Rabbi Balfour Brickner, born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1926, was a leading activist and voice of the Reform Jewish movement until his death in 2005. From 1961 until 1980, Rabbi Brickner served as co-director of the National Commission of Social Action of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. During his tenure with the CSA, he founded its Commission on Inter-Religious Affairs and worked to strengthen relations between Christians and Jews. Rabbi Brickner served as senior rabbi at Manhattan’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue from 1980 until 1992, when he then became rabbi emeritus.
Throughout his life, Rabbi Brickner spoke out on a number of key political and social issues, including race relations, reproductive rights, and the Vietnam War. In the 1960s, while taking part in a civil rights demonstration at the behest of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Brickner was jailed as part of the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history. He co-founded Religious Leaders for a Free Choice, a New York organization in support of abortion rights, and his antiwar activism led him to Paris, where he met with representatives of the Vietcong, and to Vietnam, where he traveled with an inter-religious peace delegation. Though he identified as a Zionist, Rabbi Brickner was open with his criticisms of Israeli policies, warning against Israeli expansionism in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rabbi Brickner served in the United States Navy during World War II. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and was ordained as a Reform rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1952. That same year, Rabbi Brickner founded Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., where he served for 10 years. Also an author, his writings covered a wide range of philosophical and religious questions; his last book, “Finding God in the Garden: Backyard Reflections on Life, Love and Compost,” was published in 2002.
The Religious Action Center now hosts the annual Rabbi Balfour Brickner Rabbinic Seminar, designed exclusively to help rabbis with their social action and social justice work by program providing the foundation and skills necessary to make rabbis more effective advocates.