March 2018 -- Adar-Nisan 5778,  Volume 24, Issue 3

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Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.

Reconstructing Judaism. Deeply rooted. Boldly relevant.

Reconstructing Judaism. This phrase embodies the decades-long, evolving mission of all who have been a part of Reconstructionist Judaism.

 

Now, Reconstructing Judaism is the new name of the central organization of the Reconstructionist movement, replacing the former: Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and  Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.

 

Reconstructing Judaism runs a rabbinical seminary, serves and supports roughly 100 congregations across North America and abroad, cultivates Jewish living that is relevant to today’s Jews, provides resources that foster Jewish living and learning, brings Jewish values to the public sphere and elevates youth at two Reconstructionist Jewish camps.

 

“As much as it represents change, the name Reconstructing Judaism signals continuity with the organization’s history of training rabbis, supporting congregations and havurot, and spurring innovation in creative Jewish expression,” said Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., president of Reconstructing Judaism. “Our new name is so expressive of what we do and what we always aspire to do. More than ever, Judaism must be about doing, and our name is about doing.”

 

The organization’s rabbinical seminary will remain the “Reconstructionist Rabbinical College” until the end of the academic year, when its name will change to the “College for Reconstructing Judaism.”

 

The adoption of a new name and visual identity follows a yearlong, quintessentially Reconstructionist process that placed a high value on discussion, participation and the sharing of ideas. Members of North American Reconstructionist communities were invited to share insights in a series of town halls and surveys that took place in-person and online. All told, more than 1,000 Reconstructionist rabbis, congregants, educators, staff members and students, from Los Angeles to New York, from Portland to Montreal, shared their insights.

 

The discussions focused on big picture ideas about how the organization serves the communities and ways the Reconstructionist story can be told to inspire more people to engage in Jewish communities and experiences.

 

A communications consulting firm with a long track-record working with nonprofits helped guide the process. The firm’s primary contact with the organization noted that this “was the most participatory process I’ve ever seen.”

Among the tangible results of the deliberative process was the decision to keep a form of the word Reconstructionist as part of the organization’s name. The idea was considered to drop the word Reconstructionist, but Reconstructionists across the continent made clear they were strongly attached to the word and considered it part of their identity.

 

“We are not taking on a new identity. It is more accurate to say that we are adopting a new expression of our identity,” explained Seth Rosen, who chairs Reconstructing Judaism’s board of governors. “This was a deeply Reconstructionist process that drew on the thinking and ideas of so many. We gained a great deal of insight into what matters most to the people who are part of our movement.” It is worth noting that Reconstructing Judaism was the memoir title of the late Rabbi Eisenstein: the first president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who built upon the ideas of his father-in-law, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, and launched Reconstructionist Judaism as a movement.

 

“Many of us grew up in a time when Judaism was simply a matter of being; we were Jewish because of the neighborhood we grew up in, the food we ate, the culture we absorbed. Not anymore,” said Waxman. “Our new name represents an active commitment to doing. ‘Reconstructing’ is the best expression of our approach to Judaism.”

 

The phrase — “Deeply rooted. Boldly relevant.” — expresses a reverence for Jewish tradition and its constant quest to cultivate Jewish experiences that are meaningful.

The graphic symbol — leaves sprouting from the ground and growing into the world,” they note, is meant to reflect a vision of Judaism that is at once grounded and flourishing, as embodied by the Reconstructionist communities, teachers, learners and rabbis the organization serves. It suggests a connection to tradition in its groundedness, and continuous growth and reinvention. It exemplifies the spreading of joy, innovation and resilience. The hand-drawn style of the symbol and its accompanying typography speak to the heimish and unique personality of each of our communities, our rabbinical students and our rabbis.”

 

This is going to be a busy year for Reconstructing Judaism as it introduces this new expression of its identity, marks the 50th anniversary of the seminary’s founding, and gathers with its affiliated communities for the first Reconstructionist Convention in eight years from Nov. 15-18 in Philadelphia. All the while, the 100 affiliated Reconstructionist communities — and more than 400 rabbis — will continue building a meaningful Jewish future and more perfect world.