Each year, HUC-JIR celebrates the enduring vision of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. The New York campus of HUC-JIR commemorated Founders’ Day with a celebration of JIR at 90, the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Institute of Religion, on March 18, 2013.
The event began with a student-led service with the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music Choir. Following the service, the New York campus hosted a panel discussion on "JIR: History and Legacy," focusing on the founding and history of the Jewish Institute of Religion with an eye towards how it informs the present moment in American Jewish life. Panelists included Dr. Jonathan Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the new National Museum of American Jewish History; Dr. Mark A. Raider, Professor of Modern Jewish History in the Department of History at the University of Cincinnati and a Research Associate in the University’s Center for Studies in Jewish Education and Culture; and Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Dean, HUC-JIR/New York. The panel was moderated by Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President, HUC-JIR. Dr. Sarna provided context for the emergence of JIR as a pluralistic Jewish institution in the early 1920s. Rabbi Idelson focused on the early history of JIR, while Dr. Raider concentrated on Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, with a particular emphasis on the 1930s.
Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Dean, HUC-JIR/New York, stated, “JIR pioneered a new approach to rabbinical training for twentieth century American liberal Jewry. In many ways, the JIR vision remains as relevant today as it was ninety years ago; of course, much has changed, too. As we look to current and future challenges, I hope this celebration will enable us to find inspiration in our founders' mission and their courage to make it real. Their aim was to prepare students in contemporary ways to meet the critical needs of the Jewish community of their time, and this remains our task today.
"As we celebrate our past," Idelson said, "we commit ourselves to to providing exemplary training to another generation of Jewish religious leaders who promise to ensure a strong future for progressive Judaism and for our people."
We are grateful to Rabbi Herbert and Esther Rose for underwriting the festivities in honor of Herbert's father, Rabbi Morris M. Rose, who was a member of JIR's Class of 1926, the first JIR class to be ordained as rabbis. Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, Vice President for Special Projects, noted, "Five members of the Rose family have been ordained as rabbis by HUC-JIR. Theirs is an historic legacy of rabbinic education."
The College-Institute also honored the Stephen S. Wise Free Synagogue, which, working under Stephen S. Wise's leadership, established JIR by contributing not only their rabbis' time and energy for this purpose, but also their lay leadership, generous financial backing, and the building that would house JIR throughout the school's history and after the merger with HUC, until the New York School moved to it’s current home at West Fourth Street.