented, creative and charismatic young leader whose work with Just Congregations has sent waves of exciting new thinking and activism through our Movement.

I am also proud to announce that Rabbi Dan Freelander will be a part of the new senior leadership team. Danny has served this Union with distinction for his entire professional career and is eager to help us re-imagine and renovate the URJ going forward. Over the coming months we will begin to shape our team to meet the many challenges facing our Movement and all of Jewish life. You can be sure that the Union is going to have the very best staff in the Jewish world, a staff devoted to and exemplifying excellence.

In order to learn more about the best in innovation and creative thinking inside and outside the Reform world, this summer I will be convening a group of some of the most brilliant and visionary thinkers and practitioners who will help us chart the course of Reform Judaism in the coming decades. I look forward to this exciting endeavor and I will regularly report on my findings. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, scouts are sent to spy the land of Israel to see what awaits the Jewish people on their journey. Ten of those scouts come back overwhelmed by the frightening realities our people will be forced to confront. Two of those scouts, Joshua and Caleb, return brimming with optimism and hope. All of the scouts saw the same terrain, but their responses could not be more different. Anyone with their eyes open can see the enormous challenges before our Movement, but at the very same moment, I am buoyed by a sense of possibility of this unique moment in Jewish history.

In twenty-five years, I see our movement flourishing with a wide network of energetic religious communities of depth and passion stretching throughout the Jewish world. From the ranks of the unaffiliated and the uninspired, they will flock to our inclusive religious communities that are serious about learning, spirituality, tikkun olam and community. Together we will catalyze innovation and excellence so that our expression of Judaism will attract the widest cross section of 21st Century Jews and seekers who have yet to find their faith. Remember, congregations with purpose and imagination can do great things!    

It is time for us to seize this moment to shape a better tomorrow. As URJ President, it will be my honor to help lead and journey with you to that future we are just beginning to envision.

Aloh Na’aleh–Let’s get going to that better tomorrow.

Learn about Rabbi Jacobs and read other speeches and writings at urj.org/rabbijacobs.

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

About Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the URJ. See his full bio and other writings on the URJ website.

24 Responses to “Rabbi Richard Jacobs’ Remarks to Board of Trustees Upon His Election as President of the URJ”

  1. avatar

    “A very important part of my leadership as the URJ President will be to help all of our URJ congregations become ohavei Zion–lovers of Zion.”
    That’s like saying that an important part of being a gardener is to help all of your plants perform photosynthesis. All of the URJ congregations are ALREADY ohavei Zion. They are such ohavei Zion that they accuse faithful Reform Jews who are non-Zionists of being bad Jews (and by the way, a non-Zionist or even an anti-Zionist can also be an ohev Zion). I don’t think Rabbi Jacobs needs to worry about making people be ohavei Zion–they already are, and overwhelmingly so. What he should do is try to turn them into more sensible ohavei Zion, who are comfortable showing some tough love as well. Many already are, but it’s an area that needs work. I just fail to understand this obsession with Israel advocacy and solidarity–for decades, so much energy has been put into drilling Zionism into the minds of people who are already Zionists, and don’t need to hear it. It’s really scary–almost Orwellian, the level of repetition that I hear. It’s bad enough that people are almost brainwashed with this stuff–so why keep spending time and money on preaching to the choir? How about taking some of that money and energy and putting it into Tikkun Olam, or interfaith relations? How about using it to further build and maintain a vital, viable AMERICAN Jewish community?

  2. avatar
    William Bilek M.D. Reply June 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    It is with respect, but equally, with deep regret that I have learned of the election of Rabbi Jacobs to the Presidency of the URJ.
    I respect the right of Rabbi Jacobs to hold the opinions that he does. I understood his comments when he said to ask him directly where he stands on issues, (particularly on Israel.) However, regardless of his answers, his actions speak much, much louder. There is certainly a place for those, Jews and non-Jews, who disagree with the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel, whichever party stands as the leader of the coalition. That place, however, is not within the “big tent” of the pro-Israel community. I disagree with the Rabbi, as I disagree with all those who believe that they know, better than the citizens of Israel, what
    is best for their country.
    I feel so extremely strongly about this issue that I do not see how I can continue being a member of a Reform Temple (Beth Yam) in my small community of Hilton Head. To remain a member means that I support, financially and morally, the position of the leadership of the URJ, which I certainly do not, and can not. While this will be a hardship, since there is no other synagogue serving the immediate community, I see no choice or option but to leave the Congregation, and travel to Savannah for the religious and spiritual needs of my family. It is with deep regret that I undertake this step, but under the circumstances, it is inevitable.

  3. avatar

    “Inclusive religious community,” like “diversity,” is valued by the leadership of the URJ in the same way that inclusivity and diversity are valued on most American college campuses. Diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation are esteemed while diversity of opinion and ideology are treated like bad odors. There is apparently no place in what now passes for Reform Judaism for one who does not consider Israel his homeland (or for one who does not believe that repairing the world depends upon unlimited government expenditures).

  4. avatar

    Great acceptane speech,, a real orator!

  5. avatar

    Rabbi Jacob’s acceptance speech was intellectually stimulating and timely declaration on what we as reform Jews in North America are facing not only in our synagogues but in our communities. He was humble and at the same time confident in his abilities to lead our movement in the changes that will be needed as we go forward. He is committed to a partnership with lay leaders that will enable the programming and functions of the URJ to provide the greatest benefits to our congregations.

  6. avatar

    Have you engaged or spoken to our college students and to those under forty lately and discovered that Israel is not on their agenda of either love or tough love? Perhaps Jordan you do not remember that a pillar of strength in our North American Jewish community is a strong relationship with israel. Yes we need to respond to the need to continue to nourish and build the vital and viable community you desire, and Rick Jacobs is correct in placing an emphasis on israel. Together we thrive, divided we lose.

  7. dcc

    This is a very important news report that should be read regarding this issue before we move on… http://jewschool.com/2011/05/03/26190/thisisajoke/
    Seriously now, when you disagree with someone, calling them names really doesn’t help you very much. I join the VAST MAJORITY of Reform Jews in welcoming Rabbi Jacobs and his Zionism to the forefront of our Movement.

  8. avatar

    There are a vast number of reasons why I shouldn’t find the JewSchool link you posted amusing. It was a bit harsh, for one. But the spirit of the piece was great, and the whole thing had me laughing out loud.
    Rabbi Jacbos is an excellent speaker, with a genuinely impressive record of public service and activism. His work with the homeless is one of the best Reform projects I’ve seen. He is a go-getter, and he understands the need for a balance between being an American Jew (one that is active in social projects, dedicated to Tikkun Olam, and aspiring to improve the world for Jews and goyim alike) and a Zionist.
    I, for one, am thrilled. Rabbi Yoffie, thank you for your service and vision. Rabbi Jacobs has big shoes to fill. But if anyone can, he can.

  9. avatar

    With all due respect to Dr. Bilek, his statement that people who “disagree with the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel” are not within “the ‘big tent’ of the pro-Israel community” is deeply offensive. I would remind Dr. Bilek that more Israelis voted for Kadima, which leads the opposition, than the Likud. Are nearly 50% of the citizens of Israel not “pro Israel”? And are those of us in the Diaspora who support them not pro Israel?
    Dr. Bilek has a right to his opinions; but he does not have the right to demonize those who have different views.

  10. avatar

    I have read some of the attacks on Rabbi Jacobs,and have been concerned. Today I actually took the time to read his presidential acceptance speech and his remarks on Israel to the Consultation on Conscience.
    His own words bear no relationship to how they have been characterized by his critics. He is clearly pro-Israel by any understanding of the term.
    I am impressed by Rabbi Jacobs so far, and look forward to his leadership.

  11. avatar

    The election of Rabbi Jacobs as the next president of the URJ is a positive development for Reform Jews everywhere. We have been ably led by Rabbi Yoffie and he has challenged and led the movement in directions that have made the Reform movement the most inclusive, welcoming and dedicated to social action of all the movements.
    As someone who regularly visits Israel, I was pleased to read about Rabbi Jacobs deep and personal connections to Israel. The attacks against Rabbi Jacobs seem to be based on hearsay and falsehoods. His speech and the articles supporting him clearly paint the picture of someone who cares about Israel and the relationship between the diaspora and Israel. I welcome him!

  12. avatar

    @Jordan Friedman
    First, I’d appreciate your citing your source for the claim that some Reform congregations “accuse faithful Reform Jews who are non-Zionists of being bad Jews.” While historically there was a tendency in some Reform congregations to accuse Jews who were Zionists of being bad Americans, that particular meshugass has departed, and the Reform commitment to personal autonomy precludes naming any Jew who behaves ethically a “bad Jew.”
    However, while I can’t imagine the accusation you mention actually being uttered, I can understand that someone who is isolates himself from his environment might blame others for his feeling isolated.
    Second, your suggestion that Rabbi Jacobs needs to be teaching a “tough love” kind of Zionism suggests that you haven’t been paying attention. In fact, the outrageous efforts to portray him as anti-Israel are tied to his association with J-Street and New Israel Fund. While there are certainly Jews in the Reform movement who are hawkish and who are supportive of the Netanyahu government’s policies, the dominant position among the movement’s leadership is similar to that of Rabbi Yoffie and of Rabbi Jacobs.
    Third, you suggest that the frequent repetition of the Reform Israel message is “Orwellian” and superfluous. How about the frequent repetition that the Eternal is our God and the Eternal is One? How about public schools where the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag is recited daily? Is it Orwellian to instill American patriotism?
    Finally, you imply that Israel messaging in Reform Judaism diverts the movement from tikkun olam and from interfaith relations — and again I have to infer that you haven’t been paying attention to the movement’s activities on either of those fronts.
    @William Bilek M.D.
    If the election of Rabbi Jacobs is what is precipitating your decision to find a non-Reform congregation in Savannah, you’re apparently another one who hasn’t been paying attention. Although Rabbi Jacobs was elected to his new position with the expectation that he will be an agent of change within the Reform movement, nobody expects him to change our core values; and certainly not our positions on Israel. If it is those positions you object to, you should have left Bat Yam long ago.
    Meanwhile, I find it ironic that you are going elsewhere to meet your spiritual and religious needs,not for religious or spiritual reasons, but rather for political reasons.
    If you truly believe that only Israelis have the right to comment on the actions of their government, then on what grounds is it not permissible for Rabbi Jacobs to state his opinions while it is permissible for Dr. Bilek to state his?
    @Mark Tasch
    As a Reform Jew whose homeland is the United States of America, I find nothing in today’s Reform Judaism to invalidate my American status, nor do I find it incompatible with my deep connection on multiple levels to Israel.
    By using the phrase “what passes today for Reform Judaism,” you demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the progressive nature of Reform Judaism (in fact, of all Judaism) and seem to want to ossify it as it was 135 years ago when the needs and circumstances of the Jews (you’d probably have a hemorrhage if I said the Jewish people) were totally different from what they are today. I wonder, though, what the great prophetic voices of those same Reformers, with their prophetic outspokenness, would make of your frequently expressed hostility to social action.

  13. avatar
    Jesse Lachter MD Reply June 14, 2011 at 4:23 am

    As immediate past president of Or Hadash – reform congregation in Haifa, Rabbi Jacobs deserves kudos for his first speech and the warmest welcome possible as new URJ leader. We in Israel desperately need the URJ so as to continue to form and reform the Judaism which Israel and Israelis so long for- the Judaism of Torah, service, and lovingkindness.
    Reform Judaism is NOT recognized as legimate by the Israeli government. Our inequality and illegitimacy is holding us back in many meaningful ways. The URJ has, and may judiciously use, significant power to influence those who rule here. Hoping and praying that the URJ will indeed further the agendas of Reform Jews in Israel, and wishing great success to Rabbi Jacobs:”aleh vehazliach”- may we succeed together!

  14. avatar
    Rabbi Peter S. Knobel Reply June 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I want to respond very direct to what I consider very unfortunate and misguided comments by those who have been leading a campaign against Rabbi Richard Jacobs and see themselves as the arbiters of what it means to be pro-Israel.
    Rabbi Jacobs is a morally sensitive rabbi who has been a leader in congregational transformation, tikkun olam and engagement with Israel. His deep commitment to Israel has caused him to acquire an apartment in Israel, become a fluent Hebrew speaker, and travel to Israel annually to study. As a true Oheiv Yisrael he neither listens to the rhetoric of the right or the left but makes independent judgments about how best to secure the long term Jewish democratic character of the state of Israel. He has supported the cause of inclusion of non-Orthodox Jews, women, and Arabs within the green line through his involvement in the New Israel Fund whose founders were staunch supporters of Federation. His involvement with J Street has not precluded his involvement with AIPAC. He, like so many of us, believes that the Israeli- Palestinian conflict can only be resolved by creating two states. Leadership demands clarity of thought and the courage to express what in some quarters will be unpopular. Rabbi Eric Yoffie has told prime ministers of Israel when they proposed potential compromises on Jerusalem that he had their back. He has defied the establishment view when he believed it was in Israel’s best interest to do so. No one has accused Rabbi Yoffie of being anything less than an oheiv yisrael.
    In choosing Rabbi Jacobs to be our next leader we have a person who is prepared to take the Reform Movement where it needs to go if it is to remain the dominant movement in North American Jewish life. He is prepared to work tirelessly to promote the engagement of our people in Israel, to support the progressive movement in Israel, to defend Israel from its enemies and to offer loving criticism of Israel when he believes that Jewish values require it. This is a manufactured controversy. All of the living past presidents, the current president and the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis signed a letter in support of Rabbi Jacobs. Rabbi David Ellenson, the president of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, has spoken extremely positively about Rabbi Jacobs as has Rabbi Yoffie. It seems to me that these very significant endorsements by our leadership should be sufficient to put to rest any concerns especially those raised by a small group of people who have set themselves up as the arbiters of what is pro-Israel.

  15. avatar

    Mr. Kaufman,
    I am far from hostile to “social action.” I regularly participate, using my own time, work, and resources, in projects that benefit others. I do not, however, indulge my sense of self-righteousness by using the political process to confiscate time, work, and resources from others.

  16. Larry Kaufman

    As Rabbi Knobel has suggested, the despicable orchestrated campaign to discredit Rabbi Jacobs has been built on distortions of his views on Israel — and while the leaders of the movement must certainly join to discredit The Big Lie, and to affirm that Rabbi Jacobs’ Zionism is mainstream in Reform Judaism, we should also remember that the primary role of the Union for Reform Judaism is to serve congregations and their members in North America.
    As I read through Rabbi Jacobs’ speech, it was clear that there is much more on his plate than just the one topic that has dominated the news coverage; and it seems reasonable to identify the personal qualities that are inherent in his persona, and the other themes that will apparently permeate his agenda, based on what he talked about with the Board that elected him:
    1. We can infer from his remarks that he is a man with strong family values, and one who has raised his children not only to espouse similar values, but to live by them.
    2. Based on his description of his work in his first pulpit, he has a strong work ethic, is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and is willing to join his lay partners in the trenches.
    3. He seems to understand that, although he is being asked to exert super vision to inspire his lay partners, that is two words, not one. He does not claim to be a Superman, who can do it alone.
    4. He aspires to help the movement create “an engaging, demanding, and elevating approach to Jewish life.” If that is all he accomplishes, dayenu.
    5. He makes clear that the “not invented here” syndrome is foreign to who he is — as shown by his commitment to continue the new Youth Initiative, and the long-standing focus on inclusivity.
    6. He understands that he — and we — must deal with today, even as we dream and plan for the future, all based on the values we have inherited from the past.
    7. He recognizes that the primary delivery system for the transmission of Jewish learning and Jewish values is the synagogue — but equally he recognizes that the synagogue must be transformed not only to reflect but also to create new realities.
    I am excited — as are all my colleagues on the URJ Board — to be part of this new phase in the journey from Sinai.

  17. avatar

    @ Michael P. Price
    “Have you engaged or spoken to our college students and to those under forty lately and discovered that Israel is not on their agenda of either love or tough love?”
    Mr. Price, I AM a college student, and the President of the Hillel group at a small college in Wisconsin. At my particular college, the non-Jewish student body is overwhelmingly anti-Israel. Richard Goldstone and Norman Finkelstein have been invited as guest lecturers in the past few years, and Goldstone just gave the commencement address last month. The Jewish student body is divided between people who are mindlessly anti-Israel without thinking about it, and those who are mindlessly pro-Israel without thinking about it. I am absolutely sickened by the behavior of both groups. People need to think for themselves instead of listening to extreme rhetoric which is thrown at them. I try to be a voice of reason and moderation. But, there is a silver lining to this disturbing situation: very few people seem to be apathetic–everyone seems to have a STRONG opinion on Israel and the mid-east conflict. There is tremendous energy there, though it’s totally misdirected.
    I’m hoping that those who are anti can be persuaded to show a little love, support, and understanding, while those who are mindlessly pro can be persuaded to have a more realistic view, and show some prophetic dissent.

  18. avatar

    @Larry Kaufman
    “[Rabbi Jacobs] recognizes that the primary delivery system for the transmission of Jewish learning and Jewish values is the synagogue …”
    Isn’t the primary delivery system for Jewish learning and values the family?

  19. avatar

    @ Acher
    If I were William Safire z”l, I’d appoint you head of the Gotcha Gang. At the same time, though, that I admit you are right, I’ll defend myself by saying that the typical family has to rely on the synagogue for the learning component, and for the reinforcement of the values, especially that of community.
    So, on balance, I’ll say that our “quarrel” is somewhere between pilpul and a makhloket l’shem shamayim, and that the reinforcement between synagogue and family is such that neither can effectively do it alone.

  20. Rabbi Paul Kipnes

    As a longtime AIPAC member who has attended 3 of the last 4 National Policy Conferences (I cannot remember back before that), traveled to Israel no less than 9 times, ensured that my children – before the oldest was 14 – had traveled to Israel, etc, etc, etc…
    I am thrilled that Rick Jacobs is our new URJ president. I find his comments thoughtful, his accomplishments immense, his humility evident. He has the gumption and the kishkes of a gutta neshama and a proud Jew. He is devoted to our Reform Movement and its vision.
    Bravo the conversations about Israel. Bravo Rabbi Jacobs for owning a place in Israel (may I stay there?) and simultaneously facing and addressing the difficult issues that we Jews must face regarding the present and future of our beloved Jewish state.
    I am, quite frankly, at ease knowing that we have Rabbi Jacobs at the helm.

  21. avatar
    Joel Spalter, MD Reply June 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

    It is necessary in this era, as in all eras since the founding of the State of Israel, to be not only an ohave (lover) of Israel, but an ohade (fan) of Israel.
    America and Israel, warts and all, pass the test of positive exceptionalism and are lights unto the nations. The proper personal lesson to be learned from this fact is not a sense of superiority over others but a sense of responsibility for tikun olam, without paternalism, with a duty to advocate diversity and inclusion by welcoming others to efforts at tikun olam.
    The proper political lesson to be learned from the fact of American and Israeli exceptionalism is that, in reality, tikun olam depends fundamentally on the strengths of the two countries.

  22. avatar

    I was, and remain, a congregant at Rabbi Jacobs’ first pulpit, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, which I joined in 1984 in large part because of “Rabbi Rick.” Our congregation had about 90 families in those days, but during Rabbi Rick’s tenure, we grew to about 250 families, mostly drawn to join by his ability to ENGAGE people in Judaism. He embraced praying in Hebrew; egalitarian language; and love of Israel before these notions were fashionable in Reform synagogues. Because we were such a small congregation, Rabbi Rick encouraged all congregants to fully engage in the work of the synagogue. I was one of the founding members of the Chavurah, which taught me so much about Torah; I helped launch the Women’s Seder, which affirmed the role of women, young and old, in the tradition; I co-chaired the Adult Education committee, which taught me and so many others what we needed to know (and believe) to become practicing Jews; and I sang in the choir, which added spiritual depth to every High Holy Day service. Rabbi Rick encouraged ALL of us to become better, more committed Jews, and we did. He will be a tremendous leader of URJ.
    I can only imagine what he will do

  23. avatar

    Reform synagogues can be more open than a kind of club. Temple Israel of Boston Congregation Adath Israel http://tisrael.org could be made a more open welcoming congregation, for example. Around holidays like Rosh Hashanah instead of the barriers we can be more open in the community. Ticketing practices need updating.

  24. avatar

    Dr. Bilek, I feel the same as you do. On the issue of Israel, I can’t step into a Reform congregation without feeling foreign. I simply had to leave. How could I focus on spirituality in a community which did not share a key value? I have also heard so many disgusting and disparaging remarks about Orthodox Jew made by rabbis as well as community members –bordering anti-Semitism – – on many occasions, way beyond a disagreement over Halachaic issues or Jewish customs. No wonder the Reform Movement is slowly dissipating. This is tragic for people like me who have nowhere to go.

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