August 17, 2021 / 9 of Elul 5781
Regarded as the architect of Reform Zionism and of the modern structure of the WUPJ – World Union for Progressive Judaism, the mother institution of the UJR, Union of Reform Judaism Latin America – Rabbi Richard Hirsch, a native of Cleveland, was a tireless advocate of the global Reform Jewish community.
Dick, as he was known, was the founding director of the Center for Religious Action (RAC) in Washington, DC, where he laid the groundwork for the North American Reform Movement’s social justice agenda, helping to pass the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was a friend of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and marched with him to Selma, representing the Jewish community at Dr. King’s memorial service. Rabbi Hirsch was active in the struggle for the liberation of Jews from the then USSR, having been sent, along with his beloved wife Bella, who was fluent in Russian, on special Israeli intelligence missions to establish contact with Soviet Jews.
In 1973, Rabbi Hirsch moved to Israel to become the Executive Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). Hirsch insisted on moving the international headquarters of the WUPJ to Jerusalem, which many consider the most significant decision of Reform Judaism in the 20th century. He was also primarily responsible for the affiliation of Reform Judaism to the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel – a milestone for the WZO and the Reform Movement.
The book of memoirs For the Sake of Zion, co-published by the URJ Press and the WUPJ, traces Rabbi Hirsch’s efforts to build and support Progressive Judaism in Israel and to integrate Reform Judaism with the other institutions of the Zionist Movement.
The UJR-AmLat deeply regrets the passing of Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, visionary leader of Reform Judaism, charismatic and engaging, honorary president for life of the WUPJ, a leading human rights activist in the United States and around the world.
We share this video in which Rabbi Hirsch talks about his life and his ideas:
May his memory be a blessing.
יהי זכרו ברוך