Richard Hirsch Becomes First Reform Rabbi Honored at Israeli Independence Day Ceremony
Yom Ha'atzma-ut torch-lighting honor recognizes his role in Zionist movement and in strengthening its ties with Reform Judaism
WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 19, 2010 — Rabbi Richard Hirsch, first director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and longtime head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), the international arm of the Reform Movement, today became the first Reform rabbi to receive the honor of lighting a torch during Israel’s Independence Day ceremony. He joined 13 other Israelis in participating in the evening ceremony opening Israel’s 62nd Independence Day celebrations on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, televised throughout Israel.
The Independence Day torch-lighting honor, bestowed upon Rabbi Hirsch by a committee within the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recognizes his key role in the Zionist movement, as chairman of the Zionist General Council, and strengthening ties between Reform Judaism and the Zionist movement.
Appointed in 1962 by Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath to direct the newly-formed Religious Action Center, Hirsch served as director of the RAC until 1973, when he moved to Israel and became executive director of WUPJ. He is credited with influencing the organization’s decision to relocate its headquarters to Israel, solidifying the commitment of Progressive Judaism and its adherents to Israel and the Zionist endeavor. He became a major figure in Zionist politics, serving as chairman of the Zionist General Council.
Albert Vorspan, Senior Vice President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, said, “Dick Hirsch led the Religious Action Center during this country’s historic and tumultuous struggles for civil rights and peace in Vietnam. He helped to mobilize the coalitions of decency which secured passage of milestone civil rights laws and Great Society programs in America.”
Echoing Vorspan’s sentiments, Rabbi David Saperstein, who is Hirsch’s successor as Director of the RAC, said, “Rabbi Hirsch is one of the great institution-builders in Reform Jewish history. His world-wide reputation as an influential Zionist leader makes our work so much easier, and we congratulate him on this wonderful honor. When I arrived here in the mid-1970s, Dick had set a remarkable standard as the RAC’s first director. A respected friend of Israeli Ambassadors, Members of Congress, and interfaith leaders during his tenure in Washington, he helped set in motion the trademark social justice programs and advocacy efforts that have helped define the Reform Jewish Movement in America and across the globe.”
Rabbi Hirsch is the author of a book titled From the Hill to the Mount, recounting great struggles for justice in America and the quest for pluralism and social justice in Israel.