Speech by Rabbi Rick Jacobs
2013 URJ Bi-ennial, San Diego, California, USA
“The Genesis of Our Future” excerpt
“Our Judaism is for everyone. Our Judaism is inclusive, egalitarian, intellectually rigorous, joyful, passionate, spiritual, pluralistic, constantly evolving and relevant. Soul elevating spiritual practice, life-altering Torah study, courageous practice of tikkun olam, loving care for our community, especially the most vulnerable–that’s what we are. Just look at this Biennial if you want to see Judaism that is all of the above and more. I believe with the very fiber of my being that young Jews are hungry, but not for a Judaism frozen in a distant time, no matter how loving and warm the purveyors … might be.
We have what people are looking for, but we’ve been reticent to get out and say so, partly because we have yet to articulate an audacious vision of what the world can become. God bless … outreach organizations for getting out there and sharing their beautiful expressions of Judaism with those who are interested. But theirs must not be the only voices defining Judaism. It’s time to speak our minds. Let’s be clear about who we are and what we have to say.
We believe that our understanding of Judaism is right: that God did not literally hand down sacred laws in the Bible and the Mishnah at Sinai, but rather that from our encounter with the Divine, Jews have written our sacred texts, striving to understand in their own time what God called them to do. That process has continued through the centuries, and it continues today. We are not the way out, but the way in, the way to being fully Jewish and modern, Jewish and inclusive, Jewish and universal, Jewish and compassionate, Jewish and deeply committed also to science, the arts, and the human community in its constant evolutionary spiral toward sustaining the planet and bettering life for everyone who lives upon it.
In fact, we have already begun to get the word out. Even five years ago, had you Googled words related to Judaism, you would never have found us. We weren’t anywhere near the top of the search results. So one year ago, the URJ created an outward-facing website called ReformJudaism.org, and we are now regularly at the top of the first page of Jewish Google searches. Last month, 116,000 people visited our site. This year, more than half a million individuals who came looking for Jewish substance found it with us. At ReformJudaism.org, seekers are asked if they want to connect to one of their local Reform congregations.
The time is long overdue for us to stop using Orthodox Jewish practice as the baseline against which we define our own Jewish practice. We can affirm the authenticity of other Jewish practices without conceding Jewish authenticity to them alone. Our Judaism is appealing to everyone, those from more traditional backgrounds, no Jewish backgrounds, Jews by religion, Jews by culture, and Jews by affinity. We will amply nourish all who are hungry for meaning.”