Robert Heller, past Chairman, URJ;
Rabbi Alan Henkin, Union Rabbi, West District, URJ;
Michael Roth, Chair, West District, URJ;
Rabbi David Ellenson, President, HUC-JIR;
Rabbi Larry Goldmark, Executive Director, Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis;
Jay Geller, URJ Trustee and HUC-JIR Governor;
Irwin Engelman, Chairman, HUC-JIR Board of Governors;
Allan B. Goldman, former Chairman, URJ;
Peter J. Weidhorn, Chairman, Board of Trustees, URJ
The Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is now home to the Western Center for Reform Judaism – an innovative environment that brings together the academic, congregational, and rabbinical leadership arms of the Reform Movement under one roof. HUC-JIR, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis (CCAR) are benefiting from the enhanced synergy and cooperation facilitated by the Center, which is a template for a proposed National Reform Movement Center in New York.
During the spring of 2009, on the recommendation of Rabbis Alan Henkin and Linda Bertenthal of the Pacific Southwest Council of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the URJ accepted Dean Dr. Steven F. Windmueller's invitation to move its Pacific Southwest headquarters to a suite of offices on the first floor of the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). The URJ was in the process of changing over into a new configuration, and by the time the URJ set up its office at HUC-JIR, the headquarters had become the West District Congregational Support Center of the URJ. Dr. Windmueller also invited Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, executive vice president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis (PARR) and the West Coast representative of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), to set up his office at the Los Angeles campus. These moves were the impetus for the creation of Ha-Mercaz Ha-Maaravi l'Yahadut Mitkademet, the Western Center for Reform Judaism.
Along with HUC-JIR’s new Dean Dr. Joshua Holo, Director of Spiritual Growth Rabbi Richard N. Levy, and Western Regional Development Director Fredi Rembaum, these individuals constitute the Moetzah (Directorate) of the Western Center, adopting the following Mission Statement:
"The mission of Ha-Mercaz Ha-Maaravi l'Yahadut Mitkademet, the Western Center for Reform Judaism, is to enhance the vitality of the Reform Movement on the West Coast and to strengthen relationships between its constituent organizations: the Central Conference of American Rabbis/Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, the Los Angeles campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the West District Congregational Support Center of the Union for Reform Judaism. The Western Center will utilize the resources of these institutions to create opportunities for Reform Jewish laypeople, professionals and professionals-in-training to learn from each other that they might more effectively serve God, enhance Torah, and deepen their commitment to tikkun olam."
On April 28 the Western Center held a dedicatory service, during which selections from Isaac Mayer Wise's speeches inaugurating the Union, the College-Institute, and the CCAR were read, and the representatives of the three West Coast organizations spoke. Letters of congratulation were read by the national heads of the three institutions. Mezuzot were hung on the new offices of the URJ and PARR/CCAR. Michael Roth, the first President of the West District, affixed the mezuzah at the door of the Union's offices, and Rabbi Goldmark affixed the mezuzah on the CCAR/PARR office. The URJ mezuzah held a parchment with a hand-calligraphed verse chosen by Rabbis Henkin and Bertenthal, from Proverbs 24:3-4, "A house is built by wisdom, and is established by understanding; by knowledge are its rooms filled with all precious and beautiful things", in keeping with the commitment of the Reform Movement to meld Jewish tradition with Jewish creativity. The parchment was written by a rabbinical student trained in sofrut (Jewish scribal arts), Ilana Schachter.
Following the Dedication, the Moetzah has met monthly, with the chair rotating among the heads of the three West Coast organizations, in the order of their founding by Isaac Mayer Wise. The members have shared information about their institutions, and have enlisted each other's counsel in future projects. The three institutions are considering ways in which they can help one another further their respective goals and missions. The Moetzah is discussing how collaboration, cooperation and communication might take place in regard to programmatic, staffing, and other efforts, such as collaborative scheduling of HUC-JIR, URJ and PARR regional activities to expand their respective organizational reach and service to constituents. The Moetzah is also exploring, with URJ staff and lay leaders, whether the Union might hold the conference of its Network Groups (Leadership Development, Life Passages and Worship Reform) in February 2011 at the LA campus of HUC-JIR. The College-Institute has also offered faculty assistance in the program for these groups. Another example of inter-institutional cooperation is the Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark Seminar, created by the CCAR, through which fifth-year rabbinic students at the LA campus, who have for years participated in the annual PARR Convention each January, will be spending a full day prior to the convention in interactive exercises addressing issues the students will face in their transition from student life to full-time rabbinic practice.
The West District of the URJ has also invited HUC-JIR to become part of its new Webpage, and HUC-JIR has expressed an interest in listing faculty members' availability for speaking engagements. The Moetzah discussed whether it should co-sponsor a forum featuring the CCAR Journal's summer issue on Politics and Spirituality, to be held at Leo Baeck Temple on October 7.
The Moetzah will meet next in August 2010, and will continue refining the parameters of its mission and consider what other joint projects it wishes to undertake. Its members view with great interest the developing plans for joint housing of the three national Reform institutions in New York City, and hope that the experiences of the Western Center may help ease the way for that venture.