URJ Mourns Al Vorspan, Social Justice Leader of Reform Jewish Movement

Vorspan was one of the “great ones” of Jewish social justice work

February 17, 2019 - Rabbi David Saperstein, senior advisor, Union for Reform Judaism and director emeritus, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement: 

“Today, we mourn the passing of Al Vorspan, former senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and director emeritus of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, who died on Sunday, February 17, at age 95. Vorspan, who worked tirelessly to found and strengthen the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C., was one of the g’dolei hador, “great ones” of Jewish social justice work.

A true icon, Vorspan shaped much of the social justice work of the Reform Jewish Movement, ensuring it lives at the very heart of Reform Judaism. Beginning in 1953, he helped inspire the creation of congregational social action committees across North America, encouraging Reform Jewish synagogues to partner with their local communities in pursuit of tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” He played a pivotal role in founding the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which remains the hub of the Reform Movement’s social justice work in North America.

Known for his “ever-nudging-to boldness,” Vorspan was a leading Jewish voice during the civil rights movement, in opposition to the Vietnam War, and for Soviet Jewry relocation efforts. A mentor, friend, and inspiration to all who knew him, Al Vorspan was, to many, the personification of Reform Judaism’s social justice efforts.

Vorspan authored several books, including Justice and Judaism, Searching the Prophets for Values; Tough Choices: Jewish Perspectives on Social Justice; and Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices for our Times, which today are standards in Jewish religious education.

Al Vorspan’s voice will be missed at a time when it is so desperately needed, but his enduring memory will continue to inspire in all the work before us.” 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president, Union for Reform Judaism, said

“Al Vorspan blazed a trail of courage and conscience that so many of us have aspired to follow. Not since the biblical prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah walked the earth have we been led by such an inspiring justice leader. Personally, Al was a mentor to me in every way. I can not think of anyone I more admired, learned more from, and enjoyed being with more. Our Reform Movement and our world are bereft, for he cannot be replaced. May all of us who deeply mourn for Al carry his teachings and inspiration in all that we do to shape a world of wholeness, justice, and compassion.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and senior vice president, Union for Reform Judaism, said:

“I am one of generations of Jewish leaders whose commitment and understanding of social justice was inspired by Al Vorspan. His voice was truly prophetic. As the original driving force behind the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, we know Al’s enduring legacy is and will continue to be a blessing.” 

For more about Al Vorspan’s life and legacy, visit RAC.org.


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 900 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.