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Leader Transition for Reconstructionists: A Time to Look Back and Forward

June 21, 2017
David Roberts
David Roberts

WYNCOTE, PA—David Roberts is stepping down as chair of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College & Jewish Reconstructionist Communities’ board of governors after holding the position for the past 11 years. In September, he will assume the role of chair emeritus. Roberts is being hailed as a transformational leader in the Reconstructionist movement, working in close partnership with RRC/JRC President Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D. 

Vice chair Seth Rosen, elected by the board at its June 11 meeting to succeed Roberts, will officially become chair at the October board meeting.

Roberts, a resident of Clayton, MO, has held the post since 2006. He is a founder and past president of the Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community in St. Louis, as well as a founder of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Newton, MA. As chair emeritus, he plans to remain an active member of the board on which he’s served since 1998. During his tenure, Roberts helped steer RRC through the Great Recession in the late 2000s and complete a $50 million fundraising campaign. He also led RRC through its merger with the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF)—the movement’s congregational arm—and through a presidential transition when Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, ’89, stepped down from the RRC presidency and was succeeded by Rabbi Waxman, ’99, in 2014.

Rabbi Waxman emphasized that Roberts “cares deeply about the democratic nature of the Reconstructionist movement, especially as it is expressed in the ongoing partnership between lay leaders and rabbis. He takes seriously the Reconstructionist mandate that every generation is obligated to create the Jewish life and community we want to see. Our movement is a better movement because of his leadership. I am a better rabbi, a better leader and a better person because of my opportunity to know him.”

Rosen, a resident of Larchmont, N.Y., of counsel at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, and former president of Bet Am Shalom Synagogue in White Plains, NY, has previously served on the board of JRF. He is the first chair of the combined Reconstructionist organization to rise from the board of the JRF. Rosen sees his role, in part, as helping the organization maintain its focus on training entrepreneurial clergy, strengthening communities, developing creative new opportunities for Jewish experience and amplifying the movement’s progressive voice in the public sphere.

“This role is a great challenge and opportunity,” said Rosen. “When I retired from the practice of law, I hoped to find meaningful work and push myself in new ways. I believe in this movement. It is so vital that we have a vibrant progressive religious voice in the public square.”​

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., and Seth Rosen
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.,
and Seth Rosen

Rosen praised Roberts’ leadership and guidance, calling him a transformational figure in the movement’s history. “His tenure completely transformed the spirit and day-to-day work of the movement. That’s a record of achievement not many people can point to.”

Roberts explained that his chairmanship had three different phases. “The first,” he said, “was when I became board chair of the rabbinical institution. The second was when we entered into negotiations for the merger with our congregational organization. Then, when Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz announced his intention to step down, I wanted to provide stability in leadership during the presidential transition. I have felt privileged to work with the new president, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, whom I respect and admire as a visionary leader.”

Roberts noted that the Reconstructionist movement represents one of the great passions of his life, and that it was time for a change in leadership. “During my chairmanship, I have experienced great intellectual and spiritual nourishment. I have always felt hopeful that we could tackle the challenges in our path,” he said. “Seth Rosen will be a wonderful board chair. He has the intellect and experience to guide this ship, and will be supported by an extraordinary and thoughtful group of leaders.”

Rabbi Ehrenkrantz, who led RRC from 2002-13 and is now a sought-after consultant to nonprofit organizations, worked closely with Roberts.

“His leadership has been felt at every significant turn of events in the past 15 years,” said Rabbi Ehrenkrantz, who pointed out that Roberts has a social-work background. “He has great respect for the hard work of staff members. He truly cares about people, and he brings that care into all of his relationships.”

Rabbi Ehrenkrantz added that Roberts “is often able to see the human motivations that shape events and conversations. I knew that he always had the best interests of RRC and the Reconstructionist movement at the center of his focus. I could trust that whatever issues we were facing, David was going to be a true partner.”