A Message from Rabbi David Ellenson: :Rabbi Richard Jacobs Elected as Fourth President of the Union for Reform Judaism - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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A Message from Rabbi David Ellenson: :Rabbi Richard Jacobs Elected as Fourth President of the Union for Reform Judaism

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dear Members of the HUC-JIR Community:

It is with a heart overflowing with joy that I transmit this announcement to you from Peter Weidhorn, Chairman of the Union for Reform Judaism and a member of the Board of Governors at the College-Institute, regarding the election of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as President-Elect of the Union for Reform Judaism.  Rabbi Jacobs is an outstanding individual and leader, and I am confident he will prove a most worthy successor to Rabbi Eric Yoffie as the leader of our Movement.  Rabbi Jacobs has had a distinguished career as a pulpit rabbi.  In addition, he is scholarly, charismatic, creative, warm, and a lover of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.  He will surely guide and inspire our Movement and the Jewish people with integrity, wisdom, and love.

On a personal note, I would observe that I have known Rabbi Jacobs for thirty-two years.  He was my student in the very first class I ever taught on our HUC-JIR Los Angeles campus when I joined our faculty in 1979, and our relationship has blossomed in so many ways for more than three decades.  Initially my student, he has become my friend and my teacher.  We are all blessed to have him assume the position of President of the URJ.

My wife Jackie, a classmate of Rabbi Jacobs, joins me in sending Rabbi Jacobs, his wife Susan Freedman, and their lovely children Aaron, David, and Sarah, our warmest best wishes as together he and his family move onto this new chapter in their lives.


David Ellenson


Rabbi Richard Jacobs Elected as Fourth President of the Union for Reform Judaism

Rabbi Richard Jacobs: “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.

New York, June 12, 2011- The Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism today unanimously and enthusiastically elected Rabbi Richard Jacobs to serve as its next President. Only the fourth person to hold the office since its creation in 1943, Jacobs follows Rabbis Maurice Eisendrath, Alexander Schindler and Eric Yoffie. Rabbi Jacobs currently serves as Senior Rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY, and will assume the URJ Presidency in 2012.

Rabbi Jacobs told the board, "I became a rabbi almost 30 years ago to serve God and the Jewish people wherever I could do the most good. I've loved my years serving two amazing congregations first in Brooklyn Heights and for the past nineteen years at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York." He continued, "As I prepare to leave the congregational rabbinate, I believe more than ever that vibrant synagogues are the key to the Jewish future. I will be the first URJ President who has spent decades as a congregational rabbi; synagogues are what I know and love."

"Today marks a new beginning for the URJ," said Chairman Peter Weidhorn. "With Rick's extensive work on synagogue transformation and his remarkable success as a congregational rabbi, I am excited by the promise that Rabbi Jacobs represents to support congregations in their sacred work."

Current URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie remarked, "There were, to be sure, many fine candidates, but the selection of Rabbi Jacobs as the next President of the Union was an extraordinary and an inspired choice, and one that has been greeted with acclaim throughout our Movement...Rabbi Jacobs is dynamic and articulate -- a great leader who takes Torah seriously, speaks from our tradition with authority, and has been endlessly creative in applying it to the circumstances of our time."

"Rick transformed what was already a leading congregation into a community of lifelong learners," said Presidential Nomination Committee Chair Robert Heller. "In Rick Jacobs we have a leader who will work with us to envision things that never were and help us build the collaborative teams we need to make them real."

In his acceptance remarks, Rabbi Jacobs said about moving into the position at this time, "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...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."

During the coming year, Rabbi Jacobs will spend time transitioning from his pulpit position to the presidency of the URJ. He has asked Rabbi Jonah Pesner to serve as Transition Director. Pesner, who founded and directs the URJ's groundbreaking Just Congregations initiative, will join Rabbi Jacobs as well as Rabbi Dan Freelander in the senior leadership of the Union.

"The transition will allow Rabbi Jacobs to continue the process of re-examining the organization, which has been underway with URJ stakeholders including congregational leadership, URJ lay leaders, URJ staff and Reform movement organizational partners," Rabbi Pesner said. He also noted that "Rabbi Jacobs will engage experts in organizational and congregational life from the larger Jewish and non-Jewish communities as well as Jewish thinkers and philanthropic leaders to work with him in his efforts to strengthen and grow the Reform Jewish Movement."

As Rabbi Jacobs winds down his responsibilities with Westchester Reform Temple, he also will step down from his involvement in other organizations, boards and advisory committees during the first years of his Presidency in order to focus his energies on the task ahead of him. Additionally, as President of the URJ, he will assume many new official posts on Jewish communal organizations including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, among others.

Rabbi Jacobs will join Rabbi Yoffie in the campaign to make youth engagement a key priority for the Reform Movement and its 900 congregations. Their efforts aim to engage a large majority of post bar/bat mitzvah teens and their families in Jewish living and learning.

Rabbi Jacobs closed his remarks to the URJ Board this morning with his vision for the Reform Movement in the 21st century: "In twenty-five years, I see our Movement flourishing with a wide network of energetic religious communities of depth and passion stretching throughout the Jewish world. From the ranks of the unaffiliated and the uninspired, they will flock to our inclusive religious communities that are serious about learning, spirituality, tikkun olam, ahavut yisrael, and community. Together we will catalyze innovation and excellence so that our expression of Judaism will attract the widest cross section of 21st century Jews and seekers who have yet to find their faith. Congregations with purpose and imagination can do great things!"

Click here to read Rabbi Jacobs' acceptance speech.

His biography, writings and other articles can be found at urj.org/rabbijacobs.

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