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History: RAC Timeline

Here are a few snapshots from the RAC’s first forty years. 

October 1959: Rabbi Eugene Lipman, Director, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism (CSA), announces that Kivie Kaplan – President of the NAACP, an active member of the CSA, and Honorary Vice-Chair of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations – and his wife Emily have offered funds to the UAHC for the purchase of a building to house a center for social action in Washington, DC.

First Director and Co-Founder of the Religious Action Center, Rabbi Dick Hirsch, and Civil Rights and Jewish leaders, the Kaplans at the dedication to the RAC in 1961.

 

President Kennedy with Maurice Eisendrath & Torah

 

 November 13, 1961: The RAC is saluted in a special tribute at the White House Rose Garden. President John F. Kennedy is presented with historic Torah by the Isaac Mayer Wise Temple in Cincinnati,Ohio, symbolizing the lasting contribution of Jews to the moral fabric of American society. President Kennedy notes at the ceremony, “I think this symbolizes the happy relations which exist between all religious groups and must continue to exist in this country if we are to be worthy of our heritage.”

December 1, 1962: The RAC’s building is officially dedicated at 2027 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington,DC. Among the guests at the dedication are Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, UAHC President Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, NAACP Board of Directors Chairman Bishop Stephen Spottswood, (soon-to-be Senator) Howard Metzenbaum, and Kivie and Emily Kaplan. A number of civil rights and public interest organizations were housed at the Center.

1964 leaders

1963-1965:The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act are drafted in the RAC's conference room by Jewish, African-American, and other civil rights leaders.

1966: The RAC sponsors the Washington Seminar for Theological Students with the Divinity School at Harvard University. The month-long summer program includes sessions on “Implementation of Civil Rights Legislation,” “Interreligious Relations and Their Impact on Public Policy,” and “Radical Groups and their Impact on American Life.”

Kivie Kaplan and protestors in 1950s

1968:The UAHC and CCAR become the first national Jewish organizations to oppose the war inVietnam. The RAC becomes a hub for Vietnam War protesters and the RAC staff leads strategy sessions to strengthen Jewish involvement in the anti-war efforts, discussions on the war and Jewish tradition, and even serves as an emergency first-aid station when protesters are tear-gassed.

1975: The Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Program is established, bringing college graduates to the Center for periods of 3-12 months to monitor and analyze federal legislation, perform grassroots and coalition advocacy work, and more. To date, more than 225 people have participated in this program, and many have gone on to become rabbis, professionals in the Jewish community, lawyers, public interest lobbyists, and staff members on Capitol Hill.

1976:The Kivie Kaplan Seminar (now called Machon Kaplan) is created as a summer work/study program in social action for college students. 

1976: The RAC holds a presidential seminar, inviting leaders of major Jewish organizations to enter a closed-door conversation with all the U.S.presidential candidates. (It is then-presidential candidate Governor Jimmy Carter’s first meeting with national Jewish leadership.) Governor George Wallace, the symbol of resistance to integration, unexpectedly chooses this opportunity to apologize for some of his positions and to compliment the Jewish community, especially for the creation ofIsrael, which he saw as a bastion against Soviet expansion.

Civil rights leaders together1977: The first Consultation on Conscience takes place. The Consultation on Conscience has become the flagship public policy conference for the Reform Jewish Movement; it is held every two years in Washington shortly after the new Congress takes office and presents high-level briefings on current issues and critical legislation. Speakers at the Consultation have included President Bill Clinton, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Dalai Lama, future Vice-President Al Gore, and scores of Senators and Representatives.

1981: The RAC building is renovated to improve working conditions.

1987: For the two months prior to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s first trip to Washington, the RAC, led by its tenant the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, becomes the operational headquarters for the national March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, which – with more than 200,000 supporters – becomes one of the largest demonstrations in American history. The RAC’s conference room is packed with desks, computers, phone lines, and scores of volunteers as the RAC’s staff helps mobilize congregations throughout the country and helps coordinate the efforts of other Jewish organizations to make the march a huge success.

1995: Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu addresses the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience and thanks the Reform Jewish Movement for its role in the battle to end apartheid.

1996: The RAC expands beyond its building – entering the cyber-world with the launch of its Internet site, now found at www.rac.org

1997: A long-time supporter of freedom for the Tibetan people, the RAC hosts a Passover Seder in honor of the Dalai Lama. Surrounded by prominent Jewish leaders and public officials, the Dalai Lama thanks the RAC for the invitation. Now, he said, he understands even more deeply the sources of Jewish survival – and he loves the matzah.

Kivie Kaplan Way1999: In honor of Rabbi David Saperstein's 25th anniversary with the RAC, President Bill Clinton gives the keynote address at a tribute to Saperstein during the RAC's Consultation on Conscience.

2003: The RAC is completely renovated. The RAC building is renamed The Arthur and Sara Jo Kobacker Building. At the same time, the section of 21st Street next to the RAC is formally named “Kivie Kaplan Way,” and the newConference Center is named for Emily and Kivie Kaplan.