A great leader dies — and with him, a whole generation – Religion News Service

Posted By on August 18, 2021

Rabbi Richard Hirsch, long time leader of Reform Judaism in the United States, Israel, and worldwide has died at the age of 95.

But, this death was not his alone. Rather, it marks the end of an era in Reform Judaism an era in which great leaders shaped the intellectual, moral, and political fabric of our movement.

Those leaders were all born within a few years of each other from approximately 1919 to 1926:

As you can see, that Greatest Generation of Reform leaders were a mixture of pulpit rabbis, movement professionals, and intellectuals sometimes within the same person.

These men and women provided a presence that filled my youth, my young adulthood, and decades of my career. To sit at their feet was a gift and a blessing. It helped define who I was as a Jew, as a rabbi, and as a human being.

They were all classic liberals, in the 1960s/1970s sense of the term. Anti-war, pro-choice, pro-civil rights, anti-nuke you knew where they stood, and you were challenged by what they taught.

But to Richard Hirsch, born in Cleveland in 1926. He was the founding director of the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC. He helped pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He organized Jewish participation in the March on Washington (August 28, 1963) and the Jewish response to Kings call to Selma, Alabama. The Religious Action Center in Washington essentially became Dr. Kings Washington office.

That was Act One.

But, Act Two happened in Israel. Rabbi Hirsch and his family made aliyah in 1973. He successfully exported his passions to Israel, where he became the executive director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and the true architect of Reform Zionism.

But, beyond that: He personally made sure that the international headquarters of the Reform movement would be in Jerusalem. Because he knew, deeply and intuitively, that this was the source of every value that we hold precious.

That was Dick Hirschs full-throated Zionism (A Theology of Reform Zionism in Gil Troys book, The Zionist Ideas):

The State of Israel represents the return to the Land of Israel and the restoration of the Jewish peoples sovereignty.The eternal covenant between God and the people of Israel is inseparable from the Land of Israel.

In the Diaspora, Jewish life is voluntary. A person is free to decide onJewish identity and the extent of participation in, and support of, theJewish community. In Israel, Jewish identity is compulsory. By virtue ofliving in a Jewish state, the individual Jew is obligated to identify as a Jew

In the Diaspora, Jewish activity is confined to what is defined as theprivate sector: the home, the synagogue, the Jewish community. Judaismis a private experience observed in life-cycle events, the Sabbath and holidays. . . . In Israel, everything is Jewish: from economy to culture, politics, the army, and the character of society. In the Diaspora, Jews tend to distinguish between universal and particular concerns. In Israel, every issue is both universal and particular. It is impossible to separate between humanness and Jewishness. . . .

It is impossible to separate between humanness and Jewishness.

Too many would create an artificial and harmful dichotomy between the concern for the universal, and the concern for the particular; between the concern for the world, and the concern for the Jew; between the concern for social justice, and the love of Zion.

For Dick Hirsch, there were no such dichotomies. He lived in the often-bewildering crosswalk of If I am not for myself, who will be for me? and If I am only for myself, what am I? He never dreamed that he would have to choose, one over the other.

Consider how Natan Scharansky described Rabbi Hirsch:

At a time when there are voices calling for the disengagement of the Jewish people from Israel, here is a leader who understood very early on that there is no future for the Reform Movement and for the Jewish people without a strong Israel. At a time when so many think that human rights and Zionism pull in the opposite direction, here is a leader who proves by his own life that the struggle for Zionism and the struggle for human rights are one and the same.

No surprise, then, that the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, eulogized Rabbi Hirsch:

Rabbi Hirsch was a genuine Jewish pioneer. He charted his own remarkable course based not on popularity or prestige, but on his unclouded intuition, his broad understanding of shifting realities and his deep connection to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

On a personal note, I will miss him: our many visits together in Israel, when he insisted on making time in his frenetic schedule to spend time with me, sharing his passions, hearing about my life and dreams; our few visits at his final home in Boca Raton, where he was diminished and yet powerfully whole in spirit; his speeches and writings that always pushed me and challenged me.

I shall miss him. We shall all miss him. How powerful that his son Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch has inherited his voice, and has made it his own.

I am imagining that room in the World to Come: Borowitz, Lipman, Annette Daum, Dick Hirsch, Vorspan all of them.

I hope that God can handle it.

More here:

A great leader dies -- and with him, a whole generation - Religion News Service

Related Posts


Comments are closed.

matomo tracker