PHILADELPHIA — Out with the old, in with the new: The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College & Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, Reconstructionist Judaism’s central organization, announced Jan. 29 that it’s getting a new identity.
At the end of this academic year, the rabbinical seminary outside Philadelphia known as the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College will be referred to as the College for Reconstructing Judaism, and it will fall under the organizational umbrella now called Reconstructing Judaism. (The new website, ReconstructingJudaism.org, went live Jan. 30.)
“We are, always have been, continue to be about actively engaging and creating Jewish life,” said Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructing Judaism.
She believes the new identity clearly communicates who they are — and she’s excited the name is a verb that fully reflects its mission. “The projects we are undertaking is an active process.”
The idea for the name change came about after the 2012 merger between the seminary and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the congregational arm of the movement.
The new name was officially approved by the board in October 2017.
“Too often, people [would] leave out the second part — the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities — in a way that was very, very painful to us,” she added.
The organization reached out to Reconstructionist communities across North America — more than 1,000 people over the past year — for conversations, surveys and town hall meetings about how “to revisit the essence of what we are doing and to capture and communicate the energy and the commitment that’s inherent in the Reconstructionist movement.”
The new name comes with a new logo, too: Leaves sprout out from the ground, representing “the Reconstructionist balance between groundedness in Jewish tradition and a focus on Jewish growth and reinvention,” a press release read. Below, a new tagline says, “Deeply rooted. Boldly relevant.”
“We live at the intersection of the past and the future,” Waxman continued. “We see the ‘relevant’ there as a promise as much as a descriptor. We think it is imperative that we both draw deeply on our rich storehouse of Jewish tradition and make certain that the Judaism we are creating for today and for tomorrow is relevant for the people who are living in Jewish community.”
The liberal organization trains the next generation of rabbis and moral leaders, working with its more than 400 graduates, fostering expressions of emerging Jewish life, and providing resources to Reconstructionist communities in the form of two summer camps as well as face-to-face and digital networks.
Reconstructing Judaism serves nearly 100 congregations across North America, 13 of which are in Pennsylvania, including Congregation Dor Hadash in Pittsburgh. The new name will advance the Reconstructionist vision in the public square more effectively, Waxman noted.
“We deeply believe that every generation is obligated to reconstruct the Jewish community, the Jewish inheritance they received to build the Jewish future and the Jewish community they want to live in,” she said.
“It was a great opportunity to meet Reconstructionists across the country and to hear what they value in our movement and why they choose to be Jews and why they choose to be Reconstructionists,” he said of the past year’s surveys. “That will be reflected not just in our name and our tagline, but in our approach over the next months and years.”
Since the 2012 merger, Rosen said they’ve all had a chance to grasp the meaning of the organization, which moved beyond denominational structures in the realm of American Jewish life. “It’s as if you had a child and then waited four years to name it. You’d have a better sense of who the person was before you picked the name.”
The name change comes at the 50th anniversary of the seminary’s founding. Reconstructing Judaism is also opening Havaya Arts, a Reconstructionist summer camp, in June; hosting a Reconstructionist convention, the first since 2010, in November in Philadelphia; and launching Evolve, a two-year project to engage Reconstructionists in analyzing 21st-century Jewish life.
Although the name change is for the organization, not the movement, Rosen said many have taken to the name to identify themselves. But time will tell. “It will emerge over time how this will be reflected more broadly.”
He believes the name evokes hope.
“By changing from the -ism to the more active word, people kind of get immediately what you’re telling them,” he said. “The world in which I lived my Judaism is very different from the world in which my grandparents lived their Judaism and my parents lived their Judaism. The Reconstructionist notion is that we continually redefine who we are and what we do to reflect and respond and to improve the world that we live in.” PJC
Rachel Kurland writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.