Rabbi Naamah Kelman Honored with WUPJ's Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch Award - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Rabbi Naamah Kelman Honored with WUPJ's Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch Award

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Rabbis Naamah Kelman and Levi Kelman

Rabbis Levi and Naamah Kelman.

On December 11, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of HUC-JIR's Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem, was honored with the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch Award, along with her brother, Rabbi Levi Kelman, Rabbi Emeritus of the Kol Haneshama Congregation in Jerusalem and President of the Rabbis for Human Rights. The award is named for WUPJ Honorary Life President, Rabbi Richard Hirsch, considered a chief architect of WUPJ’s efforts to build and support Progressive Judaism in Israel and around the world, and conferred upon those who, like Rabbi Hirsch, have made exceptional contributions to social justice, Zionism and Israeli and global Progressive Judaism. The award was presented at the WUPJ Gala Dinner in Chicago as part of the URJ Biennial, and a special video compilation was shown featuring World Union congregations and leaders of the Reform Movement reflecting on the achievements of Rabbis Naamah and Levi Kelman. 

Rabbi Naamah Kelman gave the following remarks: 

Levi, my sister Abby and I grew up with a father (born in Eastern Europe immigrated to Canada) who told stories…they were love stories. His love stories about his love for the Jewish People, and the Jewish persons who lived remarkable lives. This was a “mitzvat Aseh” a positive commandment in our home: Love the Jewish People, especially rabbis and Jewish professionals, and while you are it, you should love humanity as well. Our mother, who grew up in this city, to a Reform Zionist rabbi father, was an all-American, she taught us how to sing the American Songbook, and maybe just a little, to watch our back!

Our Shabbat dinner table, and the ones we have replicated, continue that story, Jews and others of all stripes and colors welcome! You are welcome to share your journey and your hopes for our Jewish future. Seekers, dreamers, doers, believers, they sat around the table of our childhood and in Jerusalem as well.

So it may just be genetic programming, with a twist of each of our independent choices and fate…that have led me to this day…this place, at this gathering.

It was Dick Hirsch, who loudly announced at my interview for HUC, before it started, that he knew how he was voting…and his love and confidence in me continues over decades. I was proud to be part of Dick’s Mafia, as the Godfather he protected, promoted and challenged us. Together, we started our Jerusalem pre-school and school, then the Reform Yeshiva, and then so many projects and initiatives to put Progressive Judaism on map, in Israel and worldwide!

Like Dick, and my father and so many extraordinary colleagues, friends, mentors, supporters, teachers whom I cannot name (but I hope that in my daily work and life, you know who you are and how grateful I am and blessed to have you in my life) yes, you gathered here, at the WORLD UNION FOR PROGESSIVE JUDAISM gala :we are incurable romantics, when it comes to our GREAT JEWISH STORY…

Whether we are starting a tiny Reform community in Rome, breathing life once more and against all expectations bringing about the rebirth of Jewish Life in the FSU, harnessing the power of veteran Congregations of  England or France or Canada. Or how about establishing against sustained resistance and hostility the network of now some 52 Israeli Congregations, supporting the most far flung and crazy impossible sparks of Reform, Progressive, OUR Judaism, in places we thought we had lost…THAT, my friends and fellow travelers: is a love story…

I have been blessed to have been born into a generation where women are now leaders in this story. I have been blessed to have arrived in Israel some 43 years ago, with my aw shucks, can do, kick butt American, New Yorker energy, and found , ah, no one was waiting for me…except, eventually, the Hebrew Union College, the WUPJ, the IMPJ and NFTY in Israel…and we have accomplished so much!

I have been blessed by having a loving family, the best partner of a husband, three children, 2 sons-in-laws, and 4 amazing grandsons...the best chevrutas and soulmates and you know who you are! Special mention to Michael Marmur (whose the real reason I am here tonight) spectacular friends, and colleagues who are friends.  I have been blessed by the fact that I have been able to carry the best of American Jewish life and live and breathe and maybe shape the evolving story of Israel.

And אחרון אחרון חביב , Levi...which one of us is Moses or Aaron or Miriam? The greatest Jewish siblings of the Bible...it doesn’t matter, unlike their predecessors in Genesis...they got it right...

בשוב ד' את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים, אז ימלא צחוק פינו ולשונינו רינה

We returned to Zion, dreaming, laughing, loving, celebrating…I could not have done it without you…and all of YOU!


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu