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Reform Movement’s Rabbinical Group Appoints First Female Leader

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Reform movement’s rabbinical wing has appointed Rabbi Hara Person as its first female chief executive.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents 2,100 Reform rabbis around the world, made the announcement on Thursday. Person succeeds Rabbi Steven Fox, who is retiring in June after 13 years as CEO.

With more than 1 million members, the Reform movement is the largest Jewish denomination in North America.

Person, 54, has been working at the New York-based rabbinical body for a decade, first as head of its publishing arm and since last year as its chief strategy officer. She also serves as the High Holidays rabbi at Congregation B’nai Olam in Fire Island Pines, New York, and as the adjunct rabbi at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. Previously she worked at the Union for Reform Judaism Press as its editor in chief.

She said being the first woman in the position “feels really exciting.”

“On the one hand, it’s hugely historic, and also it’s time,” Person told JTA in a phone interview. “It’s sort of shocking that it hasn’t happened before, and I hope that it will be a positive modeling, not only for our female colleagues, but also for our male colleagues to see a different kind of leader.”

Person says one area she wants to focus on in her new role is embracing the rabbinate’s diversity, both in terms of gender — women make up one-third of CCAR membership — and career trajectories.

Person sees two sets of challenges facing the Reform movement today.

“The outside challenges I think are pretty clear in terms of growing anti-Semitism and white supremacy,” she said. “And we have challenges from inside, which are about how we help people to connect in meaningful ways, how do we make Judaism relevant.”


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