Catalyst for Change
This weekend marks a big one for the Reform Movement: On Saturday evening, Rabbi Rick Jacobs will be installed as the fourth president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Though Rabbi Jacobs unofficially stepped into his new role at our December 2011 Biennial conference, when president Rabbi Eric Yoffie began his sabbatical, this weekend will mark the formal beginning of his time at the helm of our Movement.
In the summer 2012 issue of Reform Judaism magazine, Rabbi Jacobs reflects on his formative experiences, the lessons he has learned about personal and synagogue transformation, his vision for the future of the URJ and the Reform Movement, and his determination to surmount the monumental challenges on the road ahead. What follows is an excerpt from his interview. Read the whole interview, “Catalyst for Change,” at Reform Judaism magazine.
What have you learned from your predecessors who have served as president of the Union for Reform Judaism?
At 6’4″ I may be the tallest president in the history of our URJ, but I’m following in the footsteps of giants.
In my mind’s eye, I see Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath carrying a Torah scroll alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He knew what too many of us have forgotten—that the Torah should never be sequestered in our synagogues. Rather, we must carry our prophetic mantel beyond the walls of our praying places to shape a more just and compassionate world for all of God’s children.
I sense, too, the poetic presence of Rabbi Alexander Schindler, who boldly challenged us to share our Torah with the many interfaith families who felt barred from taking hold of our sacred inheritance, and to embrace our LGBT brothers and sisters. Our congregations are stronger thanks to the many Jews-by-choice, non-Jews, and Jews of all kinds who have joined us.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s vision of Torah at the center has inspired my rabbinate and our Reform Movement. Eric has taught us to engage deeply with our sacred texts through serious, lifelong study.
At the 2011 Biennial outside Washington, DC, you spoke of our Movement’s three most pressing tasks. The first is catalyzing congregational change.
Yes, in this new era in which people have multiple Jewish options, synagogues must transform themselves to speak to the human soul. They must also keep up with the best of human thought, by which I mean the expanding frontiers of science and philosophy, which are sources of truth for us. They need to become great congregations, exuding excellence and always searching for new ways to do their holy work better. The URJ must do the same—being a catalyst and convener of best practices, sharing tools, methods, and models—so that all our congregations can flourish by raising themselves up the ladder from ok to good, from good to great, and from great to phenomenal. Only then will our synagogues be the central address for modern Jews who wish to cultivate a deep, nourishing Jewish life.