Dynamic, Innovative Congregational
Rabbi Tapped to Lead the Union for Reform Judaism
Rick Jacobs, of Westchester Reform Temple, welcomed as “once-in-a-generation leader,” “powerhouse,” and “visionary”.
Contact: Annette Powers
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March 22, 2011, New York — The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) announced today the recommendation of Rabbi Richard Jacobs for President of the organization, to succeed Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, who will retire in 2012 after 16 years in the position. If formally selected, Rabbi Jacobs, who has been the senior rabbi at one of the most vibrant congregations in North America for 20 years, will be only the fourth president of the URJ in the last 68 years.
“Rabbi Jacobs is exactly the leader the URJ needs today,” said Peter Weidhorn, Chair of the URJ’s Board of Trustees. “We are an organization of congregations, and understanding what makes a congregation successful is critical to leading the URJ. Rick has not only built a remarkable congregation at Westchester Reform Temple, but he is also widely known for his national leadership in synagogue transformation efforts, social justice work, and commitment to Israel. His selection is a powerful and important step toward a bright future for the URJ, building on a remarkable history.”
The board of trustees will vote on Jacobs’ nomination at its June 2011 meeting. At the completion of the process, Jacobs will begin to consult with Reform congregational and community leaders before he assumes his role as president in 2012.
Former Chair of the URJ Board, Robert M. Heller, who chaired the presidential search committee that chose Rabbi Jacobs, added, “I don’t say this lightly, but I’m confident that Rabbi Jacobs will prove to be a worthy successor to Rabbis Eisendrath, Schindler, and Yoffie, three of the very best leaders our community has seen. I look forward to his leadership in building a vibrant Reform Jewish future.”
Jacobs has been the senior rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple (WRT) in Scarsdale, New York, since 1991. His tenure has been marked by ongoing transformation in worship, education and governance. The congregation’s “Sharing Shabbat” program, for example, which includes time for families together and for parents and children concurrently, has been widely reproduced across North America. Under his leadership, WRT has just completed construction of the largest “green synagogue” in North America. Further, through Rabbi Jacobs’ work on the board of the UJA-NY Federation of New York, he helped facilitate the largest single grant ever made for synagogue transformation.
Jacobs’ work and his impact have stretched far beyond Westchester. He is a nationally recognized leader on social justice issues, and has traveled extensively in his role as a board member of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Most recently, he was a key member of an AJWS delegation to Haiti, assessing the impact of their grants and exploring future opportunities.
Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, where Rabbi Jacobs has been a committed and influential board member for nearly a decade, said that “Rick is a powerhouse — strong, calm, committed and effective. I’ve traveled to some of the darkest corners of the world with him, and never failed to be inspired by his dedication and spirit. Rick has been a powerful voice on international social and economic justice within the Reform Movement and the larger American Jewish community. I look forward to his taking the helm at the URJ.”
Deeply committed to the State of Israel, Rabbi Jacobs has studied for two decades at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and currently is a senior rabbinic fellow at the Institute. Additionally, he has spent nearly 20 years in leadership positions with the New Israel Fund, working to promote a democratic and pluralistic Israeli society. Through this work and during stays in his apartment in Jerusalem, Jacobs has strengthened his personal and emotional ties to Israel.
Westchester Reform Temple President Lisa Messinger [no relation to Ruth] said, “Although we will experience a loss, the URJ could not have made a better choice. Rabbi Jacobs is a visionary leader, someone who can motivate others and bring out the best in them. Rick has touched each family in our congregation in a meaningful and personal way, and has transformed our congregation into a vibrant and prayerful center of Jewish life that is deeply valued by our members.”
“There is no one better prepared to assume the URJ presidency than Rabbi Richard Jacobs,” said current URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie. “He is the spiritual leader of a dynamic, path-setting congregation. He is a teacher of Torah, a student of Torah, and a champion of serious Jewish education. He has a profound commitment to the Jewish people. And he is devoted to building the Reform Movement and expanding its horizons. He is a once-in-a-generation leader, and the entire URJ staff greets his selection with great excitement.”
Jacobs says he is committed to the mission of strengthening congregations and the Reform Movement by creating a URJ that will be an incubator for new ideas and a place for a new generation of leaders who will act as change agents. Building on the URJ’s strengths, and carefully assessing its challenges, Jacobs will work to create “a new, visionary culture of excellence.”
About the Process
The search for a new president began at the June 2010 URJ Board of Trustees meeting, when current President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie announced he would retire in July of 2012. The 30 diverse members of the presidential search committee represented lay leaders, clergy, and various organizational partners of the URJ, including Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the American Conference of Cantors (ACC), Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), and Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ). Committee members reached out to more than 150 religious and lay leaders of the Reform Movement to solicit nominees as well as input on a job description for the new president.
“The committee enthusiastically recommended Jacobs for the position. He was chosen because of his passion to further Reform Judaism, his commitment to answering the needs of URJ member congregations, and his ability to build strong partnerships. These are critical qualities for leading the Reform Movement effectively,” Weidhorn said.
The URJ provides vision, direction, and leadership to Reform Jews and congregations on spiritual, ethical, social justice, and management issues, offering programming support to Reform Jewish congregations and strengthening individual Jewish identity and growth.
About Rabbi Richard Jacobs
Rabbi Richard Jacobs has been the senior rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York, since 1991. Ordained in 1982 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, he served as the rabbi of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue from 1982 until 1991. Committed to revitalizing synagogues in North America, he worked for eight years as a leader of Synagogue 2000 with rabbis across the country interested in synagogue transformation in their community and is continuing this work as a board member of Synagogue 3000.
Believing that change cannot stop at the local or national level, Rabbi Jacobs sits on the board of American Jewish World Service, an international development organization motivated by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice. Since a 2005 trip to Chad, he has worked tirelessly to bring an end to genocide in Darfur. Rabbi Jacobs was a part of the international board of the New Israel Fund from 1992 to 2001, and now serves as the Chair of the pluralism grants committee. He served on the board and executive committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as the boards of the URJ, New York’s UJA Federation, and ARZA/World Union for Progressive Judaism.
Formerly a dancer and choreographer with the Avodah Dance Ensemble, Rabbi Jacobs has led workshops on movement and prayer at HUC-JIR, Union Theological Seminary and in many synagogues and educational settings. He has written for a variety of national publications on subjects such as synagogue transformation, Israel, and social justice.
Jacobs lives in Scarsdale with his wife, Susan K. Freedman, and their three children.
A more detailed biography and list of writings can be found at www.urj.org/rabbijacobs.