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Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.

President, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

The first woman rabbi to head a Jewish congregational union and seminary, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., became president of Reconstructing Judaism in 2014. Since then, she has drawn on her training as a rabbi and historian to be the Reconstructionist movement’s leading voice in the public square.

Through visiting numerous congregations (more than 60 at last count), making public appearances in person and online, and writing for the Forward, The Times of Israel, The Philadelphia Inquirer, HuffPost, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and other news and academic outlets, Rabbi Waxman projects a vision of Judaism that embraces all people and inspires Jews to be strong allies to the most vulnerable among us.

Rabbi Waxman leads the Reconstructionist congregational union through close collaboration with the Board of Governors, the leaders and congregants of the nearly 100 affiliated Reconstructionist communities, and her extraordinary colleagues in the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. She also serves as the sixth president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the movement’s sole seminary and a key part of the Reconstructing Judaism organization. This matrix of institutions has collaboratively achieved many milestones to support the movement leadership’s vision of 21st-century Reconstructionist Judaism.

Rabbi Waxman is the creator and host of the podcast, Hashivenu: Jewish Teachings on Resilience.

Under Rabbi Waxman’s leadership, Reconstructing Judaism has launched a number of major initiatives including:

Strengthening relationships with congregational leadership. Reconstructing Judaism’s Thriving Communities team has strengthened organizational and consultative ties between its central operations and nearly 100 affiliated Reconstructionist communities across North America and the world.

Innovating for the 21st century. By seeding startup projects, mentoring leaders and creating interactive digital content, Reconstructing Judaism’s Innovation and Impact team serves as a hub for spiritual and theological entrepreneurialism. Ritualwell.org, a treasure of crowd-sourced rituals, poems and meditations, helps hundreds of thousands of visitors a year make meaning out of modern life. Reconstructing Judaism’s podcast studio has so far produced more than 50 episodes of informative, uplifting content.

Bolstering Reconstructionist Judaism’s ties to Israel. In 2018, Reconstructing Judaism led two dozen members of affiliated Reconstructionist communities on an Israel Mission that explored Israeli music, arts and politics. That same year, the movement formed the Joint Israel Commission, a diverse body of individuals from across the movement who represent a wide range of politics. Part think-tank, part community, the body develops resources and advises the movement on positions regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reconstructioning Judaism also convened the first ever Reconstructionist Birthright Israel mission.

Helping Young People Become their Best Selves. The Reconstructionist movement’s two camps, Camp Havaya in Pennsylvania and Havaya Arts in California, are consistently recognized for cultivating welcoming environments and embracing campers of all backgrounds.

Rooted and Relevant Convention. Some 750 people attended Reconstructing Judaism’s Nov. 2018 Rooted and Relevant movement-wide convention, the largest in the movement’s history.

Successful Rebranding. The adoption of the name Reconstructing Judaism followed a year-long, democratic process in which more than one thousand Reconstructionists across North America had a voice. The rebranding aligned the organization’s name with its mission, was heavily covered in the Jewish media, and was recognized in the Jewish and communications spaces for its creativity and execution.

Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations. This signature multichannel project enables substantive Jewish learning, models nuanced and respectful discussion and serves as an incubator for ideas that can positively transform Jewish life. Through online gatherings, an offshoot podcast, in-person programs and curricular offerings, Evolve enables meaningful dialogue and advances the Jewish conversation.

Reimagining Rabbinic Education. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the movement’s sole seminary, designed and adopted a new curriculum that is more responsive and relevant to the aspirations and needs of the Jewish community of the 21st century. The overhauled program is more geographically and financially accessible while greatly increasing opportunities for meaningful field placement. It also combines the best in classroom learning and community-building with cutting-edge online education. The curriculum centers on nourishing and rigorous Jewish learning pair with immersive and intensive field education. 

Since 2002, Rabbi Waxman has taught courses on Reconstructionist Judaism and practical rabbinics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She is the Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor.

Her academic publications include a chapter on bar/bat mitzvah, co-authored with Rabbi Joshua Lesser, in A Guide to Jewish Practice, Volume 3 (The Reconstructionist Press 2014); “Multiple Conceptualizations of the Divine” in Sh’ma (April 2014); “ ‘A Lady Sometimes Blows the Shofar’: Women’s Religious Equality in the Postwar Reconstructionist Movement” in A Jewish Feminine Mystique?: Jewish Women in Postwar America (Rutgers University Press 2010); “Distinctiveness and Universalism: How to Remain Jewish if Jewish Isn’t Better” in Zeek (Fall 2010); and “The Challenge of Implementing Reconstructionism: Art, Ideology, and the Society for the Advancement of Judaism’s Sanctuary Mural,” co-authored with Joyce Norden, in American Jewish History (September 2009). She serves on the American Jewish Historical Society’s Academic Council.

Waxman is a cum laude graduate of Columbia College, Columbia University, and graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She earned a Ph.D. in American Jewish history from Temple University.

In 2016, Rabbi Waxman was named to the annual “Forward 50” list of most influential Jews by the Forward, a pre-eminent American Jewish publication. In naming her to this list, the Forward remarked: “In the long communal conversation over how to relate to Jews who marry non-Jews, those in the ‘be welcoming’ camp won a major battle this year, thanks in large part to Rabbi Deborah Waxman.”

Selected Writings, Presentations and Appearances

Writings

What Does it Mean to be a Leader? Inspiration from Jewish Disability Advocacy DayThe New York Jewish Week, Feb. 7, 2020

What the Torah can teach us about Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month this February, Forward, Jan. 28, 2020

Dor Hadash exemplifies virtues of Reconstructionist Judaism (with Seth Rosen), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept, 23, 2019

Netanyahu And Trump Are Xenophobic Tyrants. We Must Resist Them - Together. (with Jill Jacobs and Libby Lenkinski), Forward, July 24, 2019

Fiddler on the Roof and Trump’s Executive Order, The Times of Israel, Dec. 13, 2019

Reconstructing Pluralism through Conversation, The Times of Israel, Feb. 26, 2019

The Importance of Holy Conversation (with Seth Rosen), eJewish Philanthropy, Nov. 11, 2018

Fight Like a Mensch: Integrated Social Change (with Rabbi David Jaffe, Rabbi Rachel Timoner), eJewish Philanthropy, June 13, 2018

Why the Reconstructionist movement is rebranding, JTA, Jan. 30, 2018

As A Religious Leader, I’m Often The Only Woman In The Room, Forward, Dec. 14, 2017

Keeping the Faith: Resilience in the Jewish Tradition, eJewish Philanthropy, August 15, 2017

March on Harrisburg, The Times of Israel, May 28, 2017

Light through the cracks, The Times of Israel, Jan. 31, 2017

Jewish Nasty Women: We must claim our history to repudiate Trump, The Times of Israel, Oct. 25, 2016

Rabbis With Non-Jewish Partners, HuffPost, Oct. 16, 2016

Immigration Is The Key To America’s Greatness, HuffPost, Sept. 12, 2016

When Pragmatists Dream: A Reconstructionist Vision for the Jewish Future, The Times of Israel, June 18, 2016

Should Jewish Peoplehood Mean Anything in Our Post-Ethnic Moment?, Forward, April 3, 2016

Voters must act against demagoguery, The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 24, 2016

Standing up for religious pluralism in Israel, The Times of Israel, Feb. 9, 2016

Welcoming the Stranger, Living Our Values, Jewish Exponent, Jan 20. 2016

Why Fighting Intermarriage Is a Lost Cause, Forward, Oct. 8, 2015

Dispatches from the World Zionist Congress (E-Book), Oct. 2015

Presentations and Appearances

Women Rabbis, Online Exhibit by the Jewish Women’s Archives, Jan. 29, 2020

Jewish Disability Advocacy Day 2020, Photo | Video on Capitol Hill, Feb. 4, 2020

Divine Justice: A Jewish Perspective at the Chautauqua Institution, July 19, 2019

Positive Judaism Summit 2019 (Keynote) at University of Pennsylvania Hillel, March 14, 2019

After the Pittsburgh Massacre, (Deutschlandradio Interview Recap) Deutschlandfunk, Nov. 3, 2018

Religious Leaders on Pittsburgh Attack, MSNBC, Oct. 27. 2018

George Washington University’s 4th Anual LGBT Health Forum at George Washington University, July 15, 2016

LGBT Spirituality & Spiritual Violence Mini-Series at the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Nov. 20, 2017

Let's Journey Together

In an essay that appeared in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., makes the case that Reconstructionist Judaism matters now more than ever.

News

May We All Be Liberated Soon

Usually, on Passover, we ask “How is this night different from all other nights?”. This year, many of us are asking, “How does this Passover resemble any we’ve ever experienced?” While social distancing has seemingly changed everything, Passover is still about telling the story of going from oppression to freedom.

News

When The Threat Is Random, The Jewish Response Is Compassion

As a rabbi, my prescription for most every challenge, drawn out of millennia of Jewish wisdom and practice, is community. But what is the Jewish response when the best way to slow down contagion is by “social distancing”?

News

Day of Learning on Homelessness Combined Learning With Action

Reconstructing Judaism’s 2020 New York Day of Learning: Jewish Response to Homelessness, combined deep learning and practical action to help those among us who are homeless.

News

President's Report 2020

Judaism teaches that seven years is a full cycle, and the current status of Reconstructing Judaism bears this out. Over the last seven years since the merger, and in the six years of my presidency, we have been transformed and are acting more and more every day as an integrated organization whose staff members work collaboratively towards shared goals.

News

Fiddler on the Roof and Trump’s Executive Order

The rise in antisemitism is a real and growing threat, but the prospect of defining Judaism as a nationality is deeply problematic. The Reconstructionist notion of peoplehood sheds light on the weighty issues at stake.

News

Divine Justice: A Jewish Perspective

Video of Chautauqua Institution talk on Jewish views of Divine Justice (July 19, 2019)

News

Divine Justice: A Jewish Perspective

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D. spoke at the Chautaqua Insitution about divine justice, about good and evil and about God’s presence, plans, and love in the face of what seems to be unearned suffering. 

Article

A High Holiday Message

The Talmud tells us that God created repentance (teshuvah) before creating the physical world. As Billy Joel once sang, “we’re only human, we’re supposed to make mistakes.” It’s how we respond to mistakes, how we grow, that matters. This video explores the twin themes of teshuvah and gratitude (hakarat hatov.) Our tradition offers us practices that cultivate self-reflection and humility, relationship and repair. We hope these words offer some comfort and guidance as you undergo your own process of teshuvah and, in meaningful relationships with others, make Godliness present in the world.

News

Pride Month, Israel, and Us

A personal message from Rabbi Deborah Waxman

News

From Despair to Action

Rabbi Deborah Waxman reflects on the ways in which Reconstructing Judaism is strengthening the ways in which we support and connect Jewish communities traumatized by the recent surge in antisemitic attacks.

News

What Does a Thriving Synagogue Look Like?

Synagogues are a means, not an end in themselves. But thriving synagogues contribute to Judaism’s goal: to create healthy individuals, thriving communities, flourishing Jewish life, interconnected human life and a sustainable planet.

News

Reconstructing Pluralism through Conversation

Pluralism is dead. Long live pluralism.

News

Evolving

Through Evolve, we we provide deep, thoughtful, challenging materials to rabbis, professionals and educated laypeople, and provide forums for discussing and reflecting on these materials with respect.

News

Responding to Today's Tragedy

All of us at Reconstructing Judaism are still processing the shock, grief and heartbreak of the shooting that took place in Pittsburgh at Tree of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation, which is also the home of our Reconstructionist affiliate, Congregation Dor Hadash.

News