The Union for Reform Judaism has sold off half of its headquarters in New York and is investing $1 million from the proceeds to overhaul its youth programming.
The sale of one of the union’s two floors at its midtown Manhattan headquarters closed on Wednesday; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the movement’s president, announced the sale in his speech Thursday at the Reform biennial in San Diego. He said $1 million from the sale would be used to supplement major foundation grants awarded to the union to reshape its youth engagement strategies.
The union also will be moving most of its New York-based youth professionals from its Manhattan headquarters to the campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which is also in Manhattan.
“As long as a structure or institution of Jewish life serves the sacred mission of our people, it deserves to be preserved,” Jacobs said in his speech. “But now and then, and especially now, we are well-advised to examine the fit between ends and means, in order to ensure that we remain devoted to the audacious imperatives that got us started.”
The sale of office space, Jacobs said, was made “to reinvest our own assets from bricks and mortar to people.” Jacobs devoted much of his biennial address to promoting what he called “audacious hospitality” – including embracing intermarried families and non-practicing Jews known as “nones.”
“I still hear Jewish leaders talk about intermarriage as if it were a disease. It is not. It is a result of the open society that no one here wants to close,” Jacobs said. “What would you prefer? More anti-Semitism? That people did not feel as comfortable with us?”
Jacobs said non-Jews who want to be part of the Jewish community present “the opportunity of the millennium” for American Judaism.
“We have a sacred obligation to open our doors, to add to our ranks, and to make sure that progressive Judaism has a growing, not a shrinking, voice,” he said. “It is a veritable gift of God to have the opportunity of a millennium: more non-Jews who want ‘in’ than Jews who want ‘out.’”
Among the new initiatives Jacobs announced are the expansion of the Reform youth movement, NFTY, the National Federation of Temple Youth, to include sixth through eighth graders; a new partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation to help make Reform institutions more open to people with disabilities; and a deepening of the union’s ties with Hebrew Union College.
“We must reboot, not just retool, transform, not just tinker,” Jacobs said.