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  • Faith: Judaism
  • Profession: Rabbi
  • Lived: 1956 -
  • Nationality: American
  • Known for: President of the U.S. based Union for Reform Judaism
  • Fun Fact: Jacobs joined Avodah Dance Ensemble, a modern dance company that performs services in dance and concerts throughout the United States in 1980.
  • Fun Fact: He studied at the Shalom Hartman Institute and at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem.
  • Fun Fact: 

Richard “Rick” Jacobs is a Reform rabbi and the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the congregational arm of the Reform movement in North America, representing an estimated 1.5 million Reform Jews in nearly 900 synagogues across the United States and Canada. He is the first Union president to have served most of his career as a congregational rabbi. Before being installed as URJ president in June 2012, he served for nine years at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and then for twenty years at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York.

Jacobs was among a group of American Reform rabbis that called for “urgent change” in the Reform movement. He focuses on environmentalism, social justice, and liberal Zionism alongside traditional worship. He has served on the boards of several Jewish organizations, including the World Union for Progressive Judaism, American Jewish World Service, and the New Israel Fund.

Rabbi Jacobs was listed as number six in The Daily Beast and Newsweek’s list of “America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2013” and was 26th on the Jerusalem Post’s 2012 list of “50 most influential Jews in the world.”

Early Life and Education

A native of New Rochelle, New York, Jacobs grew up in Tustin, California, where his parents had a retail furniture business. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1982 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, where he had also earned his M.A. in Hebrew Literature in 1980. In the same year, Jacobs joined Avodah Dance Ensemble, a modern dance company that performs services in dance and concerts throughout the United States. He remained with the company until 1986 as a dancer and choreographer, working as a part-time rabbi to continue performing after being ordained.

He studied at the Shalom Hartman Institute and at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem. He considered a career as a dancer but decided to “dedicate his life to a religious and spiritual mission, and chose the rabbinate."

Career

Before becoming Rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple in 1991, Jacobs served as rabbi at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue from 1982 until 1991. He founded and co-directed the first homeless shelter at a synagogue in New York City. He also led the congregation’s work with Brooklyn Ecumenical Cooperatives, an interracial coalition of faith communities that built 1,200 housing units in Brooklyn. Under Jacobs’ leadership, Westchester Reform Temple grew from fewer than 800 member families to more than 1,200. Advocating for the Jewish mission of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, the synagogue underwent an eco-friendly renovation and expansion in 2009 and houses a ner tamid, an eternal flame powered by solar energy.

Jacobs was a member of the Union of Reform Judaism′s board of trustees from 1994 through 1998 and served as the Secretary of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and on the board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). In 2000, WUPJ rewarded him with its “International Humanitarian Award” for his commitment to human rights and social and economic justice. In 2005 he visited the Chad–Darfur border area with an international humanitarian mission and raised more than $250,000 to aid Darfur refugees.

He delivered the opening prayer for the 2006 Darfur rally in Washington, D.C. He was the only rabbi who participated in the 2009 Brookings U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, an annual conference designed to bring together key leaders in politics, business, media, academia, and civil society from across the Muslim world and the United States.

Jacobs has published several essays in Reform Judaism magazine and reportedly is pursuing a Ph.D. in ritual dance at New York University. He also is a senior rabbinic fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. In 2007, he received a Doctor of Divinity honoris causa from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to recognize his 25 years in the rabbinate.

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