Reform Zionism: A Personal Mission

For the Sake of Zion:
Richard G Hirsch’s Historical Memoir of the Struggles of Progressive Zionism

by Rabbi Daniel Allen

Zionism is the story of the modern liberation of the Jewish people restored and renewed to our homeland. It is also the story of remarkable individuals who carved a path for the growth of the Jewish State and a flourishing democracy in the Middle East. The leadership of Weitzman, Ben Gurion, Meir, Eban, and others is well known and well documented. However, the leadership of some of the practitioners and thinkers who played key roles in Israel’s growth is less well known.

In his new memoir For the Sake of Zion: Reform Zionism – A Personal Mission, published by URJ Press and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch tells of his life’s work promoting progressive Zionism and helping the Reform movement come to grips with and embrace Jewish nationalism. His is a story of individual courage, unconditional love and a remarkable effort to serve the Jewish people. His book reminds us that there is no future for the Jewish community (Reform or otherwise) without Israel and that the struggle for Zionism and human rights are interconnected.

While his reflections on the ideology of Reform Zionism are interesting, his descriptions of the inner workings of Jewish organizational life are even more fascinating.

As the founding director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and former executive director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Hirsch offers a clear understanding of Israel-Diaspora relations, past and present.

He brings pithy insight into the workings of such organizations as The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Federations and Keren Hayesod, and demonstrates that the differences between Israeli and Diaspora philanthropists are age old.

Hirsch operated on multiple levels. He built the infrastructure of what is today a growing Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. He raised the funds for and advanced the cause of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, almost single-handedly convincing the leadership that it must be headquartered in Israel. He was also one of the founders of ARZA (the Association for Reform Zionists of America), established to have a voice in the WZO/JAFI world where today it is the single largest Zionist party.

In 1976, Israel formed a special emergency commission on immigration. Major General Amos Horev was appointed to lead this effort and Prime Minister Rabin appointed Hirsch as a member “because he represented four constituencies: new immigrants, the Jewish Agency, the American Jewish community and for the first time, Reform Judaism.”

It is clear that much of what he accomplished was by force of his dynamic personality. And while his proposal for a new organization that would encompass JAFI, WZO, and the philanthropic community was not adopted, it was prescient in understanding the need for major organizational change.

Hirsch was instrumental in making these changes a reality and the current and growing accomplishments of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are due, in large part, to the efforts of Hirsch and others like him, who daily put their blood, sweat and tears into building an ever more inclusive, democratic Israeli society. As the title of this seminal book tells us, all that he has done has been “For the Sake of Zion.”

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA.

For the Sake of Zion: Reform Zionism – A Personal Mission, is available in paperback from
In Israel, the book is available from Weill Publishers, P.O.Box 7705, Jerusalem 91076, price 70 shekels or $22 incl. postage.

Tomorrow evening during the Jewish Agency Assembly/Board meetings, Rabbi Hirsch’s book will be launched.