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Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., is believed to be the first woman rabbi to head a Jewish congregational union and lead a Jewish seminary. She plans to take office as president on January 1, 2014.
Waxman, a historian of American Judaism, brings to the fore a vision that emphasizes relevance and pluralism. She believes that in the 21st century, as Jewish people choose from a vast array of spiritual, religious and cultural sources to construct their identities, Reconstructionist Judaism offers a distinctive way toward meaning and connection. She also is interested in fostering a more robust presence for all progressive religions in the public square.
Waxman brings particular expertise in strategic planning. In her previous work as RRC’s vice president for governance (2003 to 2013), she played a central role in creating RRC’s first-ever such initiative as well as its first institution-wide assessment plan. In winter 2014, along with a team of Reconstructionist movement leaders, she will move forward another first—a strategic plan for RRC as a combined organization, which trains Jewish leaders and also provides services to congregations.
Waxman also is a strong fund-raiser. Her grant proposals have won support from leading funders such as the Kresge Foundation, Wexner Foundation and Cummings Foundation; and she has cultivated and stewarded major individual donors for RRC.
As vice president, she staffed the organization’s board of more than 40 members and 13 committees—setting mandates and evaluating impact—and was key in the successful integration of the rabbinical college and the congregational union in June 2012. She led RRC’s academic accreditation work as well; she chaired self-study and review processes to demonstrate the College’s compliance with required standards.
Her academic presentations include “Reconstructing Religious Authority in a Democratic Context: Early Reconstructionist Approaches and their Contemporary Resonances,” for the Association for Jewish Studies Conference in December 2011. At the 2013 conference, she will participate in a round table discussion titled “Mordecai M. Kaplan Reconsidered: The Meaning and Significance of His Legacy for Our Time.” She has presented frequently for lay audiences as well; most recently she taught on the subject “Rejecting Chosenness—An Exploration.” She has received a number of academic honors, including the Ruth Fein Prize given by the American Jewish Historical Society. She serves on the society’s academic council.
Waxman has sat on the faculty of RRC, teaching courses on Reconstructionist Judaism and practical rabbinics. From 2002 to 2012, she served as High Holiday rabbi for Congregation Bet Havarim in Fayetteville, NY.
Her published articles include “‘A Lady Sometimes Blows the Shofar’: Women’s Religious Equality in the Postwar Reconstructionist Movement” in A Jewish Feminine Mystique?: Jewish Women in Postwar America (Rutgers University Press, 2010), “Distinctiveness and Universalism: How to Remain Jewish if Jewish Isn’t Better” (Zeek, fall 2010); “The Challenge of Implementing Reconstructionism: Art, Ideology and the Society for the Advancement of Judaism’s Sanctuary Mural,” co-authored with Joyce Norden (American Jewish History, September 2009), and a review of the National Museum of American Jewish History for Pennsylvania History (winter 2012).
Waxman graduated cum laude from Columbia College, Columbia University, where she was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She received rabbinical ordination and a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters from RRC in 1999. She studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as both an undergraduate and graduate student, and received a Horace W. Goldsmith Fellowship to support her graduate work. She earned a Ph.D. in American Jewish History from Temple University in May 2010; her dissertation was titled “Faith and Ethnicity in American Judaism: Reconstructionism as Ideology and Institution, 1935–1959.”