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September 2, 2015 | 18th Elul 5775

Rabbi Richard Hirsch to be Honored for Lifetime of Social Justice Work

Contact: Annette Powers

Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, founding director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and honorary life president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism will receive one of Reform Judaism’s highest honors at the 2011 Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial convention on Thursday morning, December 15.

Rabbi Hirsch, who has been called the architect of Reform Zionism and the world-wide movement for Progressive Judaism, will receive the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award for Service to Reform Jewry. Every two years at the URJ Biennial, the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award is conferred in two categories: Service to Reform Jewry and Service to the World Community. Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, will receive award for Service to the World Community.

Rabbi Hirsch, a native of Cleveland, has been a tireless advocate for the global Reform Jewish community.  He was founding director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC from 1962 to 1973 and helped pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1973 Rabbi Hirsch moved to Israel to become Executive Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.  Hirsch insisted on moving Progressive Judaism’s international headquarters to Jerusalem, which many consider Reform Judaism’s most significant decision of the 20th century. He was also the prime mover in affiliating Reform Judaism to the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel – a milestone for both the WZO and the Reform Movement.

His recent memoir For the Sake of Zion, co-published by URJ Press and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, traces Rabbi Hirsch's efforts to build and support Progressive Judaism in Israel and to integrate Reform Judaism into the institutions of the Zionist Movement.

“At a time when there are voices calling for the disengagement of the Jewish people from Israel, here is a leader who understood very early on that there is no future for the Reform Movement and for the Jewish people without a strong Israel,” said Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky. “At a time when so many think that human rights and Zionism pull in the opposite direction, here is a leader who proves by his own life that the struggle for Zionism and the struggle for human rights are one and the same.”

"Dick Hirsch is an activist and institution builder, as well as a man of great passion and soaring ideals,"  said URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie. “He is committed to the idea of one Jewish people and to the upbuilding of the Jewish State, and he believes with all his heart that Reform Judaism needs Israel just as Israel needs Reform Judaism.  He is deserving in every way of the Reform movement's highest accolade."

Past recipients of the Eisendrath Award include Shimon Peres; Amos Oz; Michael J. Fox and the New York City rescue personnel who worked tirelessly to save lives in the aftermath of 9/11.

About the URJ Biennial

The URJ Biennial is the largest Jewish denominational gathering in North America and brings together nearly 5,000 people from hundreds of congregations. Reform Jews from URJ affiliated congregations including lay leaders and professionals, youth, congregants, and clergy, are invited to learn, pray, share ideas, and make decisions about the policies of the Reform Movement.

The Biennial will take place Dec. 14-18, 2011 at the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center in the greater Washington, DC area, and is expected to draw thousands of Reform Jews from across North America and the world. 

Highlights for the 2011 Biennial will include the votes on resolutions that will shape and inform the direction of the Reform Movement for the next two years, the largest Shabbat dinner in the world, an education summit on youth engagement, inspirational live music concerts, inspiring Torah study, learning lounges, tours of the local area and more.

Participants will also hear from top-notch speakers including Natan Sharansky; Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation; and education expert Dr. Wendy Mogel. 

This Biennial will be the last for outgoing URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie, after serving the Union for the past 16 years. The gathering will also be the first opportunity for President-elect Rabbi Rick Jacobs to address the larger Movement. In addition, there will be celebrations marking the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s 50th anniversary and a tribute to one of the Reform Movement’s greatest teachers, Debbie Friedman (z"l). The Biennial is also when the General Assembly—the delegate body of congregational representatives— will determine the direction and actions that the URJ will take in the coming two years.  

Visit the URJ Biennial website for more information.

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