A New URJ President and the Reform Commitment to Engaging Interfaith Families

We want to congratulate Rabbi Rick Jacobs on being chosen as the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

When the retirement of the current president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, was announced, I wrote about my mixed feelings. While I applauded many of Rabbi Yoffie’s initiatives, the Reform movement’s record on engaging interfaith families during his leadership was disappointing due to reductions in staff dedicated to helping Reform synagogues attract and welcome interfaith couples and families.

I’ve read everything I can find about Rabbi Jacobs since the announcement this afternoon and haven’t seen any mention of his involvement with the Reform movement’s past outreach efforts or his personal practices with respect to people in interfaith relationships. At this point I can only hope that Rabbi Jacobs will be receptive to my respectful suggestion when Rabbi Yoffie’s retirement was announced: that the number of intermarried couples that would be in a Jewish framework would be far, far greater if the Reform movement gave engaging them the priority it deserves.

We certainly wish him well as he prepares to take on this very significant responsibility.

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3 thoughts on “A New URJ President and the Reform Commitment to Engaging Interfaith Families

  1. [quote]In an [url=http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/03/22/3086521/for-new-reform-leader-richard-jacobs-big-tent-movement-is-the-idea]exclusive interview with JTA[/url] a few hours before the announcement was made, the 55-year-old Jacobs said his mission is to make sure the Reform movement is a big tent with its flaps wide open and its Jewish stakes planted deeply in the ground.

    “There’s no anti. It’s all pro,” he said. “Nothing Jewish is alien to us. Reform Judaism is an evolving and profound expression of the Jewish tradition. Its essence is to respond to the call of God and to the imperatives of the day.”

    For Jacobs, that means embracing environmentalism, helping in places like Darfur and Haiti, and speaking out in support of the Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. He speaks with pride of his synagogue’s green initiatives, noting that its Ner Tamid, or Eternal Flame, is solar powered. He is chairman of the New Israel Fund’s pluralism grants committee, which promotes religious and social pluralism in Israel. He is a board member of the American Jewish World Service, with which he visited Darfur refugees in Chad in 2005. He wears a green Darfur bracelet on his wrist.[/quote]

    …Is all fascinating, and certainly makes him an interesting candidate. But what about interfaith issues?

  2. Yeah, I’m a little worried about Rabbi Jacobs, too.  I’m optimistic that he’ll be better for Interfaith issues than Rabbi Yoffie, but at the same time I wonder if he will continue the increasingly productive relationship between the SCRJ and the wider Movement.  That was one area in which Yoffie proved to be more of an ally than one would expect given his overall approach.  Jacobs, being a decade younger than Yoffie, might not care nearly as much about the SCRJ, even assuming that he doesn’t actively dislike it.  Time will tell, I guess.

  3. Dear Ed:

    I was also concerned about Rabbi Jacobs’ outlook on interfaith families. If you visit this website:

    http://www.naorrr.org/mission.html

    and scroll down, you’ll see the text of the Rabbinic Vision Iniative’s position statement, a group of Reform rabbis who are critical of certain trends in Reform Judaism. Here are their comments on interarriage:

    “4. Intermarriage has dramatically impacted Jewish life. Though membership units in Reform congregations have remained constant, there are fewer adult Jews in our synagogues than there were 20 years ago. The decline of adult Jews in Reform synagogues has been made up on our membership rolls by an increasing number of non-Jewish spouses who are not converting. On a movement-wide basis almost half of the children being educated in Reform synagogues are growing up in a family in which one parent was not born Jewish.”

    Their phrasing that ‘”there are fewer adult Jews in our synagogues” and their concern that it “has been made up … by an increasing number of non-Jewish spouses who are not converting” and “half of the children … one parent was not born Jewish”  is disturbing to me.

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