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Rabbi Richard Hirsch - Biography

Rabbi Hirsch, who has been called the architect of Reform Zionism and the world-wide movement for Progressive Judaism, will receive the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award for Service to Reform Jewry. Every two years at the URJ Biennial, the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award is conferred in two categories: Service to Reform Jewry and Service to the World Community. Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, will receive award for Service to the World Community.

Rabbi Hirsch, a native of Cleveland, has been a tireless advocate for the global Reform Jewish community.  He was founding director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC from 1962 to 1973 and helped pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1973 Rabbi Hirsch moved to Israel to become Executive Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.  Hirsch insisted on moving Progressive Judaism’s international headquarters to Jerusalem, which many consider Reform Judaism’s most significant decision of the 20th century. He was also the prime mover in affiliating Reform Judaism to the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel – a milestone for both the WZO and the Reform Movement. 

His memoir For the Sake of Zion, co-published by URJ Press and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, traces Rabbi Hirsch's efforts to build and support Progressive Judaism in Israel and to integrate Reform Judaism into the institutions of the Zionist Movement. 

“At a time when there are voices calling for the disengagement of the Jewish people from Israel, here is a leader who understood very early on that there is no future for the Reform Movement and for the Jewish people without a strong Israel,” said Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky. “At a time when so many think that human rights and Zionism pull in the opposite direction, here is a leader who proves by his own life that the struggle for Zionism and the struggle for human rights are one and the same.”

"Dick Hirsch is an activist and institution builder, as well as a man of great passion and soaring ideals,"  said URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie. “He is committed to the idea of one Jewish people and to the upbuilding of the Jewish State, and he believes with all his heart that Reform Judaism needs Israel just as Israel needs Reform Judaism.  He is deserving in every way of the Reform movement's highest accolade."