Rabbi Rick Jacobs will serve as the scholar-in-residence at the JFNA 2012 General Assembly. Rabbi Jacobs was recently named the fourth president of the Union for Reform Judaism and previously served as spiritual leader at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y. During his 20-year tenure at WRT, he reshaped communal worship, transformed the congregation into a community of learners and strengthened WRT’s commitment to social justice and inclusion.
“We are thrilled to have Rabbi Rick Jacobs as our scholar-in-residence at the GA,” said GA co-chair Josh Fidler in a statement. “Rabbi Jacobs is known for bold thinking and big ideas as well as concrete action in support of humanitarian values. We look forward to his insight and spiritual leadership throughout the GA.”
The Baltimore Jewish Times caught up with Rabbi Jacobs:
JT: Talk about an issue or issues that ail the modern Jewish world.
Rabbi Jacobs: There are many authentic ways to practice Judaism, and ritual and learning are part of it. But so is social justice, chesed work and tikkun olam. … There are some people who get too busy with ritual and forget to do that [other] work. And there are people who are so busy with tikkun olam that they don’t do any ritual. They must interconnect in productive ways. When they don’t, there is a big disconnect.
Historically, Jews were brought together by their ‘victimhood.’ Is that not the case anymore?
Unfortunately, there are large blocks in history when we have been powerless and lived at the whim of the societies where we were presiding. In the modern period and with State of Israel, we do not need to … see ourselves as victims. … There still are places where we are challenged and oppressed, but we are living in a moment of Jewish history where we are shapers of our destiny. In North America, for example, there is still some anti-Semitism, but the dominant reality is that we are in a position of freedom, and we live in a multicultural, pluralistic environmental, and we can be assertive of our Jewish commitments. That is a new phenomenon and remarkable opportunity.
What topics will you address at the GA?
I will talk to the proliferation of tikkun olam projects throughout the world, particularly among young people, … and the need to balance tikkun olam with a sense of responsibility for Jewish peoplehood. I will ask the question, “Is tikkun olam a universal concept or also a way to heal and repair our own community?” Tikkun olam is a primary and powerful tool for Jewish engagement.
I will also address the theme of b’yachad and the idea that we are part of b’yachad and the idea that we are part of something larger that our movements, preferences and practices. … The fact that we don’t all think, pray and practice in the same way does not have to be a liability but a strength.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs will address the convention multiple times as the JFNA GA scholar-in-residence.