Union for Reform Judaism’s Highest Award Winners Include Interfaith Trailblazers, Diplomatic and Advocacy Leaders for Israel, and the First Woman Ordained as a Cantor

Inside Leadership

Union for Reform Judaism’s Highest Award Winners Include Interfaith Trailblazers, Diplomatic and Advocacy Leaders for Israel, and the First Woman Ordained as a Cantor

Tri-Faith Initiative, Julie Fisher and Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, and Cantor Barbara Ostfeld to Be Honored at URJ Biennial

Contact: Lauren Theodore at 212-650-4154

Media coverage of URJ Biennial is invited: Press credentials must be requested in advance.

November 6, 2019, New York, NY – Preeminent Jewish and interfaith global leaders will receive Reform Judaism’s highest honors at the 75th URJ Biennial in Chicago, Illinois, in December 2019.

The Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha, Nebraska, Julie Fisher and Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, and Cantor Barbara Ostfeld will receive special recognition and will be among the featured speakers at the URJ’s Biennial General Assembly, which is North America’s largest Jewish gathering, attracting some 5,000 Reform Jewish leaders over five days. The URJ is the most powerful force in North American Jewish life, representing the largest segment of the Jewish community and inspiring 1.5 million people.

“Not only do these renowned leaders personify Reform Judaism’s core values, they all identify the Reform Movement as a pivotal influence toward accomplishing their change-making work,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. “We could not be more proud or more inspired by the powerful activism and advocacy of these pioneering award-winners.”   

To recognize the impact of these individuals and initiatives for their groundbreaking work in the world, the Union for Reform Judaism will confer these special honors at URJ Biennial 2019:

Interfaith Trailblazers: The Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha, Nebraska

The Tri-Faith Initiative will receive the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Reform Movement.

Tri Faith Iniative Memebers Bringing together into permanent residency a Reform synagogue, a church, and a mosque, the Tri-Faith Initiative is a unique and ambitious project in the field of interfaith relations. By its very model, the interfaith center, located on a 38-acre campus in the middle of America’s heartland, challenges people of faith and goodwill to be conscious and proactive about the assets of faith in civil life in a religiously pluralistic society.

Addressing the URJ Biennial audience, the Tri-Faith Initiative’s rabbis and spiritual leaders will share how they are creating a more inclusive culture that celebrates religious pluralism.

The Eisendrath award’s namesake, the dynamic Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, served as president of the URJ (then called the UAHC) from 1943 to 1973. During Rabbi Eisendrath’s tenure, Reform congregations more than doubled in number and the Reform Movement’s emphasis on social action began in earnest, culminating with the founding of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Previous recipients of the Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award include Israeli author and activist David Grossman; Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose work exposed elevated lead blood levels in children in Flint, Michigan; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg; gun control advocates James and Sarah Brady; former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres; and same-sex marriage advocates Theodore Olson and David Boies. See the complete list of recipients.

Service and Advocacy for Israel: Julie Fisher and Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro

Julie Fisher and Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro will receive the Alexander M. Schindler Award for Service to World Jewry.

URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) camp alumni Julie Fisher and Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro are prominent forces in diplomacy and philanthropy in Israel and North America. Both as individuals and a married couple, their courageous work personifies Reform Judaism’s core values and impacts countless lives. julie fisher and daniel shapiro.png

Over the past eight years, Julie Fisher has taken a personal interest in the humanitarian crisis endangering the safety, care, and education of the children of African asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv. She has worked with NGOs and other partners to improve conditions in schools and childcare facilities through fundraisers and hands-on repair projects. In 2018, she created the Consortium for Israel and the Asylum Seekers to bring attention to the issue of supporting the African asylum-seeking community in Israel. 

Daniel B. Shapiro’s diverse career includes over 20 years in senior foreign policy and national security positions in the United States government, including United States Ambassador to Israel, a position he held from July 2011 until the end of the Obama Administration. He is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute of National Security Studies (INSS).

The First Woman Ordained as a Cantor: Cantor Barbara Ostfeld


Cantor Barbara Ostfeld will receive the Debbie Friedman Award for Contributions to Jewish Music.

What was it like for Barbara Ostfeld to become, at age 22, the first woman ordained as a cantor? Now that Cantor Ostfeld is 66, the Reform cantorate is 336 women strong! Cantor Ostfeld served for 27 years as a cantor in congregations in Clifton, New Jersey, Great Neck, Rochester, and Buffalo, New York, and then for 10 years as the placement director of the American Conference of Cantors. She is the author of Catbird: The Ballad of Barbi Prim.

Biennial attendees will also hear from world-renowned speakers and expert practitioners, including:

  • Jodi Kantor, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement”
  • A.J. Jacobs, author, journalist, and speaker
  • Sarah Hurwitz, former Michelle Obama speechwriter and author of “Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There)”
  • Idit Klein, president and CEO, Keshet
  • Michael Masters, national director and CEO, Secure Community Network
  • Deborah Lipstadt, historian and author of “Anti-Semitism: Here and Now”
  • Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president, Union for Reform Judaism
  • Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, president, World Union for Progressive Judaism
  • Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., president, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
  • Daryl Messinger, chair, URJ North American Board
  • Jennifer Kaufman, chair nominee, URJ North American Board
  • The Second City, Chicago’s famous comedy superstars, customizes an improv-sketch performance for the UJR Biennial live audience
  • Biennial boasts the best Jewish music line-up anywhere including 3 dozen leading musicians and groups, and the Biennial choir featuring conference participants

Visit www.URJ.org/Biennial for event information. Use hashtag #URJBiennial. Follow the URJ on Facebook and Twitter.


About the Union for Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay relevant and innovative, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.

Founded in 1873, URJ has grown into the largest and most powerful force in North American Jewish life, with nearly 850 member congregations and work that inspires, connects, and educates millions of people. Our legacy, reach, leadership, and vision mean that we can unite thousands of years of tradition with a modern, evolving Judaism to strengthen Jewish communities today and for future generations.

Visit us at www.URJ.org to learn about our social justice initiatives, camps and programs for young Jews, services for congregations and communities, and how you can work with us to create a more just, whole, and compassionate world. Enjoy related content at ReformJudaism.org and connect with URJ on Twitter and Facebook.


Published: 11/06/2019

Categories: Press Releases, Conferences & Events

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