The Students of HUC-JIR

Who have dedicated their hearts, their minds, their time and their substance to feeding the homeless, counseling the afflicted, sheltering the abused, and spiritually uplifting them all.

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of the Hebrew Union College, launched in Cincinnati in 1875 as the first permanent Jewish institution of higher learning in the New World.

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of the Hebrew Union College, launched in Cincinnati in 1875 as the first permanent Jewish institution of higher learning in the New World.

Reform Judaism (sometimes called Progressive Judaism) encompasses and embraces a wide range of practices of Judaism. One of the most basic tenets is to view the practice of Judaism as fluid. In this way, Reform Judaism can adapt to modern times while still respecting the faith itself. This fluidity or openness allows for another essential tenet—that all people, regardless of gender/race/sexual orientation, are equal and deserve a life that is socially just and economically and environmentally sustainable.

With those progressive ideas in mind, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise came to America in 1846. He observed Jewish religious practices and recognized the need for a liberal American Judaism where clergy training would take place on American soil. There was no place to advance Jewish studies and knowledge. Wise set to work to establish a place of higher learning and training for rabbis, and in 1875, Hebrew Union College opened in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Since then, Hebrew Union College (HUC) has established three more branches. In 1950, HUC merged with the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. The Institute was founded by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise in 1922 to serve all forms of Judaism, and perfectly cemented the school’s commitment to providing modern rabbinical training, advancing higher learning in Judaism, and promoting an agenda of inclusion and social justice. In 1954, the Los Angeles branch opened, and in 1963, a fourth school in Jerusalem was created, further spreading the reach of HUC-JIR.

The mission of HUC-JIR lies in “developing Jewish professional and lay leaders to transmit and apply to contemporary life the sustaining values, responsibilities, and texts of our tradition, applying the open and pluralistic spirit of the Reform Movement to the study of the great issues of Jewish life and thought, and advancing the critical study of Jewish culture and related disciplines in accordance with the highest standards of modern academic scholarship.” The College-Institute is the center for Jewish higher learning, the creation of scholarly knowledge, publications of academic works, and the training of rabbis, cantors, educators, academics, and Jewish nonprofit management professionals for service in the ideals of Reform Judaism. The students become part of an academic community of scholars and leaders, and take these skills with them into their communities to serve congregations and a broad range of Jewish educational institutions and organizations, college Hillels, and chaplaincy.

HUC-JIR provides internships as part of its study programs, and encourages students to go out into the areas surrounding their schools, providing religious services to Jewish communities that otherwise could not afford a professional rabbi or cantor. In addition, the New York campus features a Soup Kitchen, serving around one hundred homeless people food, comfort, clothing, and access to legal and social services. The students work with the NYU School of Law to offer pro bono legal aid to those who need it.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion dedicates itself to ensuring a vibrant academic opportunity for scholars of Judaism, and those who wish to become Jewish leaders, spreading the ideals of equality and social justice that is Reform Judaism. Students graduate ready to share their knowledge, enthusiasm, and commitment to service within their communities. It was for this commitment that the students of the HUC-JIR were awarded the 1992 Roger E. Joseph Prize.