Adopted by the 71st URJ Biennial
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) relates the ethical and spiritual teachings of our faith to the concrete problems of our congregations, our communities, our country and the world. Throughout its five decades, the RAC has led the Reform Movement in its pursuit of tikkun olam. Established at the 1961 Biennial of the then-Union of American Hebrew Congregations, with the equally staunch support of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the RAC has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C. Drawing on Jewish values, and acting with the guidance of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism (CSA), the RAC educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on more than 70 different issues addressed in Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis resolutions, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel, health care, women’s rights, education, international human rights, the environment and more.
Present at the RAC’s dedication were Union of American Hebrew Congregations President Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, U.S. Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg, CSA Chair and future Senator Howard Metzenbaum, future NAACP President Kivie and Mrs. Emily Kaplan, CSA directors Rabbi Eugene Lipman and Al Vorspan and the Center’s first director, Rabbi Richard Hirsch. President Kennedy also participated in activities connected with the RAC’s launch.
Since its founding, the RAC has been guided by the wisdom of the CSA and the vision of its Chairs, including Dr. Cheryl Gutmann, Jane Wishner, Bob Heller, David Davidson, Evely Laser Shlensky, Harris Gilbert, Alex Ross, Al Arent, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, Irving Fain, and I. Cyrus Gordon.
The RAC continues to fulfill the vision of its founders. The RAC has been home to multiple civil rights and public interest organizations, including the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Citizens Crusade against Poverty. The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were drafted in the RAC’s conference room by African American, Jewish and other civil rights leaders. The RAC’s leaders participated in the planning of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Civil Rights. The RAC building was the operational headquarters for one of the largest demonstrations in American history, the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, which contributed to the release of the Soviet Union’s Prisoners of Zion. In 1995, Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu addressed the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience and thanked the Reform Jewish Movement for its role in the battle to end apartheid. In 1997 the RAC hosted a Passover seder in honor of the Dalai Lama and the struggle for religious freedom and human rights in Tibet. In more recent years, the RAC has hosted broad-based coalition meetings that drafted the International Religious Freedom Act, the Human Trafficking Act, and the Sudan Peace Act.
The RAC has perpetuated the Reform Jewish commitment to social justice through its programs training new generations of leaders, including the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Program, the Machon Kaplan work/study internship program in Judaism and social justice, the L’Taken Teen Social Justice Seminars, the England Rabbinic Student Seminars and the Rabbi Balfour Brickner Rabbinic Seminars. Working in partnership with the CSA, the RAC has promoted and nurtured synagogue participation in issues of social justice. The RAC’s “Consultation on Conscience” conference has, for more than thirty years, been the flagship public policy conference for the Reform Jewish Movement, featuring a bipartisan array of presidents, cabinet members, members of Congress, Parliament and Knesset, public policy experts, and human and civil rights leaders. More than 60,000 rabbis, cantors, lay leaders, educators, teens, adults, and others have passed through the RAC’s Consultation and training seminars.
Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
- Honor the Religious Action Center on the occasion of its 50th anniversary and its five decades of work on behalf of our Movement and the broader Jewish community in the areas of social action and advocacy, social justice programming, and leadership development.
- Gratefully acknowledge the efforts of the RAC’s lay and professional leaders throughout its history, in particular founding director Rabbi Richard Hirsch; Rabbi David Saperstein, who has led the RAC for more than 35 years; Al Vorspan, a vital force in the founding and growth of the RAC, longtime senior vice-president of the URJ, and recipient of the Eisendrath Bearer of Light award; and the chairs and members of the CSA;
- Celebrate the RAC’s many programs, including the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Program, the Machon Kaplan program, the L’Taken Teen Social Justice Seminars, the England Rabbinic Student Seminars and the Rabbi Balfour Brickner Rabbinic Seminars, which continue to train new generations of social justice leaders;
- Encourage congregations to partner with the RAC by strengthening their social justice education, social service, tzedakah, and advocacy programming; and
- Look forward with excitement, anticipation, and enthusiasm to the next half century 73 and beyond of the RAC’s leadership and activism on behalf of tikkun olam.