US/World News

For Reform movement, there’s change at the top

Rabbi Richard Jacobs

By Jacob Kamaras / JointMedia News Service in News, U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — They sat side by side within an intimate circle, one about to end a 16-year-run as head of the Reform movement’s umbrella, the other on the verge of assuming that role. Change at the top should be—and will be—dramatic, said the former.
“The advice from my predecessor (Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler) to me was, change everything,” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, outgoing president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), told reporters. “Organizations need renewal, organizations need revival. I don’t think I have anything to worry about in that regard [with my successor].”
Rabbi Richard Jacobs officially started his term as URJ president on Sunday, Dec. 16. Jacobs and Yoffie spoke on a broad range of issues at a Dec. 14 press session, with the Reform movement’s attitudes toward Israel at the fore of the discussion.
When asked if the traditionally left-leaning movement should be comfortable “calling out” Israel on measures such as a bill requiring non-Jewish immigrants to swear loyalty to a “Jewish, democratic state” and a bill proposing a ban on mosques using loudspeakers to announce the call to prayer, Jacobs responded that the “basis of our relationship with Israel is about love and responsibility” and that “from that foundation, all things are possible.”
Jacobs, who sits on both the J Street and New Israel Fund boards, was asked about how certain Jewish communities and organizations refuse to embrace those two left-leaning Israel groups. He avoided the question, answering: “The key role for URJ and for the president of the URJ is to strengthen our relationship with the state of the people, to the people of Israel.”
“We are going to work every day to build two-way bridges,” he added.
Expanding on how the Reform movement can relate to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and government policies that are sometimes at odds with the movement’s professed values, Jacobs recalled that when the Likud Party’s Menachem Begin became prime minister, Rabbi Schindler — then URJ’s president — said “We relate to the Prime Minister of Israel because we relate to Israel.”
The URJ’s newly minted leader also stressed the need to take responsibility for Jewish life “outside the walls of our synagogues,” and to articulate what Reform Judaism is to “uninspired” members of the movement.
“We’re part of something larger than just our Reform movement,” he said.

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