(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
NEW YORK (JTA) – The longtime leader of the North American Reform synagogue
movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, announced that he will be stepping down in two
Yoffie, 63, president of the Union for Reform Judaism for the past
14 years, made the announcement Thursday in remarks at a meeting in Brooklyn of
the organization’s board of directors.
“My energy and enthusiasm remain
undiminished, but I see 65 as an age when I should be taking into account the
simple fact that there are burdens to this job and they cannot be borne
forever,” Yoffie said, according to a prepared text of the speech. “Even more
important, I recognize the value of making way for new thinking in our
future-oriented movement; leadership is an act of renewal and re-creation, and
at a certain point, it is best to encourage others to try their hand at these
Yoffie plans to stay on two years as the URJ searches for a
replacement. During this time, Yoffie told the board, he will focus on four
priorities: improving the Reform movement’s youth group, increasing teenage
participation in synagogue activities, creating a center that will house the
various arms of the movement, and boosting intra-movement cooperation until even
before the center’s completion.
As URJ president, Yoffie spearheaded the
controversial campaign to transform Reform worship and liturgy, a process that
stressed a greater emphasis on Hebrew and tradition, and a more participatory
“I would say worship was boring,” Yoffie told JTA in an
interview shortly before his announcement. “People wanted worship that was
community building, heartfelt and participatory.
They were ready for
leadership – and they got it from local leaders and they got it from the
In addition to leaving a strong stamp on the Reform movement,
Yoffie emerged as one of the Jewish community’s leading advocates of a robust US
role in advancing the peace process, and frequently criticized Israeli
settlement expansion. At the same time, he was not shy about placing the onus
for the breakdown in negotiations on the Palestinians.
In 2001, as the
second Palestinian intifada raged, Yoffie delivered a highly publicized
in which he said he had been wrong about Palestinian intentions and for
speaking out against Palestinian anti- Israel incitement.
sparked headlines with his willingness to cross ideological, political
religious boundaries, most notably when he delivered major speeches to
Islamic Society of North America, an organization that has harshly
Israel, and Liberty University, the Baptist college founded by the late
Falwell, a leading Christian conservative.
The URJ has instituted
significant budget cuts and staff reductions in recent years as result
of a drop
in dues from member congregations struggling with the economic
When asked about his future plans, Yoffie said he might write a
book. He added that he had some other ideas related to Jewish communal
but declined to discuss specifics.