From the inception of American Reform Judaism, its founder, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, understood that a vital partnership of institutions was indispensable in ensuring a flourishing, progressive, and enlightened American Judaism in sync with modern life.
Wise’s conviction that an institution of higher Jewish learning would guarantee Jewish survival in America led him, together with representatives of 28 congregations, to establish the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (today known as the Union for Reform Judaism) in 1873 for the purpose of establishing a “Hebrew Theological Institute.” In 1875 Hebrew Union College was launched as the first permanent Jewish institution of higher learning in the New World, and in 1889, Rabbi Wise established the Central Conference of American Rabbis to sustain HUC-JIR’s graduates.
This 19th-century blueprint has succeeded in propelling Reform Judaism into the largest growing Jewish denomination in 21st-century North America. The Reform Movement continues to be sustained and advanced by the powerful, ongoing partnerships that exist among its core institutions, with each providing its own vision, leadership, and initiative to address the shared challenges of contemporary American Jewish life.
The pillars of the Reform Movement:
The Reform Movement is strengthened by a broad range of organizations that serve the diverse constituencies of North American Jewry. HUC-JIR’s students fulfill internships and fieldwork projects within many of these organizations, and alumni serve in professional leadership capacities. Furthermore, HUC-JIR’s American Jewish Archives preserves the records of these North American Reform Movement institutions for posterity:
URJ and HUC-JIR
The generous support of Reform congregations and their congregants is indispensable to both HUC-JIR and the URJ. One-third of HUC-JIR’s annual operating budget is supported by the MUM dues contributed to the URJ by individual members of Reform synagogues, which are divided between the URJ and HUC-JIR. These dues provide the necessary resources to sustain HUC-JIR’s preeminent faculty and its libraries, American Jewish Archives, and other research centers, provide financial aid to students, develop curriculum and new technology to advance leadership development and the integration of HUC-JIR’s four campuses into one institution, and facilitate outreach to communities. Without the URJ and the support of Reform congregants, HUC-JIR would be unable to prepare the next generation of spiritual, educational, communal, and intellectual leaders for the 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America today.
HUC-JIR’s students serve over 350 pulpits and internships in the URJ’s congregations, schools, organizations, and institutions each year, including small congregations that would otherwise lack professional leadership. Students also serve Reform Movement summer camps and Israel programs for teenagers, NFTY youth groups in congregations, chaplaincies in hospitals and homes for the aged, Hillel and Jewish student centers on college campuses, and Federations and other Jewish communal and social service agencies. HUC-JIR’s alumni serve in key professional leadership positions in the URJ, and faculty reach out to thousands of Reform Jewish leaders and the larger Jewish community each year as scholars-in-residence at the URJ’s Biennial and Regional Conventions, kallot, and other lifelong learning programs.
Reform congregants are welcomed onto HUC-JIR’s campuses for a rich array of educational and cultural programs and are invited to access the resources of HUC-JIR’s internationally renowned Klau Library, American Jewish Archives, campus museums, and research centers advancing Judaism and health, inclusivity, ethics, and pastoral care.
WRJ and HUC-JIR
The Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) (formerly the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods) is the single largest cumulative donor to HUC-JIR, after the URJ’s patronage through MUM. Providing annual support for nearly a century, the WRJ supports significant scholarship aid to North American rabbinical, cantorial, and education students studying at the stateside campuses, rabbinical scholarships Israel Rabbinical Program students in Jerusalem, and cantorial prizes to students in the School of Sacred Music. In addition, subsidizes HUC-JIR’s Pesach Project in the Former Soviet Union, which has enabled over 200 students to date to lead worship and multi-generational educational programs during Passover in communities throughout Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
HUC-JIR’s close partnership with the WRJ in its educational programs, materials, and biennial Assembly, is manifest in the WRJ’s groundbreaking publication of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, which was co-edited by Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Professor Bible, HUC-JIR/Los Angeles, and Dr. Andrea Weiss, Assistant Professor of Bible, HUC-JIR/New York, and includes scholarly essays, interpretations, and reflections by 40 members of the faculty, alumni, and students. With the support of Elizabeth Blaustein Roswell and Arthur Roswell, all 2nd-year students have received a copy of this volume to date, and the WRJ will continue to make this essential commentary available to all HUC-JIR students on an ongoing basis to ensure that its cutting edge biblical interpretation will inform their learning in the future. Students also benefit from the opportunity to work with the WRJ as part of their professional development fieldwork. Furthermore, when the WRJ Board met in Cincinnati this past year, they explored the treasures of American Jewish Archives to see where the WRJ archives are being preserved for future generations of researchers and students. “Since our inception in 1913, the women of our movement have recognized the importance of well-educated and trained Jewish professionals,” says Lynn Magid Lazar, WRJ President. “I am exceedingly proud of our ongoing commitment to HUC-JIR and value our very special partnership.”
CCAR and HUC-JIR
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, led by distinguished HUC-JIR rabbinical alumni, works closely with HUC-JIR in transitioning graduates of the Rabbinical Program into their professional placements, and continues to guide alumni throughout their careers. The CCAR sustains and enriches their lifelong learning through a broad array of continuing education programs. HUC-JIR faculty members contribute as instructors in these programs and annual conferences, while also publishing their scholarship in the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly.