Rehfeld looks forward to coming role as HUC-JIR president

Andrew Rehfeld will serve as HUC’s 13th president. Photo courtesy of HUC

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Andrew Rehfeld, who for the past six years has served as president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, is preparing to take on a new challenge: on April 1, he begins his new role as president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

With campuses in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem, HUC-JIR serves as the Reform Movement’s seminary, training generations of rabbis, cantors, educators and Jewish community professionals.  

Rehfeld, a former professor of political science at Washington University, spoke at Congregation Shaare Emeth during Shabbat services last Friday, outlining his outlook on his upcoming HUC-JIR presidency.

Rehfeld linked his talk to the weekly Torah Portion about the building of the Mishkan with gifts “from anyone whose spirit moved him” to bring offerings to the Lord at the Tent of Meeting.”

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Both Rehfeld and Rabbi James Bennett noted the three admirable traits of Bezalel, the gifted artisan who designed the Mishkan: chochma, or wisdom, discernment and knowledge.

“The Torah Portion this week stresses the importance of discernment and memory, judgment and each has a connection to HUC-JIR,” Rehfeld said.

Rehfeld praised Reform Judaism’s ability to adapt and change and for paving the way to ordaining women as rabbis, and supporting LGBTQ rights. “The differences among the streams of Judaism are weakening. There are more interfaith families and the opening of non-denominational institutions, and it will be interesting to see how all this plays out.”

Returning to the Torah Portion, Rehfeld said its most important parts are Shabbat, the building of the Tabernacle, memory and discernment.

“The Tabernacle is a thing of beauty, constructed with great judgment,” said Rehfeld.  “The emphasis on Shabbat and the 39 prohibited kinds of work reinforces our memory.”

The Golden Calf incident, he said, is a reminder of “moral virtues—the is good and bad in our world, and there is right and wrong.” 

Looking towards the future, Rehfeld said concerns include “synagogue membership and continuity, how Reform Judaism should differentiate itself from other movements now that we won the battles for women’s equality, LBGTQ and interfaith rights, and how to respond to non-denominational seminaries and unaffiliated movements.”

Rehfeld said he was enthusiastic to take on the challenges of the HUC-JIR presidency, “but right now I have more questions than answers.”

The large sanctuary of Shaare Emeth was packed for the service and Rehfeld talk, which was warmly received by those who attended.