Four Centers of Learning for the Reform Movement - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Four Centers of Learning for the Reform Movement

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Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman
President, September 10, 1998

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is the educational and intellectual center of Reform Judaism. It is committed to educating the academic, spiritual and professional leaders for Reform congregations and communities throughout North America and the world.

HUC-JIR is an international seminary and university of graduate studies comprising four dynamic centers of learning. Its growth over 123 years is a function of the demographics of Jewish population growth, the burgeoning of the Reform Movement as the largest growing denomination of Judaism in North America, and the importance of the State of Israel. Its existing multi-centered structure is a model for numerous preeminent universities and cultural institutions which are establishing new centers to advance recruitment and enhance educational programs (e.g. Johns Hopkins University's multiple campuses in Baltimore, Washington, DC, suburban Columbia County, Nanjing, China, Bologna, Italy, and Berlin, West Germany; the Guggenheim Museum's branches in New York, Bilbao, Spain, Venice and Berlin).

HUC-JIR's campus network is uniquely and historically positioned to support the Union of American Hebrew Congregations' priorities: providing financial support for HUC-JIR as the academic center to train professionals for the Movement, synagogue management, life-long Jewish learning, and regional support. Each of HUC-JIR's centers of learning was and remains strategically situated to maximize student recruitment, expand student and faculty field service to congregations and communities, and enrich educational outreach to geographic regions.

HUC-JIR's campus structure was evaluated by faculty, students, staff, alumni of all programs, board members and UAHC congregational leaders as part of its strategic planning process. During this process, the possibility of consolidation of sites was examined in depth. The strategic planning process emerged with the conclusion that HUC-JIR could not consolidate but rather needed to enhance the academic strength and outreach of its programs. It confirmed the tremendous importance of the four centers of learning to the Reform Movement. These discussions have defined three key issues which affirm the viability of this network structure: constituencies, competition and capabilities.

Multiple centers of learning benefit both students and Reform congregations, schools and institutions. Geographic proximity to Reform congregations and institutions located in disparate regions facilitates an expanded number of field work and mentorship opportunities for HUC-JIR students and strengthens their practical skills training. These opportunities include placement in student pulpits and religious schools, regional UAHC departments, youth groups and college Hillels, hospital chaplaincies, and Jewish communal agencies. Rather than saturating a limited geographic area from a single campus, HUC-JIR's students branch out throughout North America and enhance the vitality of the movement from coast to coast.

At the same time, congregations benefit from the proximity of students who provide necessary services; many of these congregations could not otherwise afford the services of a rabbinic, cantorial, education or synagogue management intern. Among the UAHC's 875 congregations there are approximately 477 small synagogues, many of which survive through the service of monthly and bimonthly student interns whose commute from the nearest regional campus is economically possible. Large congregations similarly thrive through the services of HUC-JIR students as rabbinic, cantorial, educational and youth group interns and religious school student teachers. Regional offices of the UAHC benefit from student interns who augment the professional staff's service to congregations and simultaneously gain valuable work experience.

Each HUC-JIR center of learning provides service to Reform Jews, including congregants, educators, community professionals, and clergy, who are pursuing continuing Jewish education. The New York Kollel, the Cincinnati Academy for Interfaith Study, the Beit Midrash/A Liberal Yeshivah in Jerusalem, kallot for teenagers, communal leadership seminars in Los Angeles, study institutes for adult learners in South Florida, paraprofessional programs for Reform lay leaders, lectures, concerts, exhibitions and other cultural programs engage the participation of Reform congregants throughout the country. Each campus is a catalytic and innovative agent for continuing Jewish education within its geographic region, responding to the changing needs and demographics of the Reform Movement. Indeed, the greatly expanding Reform communities in South Florida and the Sun Belt are asking for even more contact with our faculty, programs, and resources; we must fulfill their needs.

Today's Reform congregants are demanding more rabbis, cantors, educators, communal professionals and academicians, and more continuing Jewish education, not less. HUC-JIR is the indispensable educational and intellectual resource to strengthen their synagogues' growth and programs. At a moment when the Reform Movement is experiencing a historic growth spurt, downsizing or geographic retrenchment is counterproductive, even destructive. If HUC-JIR does not continue to serve the needs of widespread Reform congregants, synagogues and communities, someone else will. The University of Judaism in Los Angeles and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York provide a concrete example. UJ opened to serve the enormous needs of the Conservative Jewish communities on the West Coast that were unmet by New York-based JTS.

HUC-JIR's regionalization has also attracted a broader and more extensive base of supporters. Local development efforts have enhanced HUC-JIR's revenue raising. Consolidation of the centers of learning would result in the loss of such local support.

Today, new rabbinic seminaries which also incorporate programs in cantorial training and Jewish education are multiplying. Existing seminaries are expanding their curricula to embrace additional professional training programs to satisfy the growing market of Jewish institutions. This reality impacts on the recruitment and placement of our students. It also impacts on the background and training of future leadership for the Reform Movement.

Today, students seeking to serve the Reform Jewish community can choose from an expanded number of venues to pursue their graduate studies under the auspices of other Jewish denominational and independent Jewish seminaries as well as at secular universities. Influencing prospective students' choice of academic institution is their changing profile. Many students enter the field at an older age than previous generations did; many are married to spouses who have their own career commitments; many also have young children. The reality is that students today will consider as a major factor in their choice of a Jewish professional training program the convenience of its geographic location and its compatibility with their families' needs. If HUC-JIR were to close a campus, the void would be filled immediately by other seminaries and their students.

Can the Reform Movement afford the erosion of HUC-JIR as the authentic academic center for the Movement's professional leadership? The competition for recruitment would result in a diminished cadre of students educated within the Reform Movement's seminary specifically trained to serve the needs of Reform congregations. Are Reform congregations prepared to hire graduates of other schools as well as use their services while they are still students? How would this affect the spiritual and historical integrity of Reform congregations and schools? The result would be the dilution of an authentic Reform Judaism that would change the Reform Movement's defining commitments to liberal, egalitarian, and prophetic Judaism.

The fact is that HUC-JIR's four centers of learning offer more viable options for recruitment and service to the Reform Movement. HUC-JIR's geographic decentralization encourages recruitment from disparate parts of North America, enables students to continue to study and work close to their home communities, and promotes widespread service to the Movement. Our multiple centers of learning are a recruitment asset which strengthens our ability to compete for the highly motivated and intellectually gifted students that the Reform Movement needs for its future leadership. The intellectual and spiritual authenticity of the Reform Movement must be sustained by professional leaders educated in Reform Judaism's history, values, and mission. It is only at HUC-JIR that the texts studied from the Reform perspective in the classroom are applied to the sanctuary and practice; it is only at HUC-JIR that Reform theology, philosophy and tradition find a seamless extension into the Reform Movement's congregations, schools and institutions, offering continuity and an enduring relationship with modernity.

The growth of HUC-JIR's four centers of learning over the past century has created a university distinguished for its depth and breadth of offerings. By utilizing these extensive resources and facilities, HUC-JIR is uniquely able to train transformational leaders and create transformative programs for the Reform Movement. A brief survey of these centers of learning and the network-wide research resources conveys HUC-JIR's capabilities to ensure the Jewish future:

  • Cincinnati is the historic center of Reform Judaism where Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise first established the UAHC in 1873 as the financial mechanism to fund the establishment and operation of a school to train Reform rabbis. Once the UAHC was established, Rabbi Wise was able to establish Hebrew Union College in 1875 as the first institution of higher Jewish learning in the Western Hemisphere. It is a center for the four state-side years of the rabbinic program, culminating in ordination. Its School of Graduate Studies, established in 1948, serves as a premier center for advanced graduate study training scholars and academics for universities and seminaries worldwide and offers a joint graduate program in classics and Greco-Roman studies with the University of Cincinnati. The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives houses a collection of 15 million documents preserving the history of the Reform Movement and Jewish life in the Americas. The Klau Library is the central repository of HUC-JIR's library system of 700,000 volumes, houses HUC-JIR's world renowned collection of rare illuminated manuscripts, and preserves the largest collection of Jewish periodicals in the world. The HUC-UC Ethics Center, in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati, is a national center for the study of contemporary moral problems, sponsoring research, conferences, and publications. The Academy for Interfaith Studies attracts several hundred students as part of its educational outreach to the community. The Skirball Museum-Cincinnati Branch offers exhibitions, school programs, family education and public programs and attracts thousands of visitors annually. The centrality of the Cincinnati School's location facilitates the service of students and faculty throughout mid-America, through students' clinical training programs and internship placements and faculty's outreach as scholars-in-residence.
  • New York is the home of the Jewish Institute of Religion, founded in 1922 by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise as a center for higher study for scholars and students of all streams of Judaism. It merged with Hebrew Union College in 1950 in order to sustain a liberal and pluralistic study of Judaism under the auspices of the Reform Movement. It is a center for the four state-side years of the rabbinic program, culminating in ordination. The School of Sacred Music, established in 1948 to preserve the Jewish liturgical traditions destroyed by the Holocaust, serves as the center for the training of cantors for the Reform Movement. The School of Education offers graduate programs in Jewish education and Judaic studies for Jewish educational professionals. The Graduate Studies Program offers the Doctor of Ministry, in conjunction with the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health, in which clergy of all faiths develop practical and spiritual training in pastoral care and counseling. The New York Kollel attracts hundreds of young adults annually for its innovative Jewish study programs. Exhibitions and related cultural programs extend HUC-JIR's educational outreach throughout the greater tri-state Jewish community. Cooperative relations with neighboring New York University offer students access at both NYU's Bobst Library and HUC-JIR's Klau Library, cross-registration for courses, and collaborative programs with NYU's Skirball Department of Judaic Studies. The New York School's proximity to the major national organizational and institutional centers of Reform Judaism and Jewish life offers students a unique laboratory in which to develop their skills and training during their clinical studies and internship programs.
  • Los Angeles is the academic center established in 1954 to strengthen and provide leadership for the proliferation of new Jewish communities and Reform congregations throughout the West Coast. It offers the second and third years of the stateside rabbinic program, after which students transfer to either the Cincinnati or New York Schools, and will expand to a full rabbinic program culminating in ordination. With its Rhea Hirsch School of Education (founded in 1970 to train educators to lead Reform schools), the Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service (founded in 1968 as the first professional school of Jewish communal service in the United States), the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies (the undergraduate Jewish Studies department for over 500 University of Southern California students annually), and collaborative programs with USC, including a dual communal service-M.B.A. degree program, the LA School serves as the Reform Movement's center for advanced graduate study in Jewish education and Jewish communal service. Education and communal service students serve scores of Reform religious schools and Jewish communal organizations and agencies as part of their clinical training and internships. The Los Angeles School builds bridges of multiethnic and interfaith understanding through communal leadership seminars, community service programs in South Central LA, and joint projects with the University of Southern California.
  • Jerusalem, first established as a center for biblical and archaeological research in 1963, today serves as the venue for first-year study by all HUC-JIR rabbinic, cantorial and education students. It is the home of the Israel Progressive movement and advances the cause of religious pluralism in the State of Israel. The Jerusalem School offers the Israel Rabbinic Program, established in 1980, which trains rabbis for Israel's growing Progressive movement's synagogues and schools, as well as teacher training for Reform schools. The Beit Midrash/A Liberal Yeshivah, Reform synagogue services, archaeological museum, library, and educational and cultural programs facilitate Israelis' participation in Reform Judaism. Ulpan Hebrew language, Jewish studies, and communal leadership programs for new immigrants facilitate its outreach to the community. Teacher training programs extend the mission, history and values of Reform Judaism within the Israeli educational system.

HUC-JIR's faculty is a precious resource in preserving and transmitting Jewish heritage. These internationally recognized teachers and scholars, through their teaching, research, and publication, are indispensable in sustaining HUC-JIR's academic strength, attracting students, and providing service to the Reform Movement. From the strategic planning process it was learned that the College-Institute would lose faculty with the consolidation of centers of learning, and that congregations would be deprived of the essential proximity of faculty as resources for their own educational programs.

Uniting these four Schools is a vital network of research resources:

  • a library system of 700,000 volumes ranked among the world's largest repositories of Judaica and Hebraica, and offering use and borrowing privileges to Reform congregants in their local communities;
  • a network of museums which present 4,000 years of Jewish history, preserve collections of over 25,000 art objects, and welcome congregations and religious schools for tours, family workshops, cultural programs and courses;
  • HUC-JIR-sponsored archaeological excavations in Israel which welcome Reform youth and adult groups during summer digs;
  • the HUC-UC Ethics Center, a national research center investigating the application of Jewish moral and ethical values toward contemporary problems and sponsoring conferences and publications on issues including bioethics, religious fundamentalism, multiethnic relations, and public education;
  • Adult Jewish Learning and Living programs offered at the four centers of learning and in communities throughout North America, from South Florida to Denver, Colorado, promote lifelong Jewish continuing education for Reform Jews and lay leaders of the movement through programs of lay and paraprofessional study.

A 1990 study of costs involved in transferring the resources from one center of learning to another concluded that HUC-JIR and the Reform Movement could not afford it then, and these costs have greatly grown since that time. The strategic planning process determined that costs precluded the consolidation of the Schools and their extensive facilities and resources, but prohibitive costs are not the defining issue. What was determined is the importance of the multiple centers of learning to the Reform Movement in maintaining the unity and integrity of the Reform Movement.

HUC-JIR's current strategic planning process is defining new ways to strengthen the integration of these facilities and resources and to maximize the potential offered by these capabilities toward strengthening curriculum. The following short and long term goals will enhance the impact of HUC-JIR's students on the Reform Movement:

  • a three-year core rabbinic program that integrates academic, religious and professional learning throughout HUC-JIR and provides all graduating students with that same core knowledge and understanding;
  • more demanding admissions requirements and entrance exams, preparation support, exit exams and new recruitment initiatives;
  • enhanced utilization of sites, including ordination at all three stateside centers and the incorporation of specialized academic programs (e.g. education, communal service, et al) offered at each center;
  • support for faculty enrichment and enhancement, promotion of integrated learning models, recognition for outstanding scholarship and teaching, and recruitment and retention of best teachers for the new generation;
  • a core interdisciplinary course on Reform Judaism's history, development and views on observance, social justice and boundaries - designed for HUC-JIR students and, utilizing new long distance learning technologies, created for lay leaders of the movement;
  • strengthening of Progressive Judaism in Israel, in collaboration with the Israel Progressive Movement, the World Union for Progressive Judaism and ARZA, through enhanced professional training programs, continuing education for Israeli rabbinic alumni, programs for Reform educators in Israeli Reform schools, programs for educators in the Israeli school system, Israeli lay leadership development initiatives, and outreach programs;
  • collaborative partnership with other religious and academic institutions to enhance resources for students and faculty;
  • movement-wide programs for continuing professional education;
  • a movement-wide think tank to study and discuss the pressing issues of contemporary Jewish life.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is dedicated to fulfilling its mission as educational and intellectual center of Reform Judaism. It is committed to educating the academic, spiritual and professional leaders for Reform congregations and communities throughout North America and the world.

Each of HUC-JIR's centers of learning was and remains strategically situated to maximize student recruitment, expand student and faculty field service to congregations and communities, and enrich educational outreach to geographic regions. The College-Institute's strategic planning process concluded that HUC-JIR could not consolidate but rather needed to enhance the academic strength and outreach of its programs to fulfill the growing needs of Reform Judaism. It confirmed the tremendous importance of the four centers of learning to the Reform Movement.

This is a definitive moment in HUC-JIR's history and in the history of the Reform Movement. The growth of Reform Judaism and the extensive programs and resources of the College-Institute in our own time are due to the faith and devotion of the generations that preceded ours. Our vision and commitment will be judged by the generations that follow us.

This is the moment for the full integration of HUC-JIR's mission with the vision and concerns of the Reform community. It is a time for recommitment and renewal to the fundamental purposes that have sustained a successful past. It is the time to build upon all that we have been bequeathed, to leave our creative and constructive imprint on Jewish history, and to ensure the future for the generations to come.

(An Appendix of materials surveying the congregations served by each center of learning over the past ten years, the original documents on the establishment of the UAHC and HUC, and more detailed information on the Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem Schools is available from the National Office of Public Affairs, HUC-JIR/New York.)