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 A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli actress Moran Atias said that playing a Muslim woman in the hit FX series Tyrant has changed her outlook. “Educating myself about a different culture has made me more hopeful and humble, that we’re all the same,” the Jewish actress, 35, said during an interview with AOL Build. Atias plays Leila Al-Fayeed, the strong and politically minded wife of the president of Abbudin, a fictional Middle Eastern country run by a dictatorial family. The Israeli-born former model, who earned the title of Miss Globe International […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    A delegation of 35 Jewish fashion industry mavens from around the world will travel to Israel later this month to “discover the chic side” of the country, 5 Town Jewish Times reported. The eight-day tour, organized by the Maryland-based Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, will include visits to key fashion sites and meetings with some of the country’s top fashion designers, merchandisers and marketers. Participants will also attend a JWRP Fashion Week event in Tel Aviv. JWRP said the trip is […]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Pro golfer Laetitia Beck said she is honored to have been selected to represent Israel at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil largely because of her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. “Everywhere I go, I want people to know where I’m from, my background and where my family came from because of the struggle they had to go through,” she told the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). “Every week when I play and I see the Israeli flag, it brings me a lot […]

    Read more →