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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.