RECONSTRUCTING JUDAISM IN CHICAGO…

Rabbi Rachel S. Weiss

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

The central organization of the Reconstructionist Judaism movement has a new name, one that reflects its mission and role as innovators.

“Reconstructing Judaism” is the new name for Reconstructionist Judaism’s central organization, formerly known as the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College & Jewish Reconstructionist Communities. The new tag line is “Deeply Rooted, Boldly Relevant.”

“Using this name, reconstructing, as a verb really describes what it is we’re doing,” said Rabbi Rachel Weiss, leader of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, who played a role in the rebranding of the movement.

The name change illustrates a dynamic present and future, national leaders say. “We are continuing to build and make Judaism relevant for the time in which we live while preserving our deep ties to the past,” said Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructing Judaism.

The central organization based in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, serves nearly 100 congregations and operates the renamed College for Reconstructing Judaism, a 50-year-old seminary which has graduated more than 400 rabbis. June marks the opening of the first Reconstructionist summer camp located on the West coast and a long-awaited Reconstructionist movement convention will take place in November. The last one occurred in 2010.

Weiss, who is a graduate of the Reconstructionist rabbinic college, was included in a multi-year process in which the entity now known as Reconstructing Judaism “looked at all its different constituents to think about how we present ourselves in the world.” Many different discussions occurred at the lay and rabbinic levels.

The organization involved more than 1,000 people in the change over five years through town halls, workshops and meetings with congregants and members, said Josh Peskin, vice president for strategic advancement. “We used the moment to try to understand on a deeper level what excites people that call themselves Reconstructionist, what do we think we are, what are we supposed to be doing. It helped us clarify who we are and what our personality is.”

Reconstructionism is a modern Jewish movement that views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization and is based on the conceptions developed by Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983). The movement offers transformative innovations to Jewish life—ranging from the Bat Mitzvah to ordaining LGBTQ clergy—while being guided by the spectrum of Jewish texts, traditions, rituals, histories and cultures.

Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation is one of three reconstructionist synagogues in Chicagoland. The others are Shir Hadash Synagogue in Wheeling and Ezra-Habonim in Niles Township.

On the verb-focused name change, Waxman says,   “We are committed to ‘doing’ Jewish, “With our new name, we are defining ourselves by what we do, and not just what we believe or how we feel. We all have to be accountable for the Judaism of today, and we need to build it together so that it inspires people in every generation. We’re thrilled and privileged to undertake Reconstructing Judaism for our time.”

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