It all began at an HUC-JIR Associates Program in Rockville, MD, in April 1998. Ash Gerecht approached Rabbi Aaron Panken, Dean of the New York School, with a simple question: “Does HUC-JIR have an Outreach Professor?” “No, but would you like to give us one?” quipped Rabbi Panken. “Maybe,” was the response, and the rest, as they say, was history. With the assistance of Dru Greenwood, National Director of Outreach at the then Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and after a few months of thoughtful cooperative planning, the Gerecht Family Institute for Outreach at HUC-JIR was born.
Through the generosity of Ash and Gloria Gerecht and the National Center to Encourage Judaism, the Institute was endowed with a $1 million gift. This major gift enabled the College- Institute to develop comprehensive outreach education for students at all three stateside centers of learning and to create opportunities for advanced study for alumni in the field. In an interview, the Gerechts remarked: “We are pleased that this new Institute will further the goals of outreach in the Reform Movement, and it is our hope that it will also encourage other sectors of Judaism to become more active in outreach as well.”
In expressing deep gratitude to the Gerecht family for their foresight and their generous support of this vital initiative, Rabbi Panken noted: “Outreach to those on the margins of the Jewish community, to the intermarried, and to those who are interested in exploring Judaism, is a critical part of the role of the rabbi in our current American context. Training our graduates to face the real world they will see in congregations is imperative.”
Ash and Gloria Gerecht established a public foundation in 1980 which became a private family foundation, the National Center to Encourage Judaism (NCEJ), in 1995. NCEJ subsidizes the advertising of introductory Judaism courses by Jewish organizations in the secular press. These grants have been given to many Reform congregations in the past fifteen years, with the cooperation of the Outreach Department of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Ash Gerecht served as chair of CD Publications, a national subscription newsletter firm that he and his wife, Gloria Lantz Gerecht, founded in 1961 in Washington, DC. A Kansas City, MO, native, he is a graduate of Washington University, St. Louis and the University of Chicago. Gloria Gerecht grew up in Dallas and Houston, TX and is a graduate of the University of Chicago.
Since its first retreat, the Gerecht Family Institute for Outreach at HUC-JIR has educated hundreds of rabbis, cantors, and Jewish professionals. Each year, scores of third-year Hebrew Union College students attend one of three outreach weekends. There students learn about many of the most important issues around outreach including building a welcoming community, working with conversion students and their families, ritual and legal issues around conversion, and the pastoral needs of the conversion student. Hearing from a wide range of presenters including HUC-JIR faculty, rabbis and cantors in the field, URJ Outreach Specialists, and former and current conversion students, participants are able to gain a full and rich perspective around issues of conversion.
For years, students have left the retreat with a large resource binder, full of program ideas, Jewish texts, educational resources, and personal testimony. Thanks to an additional generous gift by Ash and Gloria Gerecht, we have digitized much of this content (and even added some) to make this rich resource available to Gerecht Family Institute for Outreach alumni as well as others in the professional Jewish world.
This project was made possible thanks to the hard work of Dr. Aaron Panken, Rabbi Heather Miller, Rabbinical Students Marc Katz & David Levy, Sarah Winters, Rachel Duietz, Dru Greenwood, Kathy Kahn and Vicki Farhi.