New York, June 12, 2011- The Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism today unanimously and enthusiastically elected Rabbi Richard Jacobs to serve as its next President. Only the fourth person to hold the office since its creation in 1943, Jacobs follows Rabbis Maurice Eisendrath, Alexander Schindler and Eric Yoffie. Rabbi Jacobs currently serves as Senior Rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY, and will assume the URJ Presidency in 2012.
Rabbi Jacobs told the board, "I became a rabbi almost 30 years ago to serve God and the Jewish people wherever I could do the most good. I've loved my years serving two amazing congregations first in Brooklyn Heights and for the past nineteen years at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York." He continued, "As I prepare to leave the congregational rabbinate, I believe more than ever that vibrant synagogues are the key to the Jewish future. I will be the first URJ President who has spent decades as a congregational rabbi; synagogues are what I know and love."
"Today marks a new beginning for the URJ," said Chairman Peter Weidhorn. "With Rick's extensive work on synagogue transformation and his remarkable success as a congregational rabbi, I am excited by the promise that Rabbi Jacobs represents to support congregations in their sacred work."
Current URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie remarked, "There were, to be sure, many fine candidates, but the selection of Rabbi Jacobs as the next President of the Union was an extraordinary and an inspired choice, and one that has been greeted with acclaim throughout our Movement...Rabbi Jacobs is dynamic and articulate -- a great leader who takes Torah seriously, speaks from our tradition with authority, and has been endlessly creative in applying it to the circumstances of our time."
"Rick transformed what was already a leading congregation into a community of lifelong learners," said Presidential Nomination Committee Chair Robert Heller. "In Rick Jacobs we have a leader who will work with us to envision things that never were and help us build the collaborative teams we need to make them real."
In his acceptance remarks, Rabbi Jacobs said about moving into the position at this time, "Everywhere we look, there are dramatic challenges facing our people; yet each is a phenomenal opportunity to revitalize Jewish life. Only very rarely has Jewish history known an era of so much creativity or innovation; no previous generation has possessed our resources and potential...This moment in Jewish history demands bold thinking with big ideas; this is not a time for staying the course. It's time to reinvent the architecture of Jewish life."
During the coming year, Rabbi Jacobs will spend time transitioning from his pulpit position to the presidency of the URJ. He has asked Rabbi Jonah Pesner to serve as Transition Director. Pesner, who founded and directs the URJ's groundbreaking Just Congregations initiative, will join Rabbi Jacobs as well as Rabbi Dan Freelander in the senior leadership of the Union.
"The transition will allow Rabbi Jacobs to continue the process of re-examining the organization, which has been underway with URJ stakeholders including congregational leadership, URJ lay leaders, URJ staff and Reform movement organizational partners," Rabbi Pesner said. He also noted that "Rabbi Jacobs will engage experts in organizational and congregational life from the larger Jewish and non-Jewish communities as well as Jewish thinkers and philanthropic leaders to work with him in his efforts to strengthen and grow the Reform Jewish Movement."
As Rabbi Jacobs winds down his responsibilities with Westchester Reform Temple, he also will step down from his involvement in other organizations, boards and advisory committees during the first years of his Presidency in order to focus his energies on the task ahead of him. Additionally, as President of the URJ, he will assume many new official posts on Jewish communal organizations including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, among others.
Rabbi Jacobs will join Rabbi Yoffie in the campaign to make youth engagement a key priority for the Reform Movement and its 900 congregations. Their efforts aim to engage a large majority of post bar/bat mitzvah teens and their families in Jewish living and learning.
Rabbi Jacobs closed his remarks to the URJ Board this morning with his vision for the Reform Movement in the 21st century: "In twenty-five years, I see our Movement flourishing with a wide network of energetic religious communities of depth and passion stretching throughout the Jewish world. From the ranks of the unaffiliated and the uninspired, they will flock to our inclusive religious communities that are serious about learning, spirituality, tikkun olam, ahavut yisrael, and community. Together we will catalyze innovation and excellence so that our expression of Judaism will attract the widest cross section of 21st century Jews and seekers who have yet to find their faith. Congregations with purpose and imagination can do great things!"
Rabbi Jacobs' acceptance speech can be found online. His biography, writings and other articles can be found at urj.org/rabbijacobs.