Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner



Rabbi Israel "Si" DresnerRabbi Israel “Si” Dresner is seemingly your typical retired clergyman. Not being a celebrity, his towering legacy of civil rights activism and ongoing advocacy to pursue justice in social and public policy is not known to many. Those who have worked with Rabbi Dresner, learned from him and spoken with him know full well the kind of passionate devotion with which he has pursued tikkun olam throughout his career.

In June 1961, Rabbi Dresner was working at a Reform congregation in Springfield, N.J. and the civil rights movement was gearing up. Invited to participate in a “Freedom Ride,” Rabbi Dresner agreed reluctantly: “When we started out, we were really scared.” Just a month earlier, the first Freedom Ride resulted in violence. Rabbi Dresner was arrested that June, and three subsequent times in the summers that followed.

Described as the “most arrested Rabbi in America,” he proudly defends the values of progressivism and particular in the ongoing civil rights struggles to ensure equality for all. As a longtime member of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Dresner has led countless Jewish activists and advocates in some of the key social justice battles of the last 50 years.

At 83, Rabbi Dresner doesn’t get arrested anymore. Though he did embark on the commemorative Freedom Rider Reunion in 2011 with his fellow activists of the era. These days, however, his advocacy work through moral leadership in the Reform movement and beyond helps inspire contemporary advocates for justice, young and old.

“Fifty years ago, it would have been inconceivable for a black man to be President. In New Jersey, we have a Hispanic senator and a Jewish senator. We’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m proud of our country for that. But we still have a long way to go.” Rabbi Dresner knows that on issues like LGBT equality, women’s equality, the rights of other minority and vulnerable populations, have all been fostered by moral and religious action.

When Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, then president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, was facing reticence to establishing a Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C., Rabbi Dresner’s moral leadership helped ensure that Jewish values had a strong voice in social and public policy debates on Capitol Hill and in Reform congregations.

Rabbi Dresner’s life and career stand as an impressive moral force for equality and justice; he remains one of the Reform Movement’s strongest and most compelling voices of conscience.

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