In a recent profile in The Algemeiner, Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), discusses new developments in Jewish education and institutional life, the future of the Reform Movement, and the status of progressive Judaism in Israel.
Regarding the future of his movement, Ellenson called the appointment of Rabbi Rick Jacobs as president of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) an “exceptionally exciting choice that will propel the American Reform movement along a new trajectory well beyond synagogue walls.”
According to Ellenson, the vast majority of today’s Reform Jews are neither immigrants nor the children of immigrants, but predominantly third and fourth generation Americans, and many are inter-married. The challenge then arises of how to make Judaism meaningful to such people who rarely, if ever, attend services, and eschew temple membership. Their connections to Judaism, if they have any, are likely to be in the increasingly popular online Jewish communities rather than in established institutions.
With a nod to “the Rebbe’s army” of emissaries who have set up Chabad houses wherever Jews live throughout the world, URJ is planning to establish a so-called “Reform Jewish Service Corps.” It will be composed of volunteers whose goal is to reach out to Jews and engage them in programs and activities without membership dues or other formal requirements.
In the realm of education, HUC-JIR is also expanding its horizons. “We can no longer count on traditional models,” Ellenson said.