The first woman rabbi to head a Jewish congregational union and seminary, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., became president and CEO 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.
In connection with LGBT History Month 2020, she was named an LGBT History Icon.
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 camp initiative, Havaya Summer Programs, is 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
What Does it Mean to be a Leader? Inspiration from Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, The 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, Appearances and Coverage
Rabbis: Synagogues should be among last places to reopen. What does that mean for High Holidays?, Forward, May 8, 2020
The False Choice Between Safety and the Economy, The New York Jewish Week, May 7, 2020
Jewish Particularism & Universalism: An Interview with Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., April 23, 2020
Passover Message: May We All Be Liberated Soon [Video], April 5, 2020
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