Rabbi Richard Jacobs, President Designate of the Union for Reform Judaism, presented greetings at HUC-JIR's Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles Graduation Ceremonies on May 16, 2011. He said:
Unexpected things happen all of the time. Thirty one years ago, as I sat in this very place waiting to receive my MAHL degree, I could not imagine that one day I would one day stand here at the President Designate of the Union for Reform Judaism. You see, I had little confidence that synagogues could be the hub of a revitalized Jewish community. I had first fallen in love with Judaism at Camp Swig in Northern California and then that love affair caught fire during a junior year of study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Jewish learning, spiritual practice, and social justice became the pillars of my life; it just wasn’t clear to me where synagogues fit in. The synagogues I knew growing up were dreary and uninspired places. I thought synagogues were part of the problem of Jewish life, not part of the solution.
Thanks to the team of innovators at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education here at the Los Angeles campus and a group of colleagues at Synagogue 2000, I learned how to reinvent synagogues into compelling centers of life long Jewish learning, engaging worship, spiritual healing, and hot beds of social justice. Unexpected things happen all of the time.
I feel honored to be here today on this campus that helped me begin to shape a vision for Jewish life. I want to offer my congratulations to you--my colleagues in Jewish communal leadership. More importantly, I want to enlist your help in reshaping our Jewish communal institutions so as to meet the challenges and opportunities of this moment.
Everywhere we look, there are dramatic challenges facing our people; yet each is a phenomenal opportunity to revitalize Jewish life. Only very rarely has Jewish history known an era of so much creativity or innovation; no previous generation has possessed our resources and potential.
For two centuries, Reform Judaism has pointed the way forward. For the past forty years, our religious ingenuity has made us the fastest growing theologically liberal denomination in America. And yet we’ve become bogged down. We’re trapped in fear about the future. This moment in Jewish history demands bold thinking with big ideas; this is not a time for staying the course. It’s time to reinvent the architecture of Jewish life.
As Marge Piercy wrote in her poem “To Be of Use”
The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
Colleagues past, present and future, it is time to dive into those known and unknown waters of Jewish life.
And remember unexpected things happen all of the time.