Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz Responds

by Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz

A recent blog post in eJewish Philanthropy that contained portions of a memo I sent to the RRC community may have left some readers puzzled about RRC and its future plans. I write now to clarify the full picture and, in a few instances, to set the record straight.

First, RRC has spent nearly two years thinking through and evaluating our new Web initiative as a strategic step, with the goal of involving new audiences and better serving our traditional audiences. We hope to accomplish this by continuing to do what we have always done: meet people where they are. In today’s environment, online is increasingly where they are, and our leadership is in agreement that this initiative – a long-term investment in our future – steers us in a good direction. In fact, our board has been asking the very questions suggested in the June 1 eJP blog at every step of the planning process. We believe that combining the strengths of a movement-based rabbinical school with the opportunities provided by digital media is an important step for us and for the Jewish world at large.

This initiative relates directly to our overall mission: “The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College educates leaders, advances scholarship and develops resources for contemporary Jewish life.” In conjunction with training rabbis, we have always been intellectual and community leaders. One of the first Jewish environmental organizations (shomrei adamah) operated out of our building, and we gave birth to Moving Traditions and the Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! Program, which that organization now operates. We run Ritualwell.org, the premier Web site for contemporary Jewish ceremonies and rituals, which we created in partnership with Ma’yan. And, supported by grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, our Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives has offered many firsts – including an innovative retreat held last summer for emerging Jewish and Muslim leaders, which students from seven other rabbinical schools attended.

As described in our current annual report, we’ve made an extensive investment in training rabbis for the campus rabbinate. If it were not for RRC’s direct financial support during this past year, there would have been no professionally led Jewish organizational life at Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore colleges, at the University of the Arts and at West Chester University. Similarly, we have given direct financial support to chaplaincy, JCCs and other outreach efforts. These are just a few of many examples.

While it is true that RRC, like most academic institutions, has had to make cutbacks over the past few years, we have largely succeeded in sparing our academic program from these changes; the most significant cutbacks have been in other areas. RRC carries no debt and has ample reserve funds. Our financial position is not coincidental: We are aggressive in pursuing new ideas, but we are fiscally conservative. And the assertion that RRC is “cutting back drastically on expenses related to traditional instruction and student affairs” is simply untrue.

The restructuring of our student services department, which will result in redistributing the responsibilities that were housed in the office of the dean of students, is also a strategic step, which grew out of faculty work funded by a grant from the Wabash Center. To continue the work we began and to better serve our future students and graduates, we have created a new high-ranking position that will coordinate our approach to all the non-academic aspects of rabbinic formation. The elimination of a dean’s position is part of this reorganization.

The Jewish community is undergoing many changes, and we are happy to be in a position to respond to these changes proactively. We have always behaved in ways that some might find surprising for a rabbinical school. The founding president of RRC, Ira Eisenstein, characterized Reconstructionist Judaism as a small movement with a large agenda; we consider the positive transformation of the broader Jewish community to be an integral part of that agenda. Change is our historic legacy – and we intend to be true to that legacy for many years to come.

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz is president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.