Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Reform Leader Seeks to ‘Go Beyond Denominations’

August 12, 2012 1:30 am 1 comment

David Ellenson. Photo: Jewish Center of the Hamptons.

During a recent visit to three synagogues (two Reform, one Orthodox) on eastern Long Island, Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD—president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Reform movement’s seminary—sat down with JNS.org to discuss new developments in Jewish education and institutional life.

Regarding the future of his movement, Ellenson called the appointment of Rabbi Rick Jacobs as president of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) an “exceptionally exciting choice that will propel the American Reform movement along a new trajectory well beyond synagogue walls.”

According to Ellenson, the vast majority of today’s Reform Jews are neither immigrants nor the children of immigrants, but predominantly third and fourth generation Americans, and many are inter-married. The challenge then arises of how to make Judaism meaningful to such people who rarely, if ever, attend services, and eschew temple membership. Their connections to Judaism, if they have any, are likely to be in the increasingly popular online Jewish communities rather than in established institutions.

With a nod to “the Rebbe’s army” of emissaries who have set up Chabad houses wherever Jews live throughout the world, URJ is planning to establish a so-called “Reform Jewish Service Corps.” It will be composed of volunteers whose goal is to reach out to Jews and engage them in programs and activities without membership dues or other formal requirements.

In the realm of education, HUC-JIR is also expanding its horizons. “We can no longer count on traditional models,” Ellenson said.

While training of rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators is still the primary mission of the HUC-JIR, a number of new initiatives are well beyond the planning stage. A recently introduced youth initiative for post bar and bat mitzvah youngsters is designed to further the education of these boys and girlsand keep them involved in Jewish living.

Ellenson explained that HUC-JIR, in cooperation with The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the Bank Street College of Education, plans to offer a curriculum leading to a Certificate in Early Childhood Education. This program is scheduled to be launched in June 2013 and was created to expose even the youngest children to their Jewish heritage. It is but the latest example of ever-closer cooperation between the Reform and Conservative movements.

Even though non-Orthodox rabbis are not generally recognized in Israel, Ellenson said, since 2001 more than 60 Reform rabbis ordained by HUC-JIR are currently working in Israel and he expects this number to increase to 100 in the next few years. In spite of the fact that the Israeli government does not officially sanction them, Ellenson noted that Reform and Masorti (Conservative) rabbis currently conduct about 600 weddings in Israel a year.

While Ellenson was not optimistic that the Haredi community will change its opposition to recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis anytime soon, he was pleased that the Israeli government recently recognized and will pay the salaries of some 15 Reform and Masorti rabbis who are the sole clergy in their kibbutzim or other communities.

“I don’t want to be overly pollyana-ish,” Ellenson said, “because we’re still not at the point where Reform and Masorti are recognized.” Nonetheless, HUC-JIR is currently training more than 30 Israeli rabbinical students at its Jerusalem campus, and Ellenson expects that all of them will be placed in Israel upon their ordination.

“We live in one world, and in order to create a community of joy and meaning we must go beyond denominations,” he said.

1 Comment

  • Jo Carroll Lewald

    .I have not had a chance to speak to Rabbi Ellenson since he officiated at my daughter’s wedding in California over 10 years ago, but our minds are clearly on the same path. Jews are Jews are Jews. Whether we pay dues to a synagogue, learn the ways of rightousness on the computer, daven or stand straight, we need to recognize and pray for peace together

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →