Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), has announced that Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Ph.D. will be stepping down as Dean of the HUC-JIR/New York campus as of June 30, 2016, after nine years of distinguished and transformational leadership. Rabbi Idelson will be honored at Founders' Day in New York on March 10, 2016, when her many achievements will be celebrated.
“Rabbi Idelson has had a profound impact on our institution,” said Rabbi Panken. “Throughout her tenure as Dean, Rabbi Idelson's primary efforts have focused on preserving and cultivating the vitality and rigor of the New York School's academic, professional and religious offerings, while promoting a sense of partnership between all programs and constituencies. The collaborative efforts she led have engaged faculty, staff, students, board members and alumni in ways that fostered a deep sense of community on campus.”
As Dean, Rabbi Idelson sustained the school's longstanding commitment to serving as a center for Jewish scholarship and cantorial arts by supporting faculty advancement and bringing new leaders to campus, most recently Cantor Richard Cohn, one of the nation's foremost cantors, as Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. She also grew the student scholarship program, which increased over $3.7 million under her deanship, and she inducted onto the Eastern Region Board of Overseers a new generation of energized and visionary Reform lay leaders.
In addition, she has advanced significant innovative programs for professional development, spiritual growth, and social responsibility among our rabbinical, cantorial, and education students so that they have both the knowledge and skills to address the needs of the changing Jewish community today.
Rabbi Idelson brought a number of key projects to fruition. These include The Spirituality Initiative of the New York School, funded by The Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation and now in its fifth year. This Initiative, directed by Rabbi Myriam Klotz, aims to deepen the spiritual lives of students and support them along their path toward becoming religiously grounded professionals capable of making Jewish meaning and experience accessible to all who seek it.
Rabbi Idelson also created the Be Wise Entrepreneurial Grants Program, established by Elizabeth and Steven Gruber of the Eastern Region Board of Overseers, and now directed by Rabbi Peter Rubinstein. Be Wise celebrates the legacy of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion, and his vision of social change that continues to be a core value of the New York campus. Through a competitive process, Be Wise Fellows are selected based on proposals to innovatively and creatively respond to the needs of contemporary Jewry. Under Rabbi Rubinstein's direction and the mentorship of leaders in the field, Fellows work "on the ground" to cultivate the entrepreneurial skills today's Jewish world requires.
Through The New York Campus Greening Initiative, the Chapel Technology Project, and renovations of the physical plant, Rabbi Idelson also brought Jewish values to facilities operations. Under her Deanship, the campus partnered with an urban composting company and increased recycling; began live-streaming worship, public programs, and special events from the Chapel on a regular basis; and, welcomed the URJ Youth Engagement Department into their new home at One West Fourth Street.
“None of this would have happened without the partnership of our faculty, staff, students, Board members and donors,” stated Rabbi Idelson. “I am profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to serve this institution alongside so many who are deeply committed to our mission. Working at the College-Institute has provided me with more than I could have dreamed: meaningful work, abundant friendship, challenges that keep me learning, and the inspiration I feel every day the moment I enter our building and experience the magnificence of this community.”
Following her ordination at HUC-JIR/New York in 1991, Rabbi Idelson served as the Director of Religious Activities and Chaplaincy Services at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. In 1998 she moved to Minneapolis, where she became the campus rabbi at Carleton College in Northfield, MN, and Associate for Jewish Life at Macalester College in St. Paul. Rabbi Idelson also directed Arts and Religion in the Twin Cities and worked at Minnesota Public Radio as a producer and newscaster. Rabbi Idelson returned to HUC-JIR in 2002 as Associate Dean. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College; has a Master's degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; and earned her Ph.D. in the History Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She wrote her dissertation on the founding of the Jewish Institute of Religion, and is now in the process of turning it into a book.