Reconstructionist Judaism Today

Reconstructionist Judaism matures under new leadership.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from the January 18, 2002 edition of The Jewish Week.

A new generation of leaders

On a cold and drizzly January day, Rabbi David Teutsch sits in his windowed corner office at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College [RRC] a satisfied man.

In a class downstairs, first‑year rabbinical students--including one with purple‑dyed hair and a midriff‑baring tank top--are discussing the Orthodox Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz's analysis of the nature of Jewish law and how it intersects with the Reconstructionist approach.

reconstructionist rabbinical collegeThe elegant building that houses the college, on a wooded lot that was once a newspaper mogul's estate in this Philadelphia suburb, is freshly renovated. Added to the library was a climate‑controlled archive space that houses many of the papers of Reconstructionist founder Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan.

Today the seminary's endowment stands at $12 million, nearly six times what it was when Rabbi Teutsch became president of RRC in 1993. Currently 90 students are studying to be rabbis or cantors, up 50 percent over the number when he started, and the board of directors recently approved plans to expand that to 120 students.

It is a good time for him to leave. Rabbi Teutsch has resigned from the presidency to return to what he loves most: studying, writing and teaching. He will be doing those things, as well as heading a revitalized and expanded Center for Jewish Ethics, at RRC.

His newly named successor is Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, who has for 13 years led Congregation Bnai Keshet, in Montclair, N.J. When he moves from Montclair to Wyncote, he'll be bringing with him…  a fresh set of ambitions for the seminary.

The second generation: new confidence and new institutions

Rabbi Ehrenkrantz, 40, is the first graduate of RRC to become its president. That, along with several other key developments, marks this as a watershed moment for the smallest and youngest of American Jewry's religious movements.

"The movement has moved from its teen years to its young adulthood, in some ways," says Rabbi Mordecai Liebling, former director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, and now the education director at the philanthropic foundation Shefa Fund. He continues to teach at RRC. “It’s a maturing organization which has a lot more sense of itself and a lot more stability than it had five or 10 years ago."

"The self‑image of the movement has really improved," says Rabbi Yael Ridberg, who leads West End Synagogue, the only congregation in Manhattan to be affiliated solely with the Reconstructionist movement. "The larger Jewish community's recognition of the movement has improved as well. Very often you see the word Reconstructionist in print many times more than you would have five years ago."

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.