Rabbi David Saperstein Nominated to Key State Department Post

On Monday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate David to serve as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. I wrote a letter to the Reform Jewish community about this:

I have long said that Rabbi David Saperstein is a national treasure. I am pleased and proud, but not surprised, that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have now recognized that as well. It is a fitting role for someone whose life has been dedicated to championing religious liberty at home and abroad. I am confident that, when confirmed, David will represent the United States with the same devotion, intelligence, energy and passion with which he has represented our Movement for the last 40 years.

We – the Reform Movement, certainly, but so many others – owe such a debt to David. He has built the Religious Action Center (RAC) into not just a centerpiece of our Reform Jewish efforts, but also a center for all those who share a commitment to tikkun olam and to our historic Jewish prophetic mission. Under David’s leadership, the RAC has firmly established itself as a key leader on a broad range of issues, including religious liberty, reproductive rights, LGBT equality, disability rights, the environment, economic justice and, of course, international religious freedom.

Indeed, the issue of domestic and international religious freedom has been one of David’s areas of focus throughout his career. He is widely regarded as an expert in this field, having taught church-state law at Georgetown University Law Center for 25 years, long co-chaired the Coalition for Religious Liberty, participated actively in the multi-religious, bipartisan efforts that shaped the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and was honored by being selected in 1999 as the first chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was created by a unanimous act of Congress. As we witness the growing religious divides and conflicts around the world, and escalating instances of religious oppression, including the rise of anti-Semitism, it is reassuring to know that David will play a key role in addressing these issues at such a crucial time in world affairs.

David, of course will remain in charge of the RAC until he is confirmed by the Senate and sworn in.

There is no easy way of replacing David Saperstein.   Fortunately, one of David’s gifts has been developing a team at the RAC that is strong from top to bottom. In the near term, we will look to that superb staff – led by Deputy Director Rachel Laser and Commission on Social Action Director Barbara Weinstein – to drive the RAC’s essential work and to oversee daily operations. Rachel and Barb are both outstanding leaders, well known in Washington and respected throughout the Jewish community. The other members of the RAC’s Senior Staff, including Rabbi Michael Namath, Sandi Kleinman, Sean Thibault, Daphne Price, and indeed the entire RAC team, are similarly outstanding.

Given the importance of the RAC’s work, between when David is confirmed and I make final decisions about the RAC’s leadership structure, I will personally serve as Director of the RAC.   Rachel, Barbara and I know that we can continue to count on the advice of experienced URJ leaders: Jennifer Kaufman, Chair of the Commission on Social Action; Mark Pelavin, who serves as my Senior Advisor and who spent 15 years helping lead the RAC; and URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Jonah Pesner with his long experience in the social justice arena. Since the RAC is a joint entity of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, we also remain grateful for the ongoing support and guidance of the CCAR leadership.

As David goes from strength to strength, we will do everything we can to build on the tremendous foundation he has established at the RAC.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the Statement of Rabbis Rick Block and Steve Fox on behalf of the CCAR: “We congratulate our esteemed colleague, loyal CCAR member, and dear friend, David Saperstein, upon his nomination as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. We are grateful for his extraordinary leadership, deep wisdom, and distinguished service over four decades, representing the URJ, CCAR, and our Movement, as Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. We are confident that, upon confirmation, David will be a brilliant, passionate, and effective advocate for religious freedom throughout the world. We pray that his efforts will be crowned with abundant success, fulfillment and blessing.”

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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.

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