Meet Our President | Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

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Meet Our President

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.

President, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor

 215.576.0800, ext. 129

OfficeofthePresident@ReconstructingJudaism.org

The first woman rabbi to head a Jewish congregational union and seminary, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., became president of Reconstructing Judaism in 2014. Since then, she has drawn on her training as a rabbi and historian to be the Reconstructionist movement’s leading voice in the public square.

Through visiting numerous congregations (more than 60 at last count), making public appearances in person and online, and writing for the Forward, The Times of Israel, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and other news and academic outlets, Rabbi Waxman projects a vision of Judaism that embraces all people and inspires Jews to be strong allies to the most vulnerable among us.

Rabbi Waxman leads the Reconstructionist congregational union through close collaboration with the Board of Governors, the leaders and congregants of the nearly 100 affiliated Reconstructionist communities, and her extraordinary colleagues in the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. She also serves as the sixth president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the movement’s sole seminary and a key part of the Reconstructing Judaism organization. This matrix of institutions has collaboratively achieved many milestones to support the movement leadership’s vision of 21st-century Reconstructionist Judaism.

Rabbi Waxman is the creator and host of the podcast, Hashivenu: Jewish Teachings on Resilience.

Under Rabbi Waxman’s leadership, Reconstructing Judaism has launched a number of major initiatives including:

Strengthening relationships with congregational leadership. Reconstructing Judaism’s Thriving Communities team has strengthened organizational and consultative ties between its central operations and nearly 100 affiliated Reconstructionist communities across North America and the world.

Innovating for the 21st century. By seeding startup projects, mentoring leaders and creating interactive digital content, Reconstructing Judaism’s Innovation and Impact team serves as a hub for spiritual and theological entrepreneurialism. Ritualwell.org, a treasure of crowd-sourced rituals, poems and meditations, helps hundreds of thousands of visitors a year make meaning out of modern life. Reconstructing Judaism’s podcast studio has so far produced more than 50 episodes of informative, uplifting content.

Bolstering Reconstructionist Judaism’s ties to Israel. In 2018, Reconstructing Judaism led two dozen members of affiliated Reconstructionist communities on an Israel Mission that explored Israeli music, arts and politics. That same year, the movement formed the Joint Israel Commission, a diverse body of individuals from across the movement who represent a wide range of politics. Part think-tank, part community, the body develops resources and advises the movement on positions regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reconstructioning Judaism also convened the first ever Reconstructionist Birthright Israel mission.

Helping Young People Become their Best Selves. The Reconstructionist movement’s two camps, Camp Havaya in Pennsylvania and Havaya Arts in California, are consistently recognized for cultivating welcoming environments and embracing campers of all backgrounds.

Rooted and Relevant Convention. Some 750 people attended Reconstructing Judaism’s Nov. 2018 Rooted and Relevant movement-wide convention, the largest in the movement’s history.

Successful Rebranding. The adoption of the name Reconstructing Judaism followed a year-long, democratic process in which more than one thousand Reconstructionists across North America had a voice. The rebranding aligned the organization’s name with its mission, was heavily covered in the Jewish media, and was recognized in the Jewish and communications spaces for its creativity and execution.

Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations. This signature multichannel project enables substantive Jewish learning, models nuanced and respectful discussion and serves as an incubator for ideas that can positively transform Jewish life. Through online gatherings, an offshoot podcast, in-person programs and curricular offerings, Evolve enables meaningful dialogue and advances the Jewish conversation.

Reimagining Rabbinic Education. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the movement’s sole seminary, designed and adopted a new curriculum that is more responsive and relevant to the aspirations and needs of the Jewish community of the 21st century. The overhauled program is more geographically and financially accessible while greatly increasing opportunities for meaningful field placement. It also combines the best in classroom learning and community-building with cutting-edge online education. The curriculum centers on nourishing and rigorous Jewish learning pair with immersive and intensive field education. 

Since 2002, Rabbi Waxman has taught courses on Reconstructionist Judaism and practical rabbinics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She is the Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor.

Her academic publications include a chapter on bar/bat mitzvah, co-authored with Rabbi Joshua Lesser, in A Guide to Jewish Practice, Volume 3 (The Reconstructionist Press 2014); “Multiple Conceptualizations of the Divine” in Sh’ma (April 2014); “ ‘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” in Zeek (Fall 2010); and “The Challenge of Implementing Reconstructionism: Art, Ideology, and the Society for the Advancement of Judaism’s Sanctuary Mural,” co-authored with Joyce Norden, in American Jewish History (September 2009). She serves on the American Jewish Historical Society’s Academic Council.

Waxman is a cum laude graduate of Columbia College, Columbia University, and graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She earned a Ph.D. in American Jewish history from Temple University.

In 2016, Rabbi Waxman was named to the annual “Forward 50” list of most influential Jews by the Forward, a pre-eminent American Jewish publication. In naming her to this list, the Forward remarked: “In the long communal conversation over how to relate to Jews who marry non-Jews, those in the ‘be welcoming’ camp won a major battle this year, thanks in large part to Rabbi Deborah Waxman.”