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Religious Action Center Gears Up to Face New Challenges: Announces Laser as New Deputy Director, Trio of New Senior Advisors, Key Promotions

Rabbi Saperstein: "If we are to be effective in fulfilling our mission to be a prophetic witness, we need to be more assertive wherever policy decisions are being made."

Contact: Sean Thibault or Katharine Nasielski
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WASHINGTON, D.C., September 7, 2012 -- The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which represents the nation's largest Jewish denomination in Washington and provides leadership on social action issues, today announced a number of new key staff members and staff changes. "With this team, we are ready to take our work to an even higher level," said the RAC's long-time Director, Rabbi David Saperstein, in introducing the new staff. "We really are at a crossroads on so many of the moral social issues the Jewish tradition has addressed for millennia.  If we are to be effective in fulfilling our mission to be a prophetic witness, we need to be more assertive wherever policy decisions are being made and more effective in supporting and mobilizing the substantial social justice endeavors of our congregations.  This new staffing structure helps ensure that we move forward toward those goals."

Rachel Laser has become the RAC's Deputy Director (a new position), charged with expanding its presence on Capitol Hill and in advocacy coalitions. She will also play a lead role on the RAC's entire agenda. A graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School, Ms. Laser worked as Senior Counsel for the National Women's Law Center, then as the Director of the Culture Program at Third Way, and most recently as Senior Vice President at Hattaway Communications.

A long time veteran of political battles in Washington with a particular record in women's rights issues and in bringing together strange "bedfellow" coalitions across partisan, ideological and religious lines in finding common ground even on divisive issues, Ms. Laser's appointment has already drawn praise. Jon Cowan, President of Third Way, commented, "In my years inside and outside of government, Rachel is one of the most brilliant, strategic and politically savvy professionals with whom I have worked." Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, observed, "Rachel is a champion for women's rights who really knows how to get things done on Capitol Hill. She has a remarkable talent for forging bipartisan support around tough issues. As someone who has worked closely with both the RAC and Rachel, this will be a great fit for the RAC, which has long been known for building bridges with members of both parties in pursuit of its agenda."

Michael Lieberman, Washington Legislative Counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, commented, "Rachel is a skilled and thoughtful intergroup strategist.  Her work to elevate religious voices in support of new federal hate crime legislation was critically important for the Jewish community - and helped secure passage of the Hate Crimes Act." (Laser's complete biography is available here).


Barbara Weinstein, for the past decade the RAC's Legislative Director, has been promoted to serve as Director of the Commission on Social Action and the RAC's Associate Director. The CSA, with representatives from all the arms of the Reform Jewish Movement, plays a key role shaping the policy positions and social justice priorities of the Reform Movement and overseeing the on-going activities of the RAC. As we expand our legislative work, Ms. Weinstein will continue her coordination of the legislative staff. URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs welcomed Ms. Weinstein's promotion noting that:

"Barbara has for many years been a deeply inspiring and influential mentor within our Movement.  She is a tremendous leader, a gifted teacher and a popular speaker in our synagogues and other institutions throughout North America.  I look forward to her expanded leadership in this new role."  (Weinstein's complete biography is available here).

Isaac Nuell who has been a critical part of the RAC's highly successful Conference and Seminar programs, will now assume the lead in the RAC's congregational relations work, overseeing the RAC's training efforts for synagogue leaders. (Nuell's complete biography is available here).

The RAC is also proud to announce three senior advisors at the Religious Action Center, joining Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, who is the senior advisor heading the RAC's Disability Rights work: Rabbi David Sandmel, a leading Jewish scholar on interreligious subjects; Dr. Leonard Fein, one of American Jewry's most renowned social justice scholars and programmers; and Michael Horowitz, former General Counsel in the Reagan White House Office of Management and Budget. They will advise us on policy, write periodically for our publications and be available to advise congregations.

Rabbi David Sandmel, a leading scholar, will serve in a new position as RAC Senior Advisor for Interreligious Affairs. (He will also serve as a member of the Union for Reform Judaism's new URJ Faculty). Rabbi Sandmel will help guide the interreligious activities of the Reform Movement and be available as a resource to congregations in their interreligious work. Influential Catholic theologian Fr. John Pawlikowski said of Sandmel's appointment, "Prof. Sandmel's scholarship has earned him great respect among Christian theologians and leaders. At a time when strong communication and understanding between the Jewish and Christian communities is more essential than ever, Prof. Sandmel has emerged as one of the most effective Jewish interlocutors in the interfaith field." Rabbi Sandmel holds the Crown-Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies at the Catholic Theological Union and serves as Rabbi Educator at Temple Sholom, both in Chicago, and he will continue in that work as well. (Rabbi Sandmel's complete biography is available here).

Dr. Leonard Fein, a former Director of the Commission on Social Action, founder of "Moment Magazine," Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the Jewish Literacy Corps, is also a widely read author of several books and regular columns in Jewish newspapers. As a Senior Advisor to the RAC, Fein will focus on strengthening social justice programming in Reform synagogues. (Dr. Fein's complete biography is available here).

Michael Horowitz will join the RAC as a Senior Advisor on coalition building and common ground strategies, particularly assisting with our work in human rights, human trafficking, religious liberty, domestic and international prison reform issues, U.S. policy towards North Korea and information freedom.  For nearly two-decades, Horowitz has run the Religious Liberty Project at the Hudson Institute, playing a lead role in the shaping and passage of such wide-ranging legislation as the International Religious Freedom Act, the Sudan Peace Act, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the North Korea Human Rights Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Horowitz also served as general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the Reagan Administration. Horowitz will draw on his long engagement in politically conservative social justice work to deepen our dialogue with those holding diverse policy and ideological views as we shape our policies and apply them to changing circumstances. (Horowitz's complete bio is available here).

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis. Visit for more.

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