May 1, 2009

JTA: "Conservative rabbis have a “man in D.C.”"

JTA: Conservative rabbis have a "man in D.C."

By Eric Fingerhut · May 1, 2009

The Conservative movement's rabbinical arm will now have a D.C. address. Rabbi Jack Moline has been named the Rabbnical Assembly's first director of public policy. Moline says the position will be an extension of the political advocacy and activist work he's been doing as an individual rabbi for the last 25 years, and he's "anxious to use the connections I've cultivated" to advance the RA's agenda. The rabbi said the "part-time, volunteer" position is "open-ended," and he hopes to get the office "up and running" while it evolves into something that can "sustain itself." Both the Reform and Orthodox movement have strong presences in the nation's capital, but the Conservative movement has never had a similar operation.

After the jump, the RA's press release announcing the position:

In a move that articulates the bold new focus of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, incoming executive vice president Rabbi Julie Schonfeld recently announced the creation of a first-ever RA Office of Public Policy in Washington, DC.

"The creation of this position is an organic outgrowth of the facts on the ground," said Rabbi Schonfeld, who assumes her new position on July 1st. "Conservative rabbis are already a predominant force in Jewish communal life, filling many key leadership positions. This effort aims to build on this reality by reaching both within and beyond our denomination to mobilize the community in order to do important advocacy work."

To head the new position of director of Public Policy for the RA, Rabbi Schonfeld has named Rabbi Jack Moline, a Conservative rabbi who is already considered a Washington insider.  In addition to being the spiritual leader of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, VA, a pulpit he has held since 1987, Rabbi Moline just completed a two-year term as vice chair of the Interfaith Alliance -- a national coalition of leadership from various faith communities -- and has been named a top influential rabbi by Newsweek magazine.

As the new Washington representative for the rabbinic group, Rabbi Moline shares the vision articulated by Rabbi Schonfeld.  "As Conservative Rabbis," Moline noted, "we bring a point of view that combines the particular and the universal, and turns our deep knowledge of Jewish tradition out towards the world.  Our point of view brings great 'value-added' to discussions of public policy."

Rabbi Schonfeld further explained that the model which the RA is pursuing is one in which program-driven partnerships are created. For instance, one of the first projects on the agenda is related to issues of food distribution, security and sustainability. Work is already underway with Mazon and the American Jewish World Service, and this project will launch in the fall of 2009. "By partnering with existing Jewish organizations we can maximize our effectiveness while eliminating duplication of efforts," she said. "Focusing our efforts is not only necessary in this time of economic constraint but it is the only way that we will be able to respond effectively to the pressing issues of the day."

Rabbi Schonfeld detailed a five-point agenda, which will include Social Justice Partnerships; The Washington Public Policy Office; Israeli Advocacy; Interfaith Work; and Hekhsher Tzedek, a star project of the Conservative movement which is focused on creating an ethical certification process for kosher foods. Rabbi Schonfeld said that the projects undertaken by the RA's new office of Public Policy will have a universal reach, while being rooted in Jewish ethics.

"What we have learned from the enormous success and popularity of Hekhsher Tzedek is that the community is quite literally hungry to lead Jewish lives where the ritual is bound up in the ethical underpinning," explained Rabbi Schonfeld. "That holistic integration of idea and action is at the heart of our initiative…as well as everything that the Rabbinical Assembly will undertake as it goes forward. And forming partnerships is key. The best energy is synergy," she said.

Visionary, Prophetic and Proactive

The establishment of the RA's Public Policy office builds on the tradition of the timely and relevant resolutions which are passed yearly by the voting members of the Assembly, typically in the course of their annual conventions. In recent years, the Conservative rabbis have debated and voted on resolutions dealing with such matters as the war in Iraq, the dissolution of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, affordable health care, and carbon neutrality. The resolutions of the RA are a matter of public record and can be viewed at

Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg, president of the Rabbinical Assembly and rabbi emeritus at Adas Israel in Washington, DC termed Rabbi Schonfeld's leadership "visionary" and the appointment of Rabbi Jack Moline to the position of director of Public Policy for the RA "inspired" and "natural."

"Rabbi Moline is that perfect combination of smart, well-connected, socially-savvy and thoroughly conversant on the issues of the day," he said. "In addition, he knows and ins and outs of the Washington world. His appointment ushers in an exciting new era for the Rabbinical Assembly and Conservative Judaism."

By creating this position, Rabbi Schonfeld demonstrates an approach he describes as "prophetic and proactive," he said. "Rabbi Schonfeld is working within a great rabbinic tradition to bring about much needed change."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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