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October 13, 2015 | 30th Tishrei 5776

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations

The Synagogue Arm of the Reform Movement

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie to be Inaugurated as UAHC President
at June 8 Ceremony in New York

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, whose goal is to build a movement of Reform Jews with Torah at the center, will be inaugurated as president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations on Saturday, June 8.

Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, who served as president of the Reform Movement's congregational arm for 23 years, will install his successor in the 4:30 p.m. ceremony at Congregation Shaaray Tefila in New York City.

The inaugural ceremony is the highlight of a four-day celebration that includes the semiannual meeting of the UAHC's 225-member board of trustees. The festivities begin with a reception for civic and religious leaders at the UAHC's Fifth Avenue headquarters on Thursday and conclude with a gala dinner for major donors Sunday evening at the Museum of Modern Art .

Yoffie, 48, is the first leader of the Movement raised as a Reform Jew. As a youth in Worcester, MA, he was a regional president and national vice-president of NFTY, the Reform Movement's youth organization. Ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1974, he served congregations in Lynbrook, NY, and Durham, NC, before joining the UAHC as director of the UAHC's Midwest Council in 1980.

As a lifelong Reform Jew, Yoffie is steadfastly dedicated to the principles that distinguish Reform Judaism from other Jewish denominations: a commitment to an evolving and changing Judaism that is rooted in tradition; the absolute equality of men and women in all religious endeavors; an effort to include, not exclude, when drawing boundaries of the community; and an obligation to tikkun olam, repairing the world, by emphasizing the Jewish responsibility for justice and the welfare of the general society.

As Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism for the past four years, Yoffie emphasized building congregational social action programming and strengthening the connection between social justice and religious living.

Yoffie remains a staunch advocate of the Reform Movement's social justice activities the hallmark of Reform Judaism since the 1950's saying that to divorce ethics from Judaism is to desecrate Judaism and empty it of meaning.

Nevertheless, the priorities for his presidency are more sharply focused on the spiritual needs of Reform Jews. As he said at the Movement's Atlanta convention in December, "the task is clear ... to bring us home, to end our estrangement, to restore us to the relationships and the connections that give meaning to our Jewish lives."

To help him achieve this goal and to meet the needs of those whom he believes are looking for anchors in a God-filled world, Yoffie has reorganized the UAHC, creating a new department of Adult Jewish Growth and placing new professionals in close to half the Union's senior staff positions. The new department, the first to be formed at the UAHC in some 20 years, will build upon the UAHC's successful Kallot program to reach far greater numbers of people through a national network of spirituality and adult education retreats. Also in the planning stages is a leadership training program for synagogue leaders which will focus on the religious dimension of congregational leadership.

In addition to the efforts to strengthen the religious commitment of the estimated 1.3 million Reform Jews affiliated with UAHC congregations, Yoffie will be vigorously seeking to bring unaffiliated Jews into the ranks of the Movement. He is doubling the budget for the highly successful program A Taste of Judaism, an initial introduction to Reform Judaism, and is continuing to strengthen the UAHC's initiatives to encourage synagogue involvement of interfaith couples who agree to raise their children as Jews.

Yoffie has also made the fight for religious pluralism in Israel a key issue of his presidency. As Director of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, from 1983 to 1992, he was instrumental in founding the Israel Religious Action Center in Jerusalem , which leads the battle for religious pluralism in Israel.

He is joined in this effort by the leaders of the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. Together they are also forming a new inter-denominational body to replace the synagogue Council of America, which dissolved when some Orthodox leaders refused to participate.

Since its founding in 1873, the UAHC has grown from a small organization of 34 congregations in 28 cities to its current membership of close to 900 congregations across the continent. As Rabbi Yoffie prepares to lead the organization into the next century, he is optimistic about the future of the Movement and confident that Reform's dynamic inventiveness will secure the continuity of the Jewish people.


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