The New York Times reports today (March 23, 2011) that Reform Judaism -- facing a recent decline in numbers and an uncertain future despite its stature as the largest movement in American Jewry -- announced yesterday that its next president will be a rabbi known for rejuvenating his suburban New York congregation.
Rabbi Richard Jacobs -- who has been senior rabbi at the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY -- is set to become the president in 2012 of the Union of Reform Judaism, which claims 1.5 million members and nearly 900 synagogues.
Rabbi Jacobs, 55, will succeed Rabbi Eric Yoffie, 63, who served for 16 years and sought to revitalize liberal Reform Judaism by returning to tradition. Rabbi Yoffie encouraged adults to study Torah, rabbis to improve their worship services, and everyone to observe Shabbat.
Rabbi Jacobs -- a former dancer and choreographer -- recently built a new "green synagogue," equipped with a solar-powered new tamid (eternal light), in the sanctuary. He pioneered new methods of involving families in Shabbat programs.
In an interview with reporters yesterday, Rabbi Jacobs said, "If synagogues are going to engage the next generation, they're going to have to leave their walls. Most temples rely on a 'please walk in, please walk in' approach, which no longer works." Synagogues need to serve even those Jews who are not members, he said.