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Yom Ha'atzma-ut torch-lighting honor recognizes his role in Zionist movement and in strengthening its ties with Reform Judaism
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WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 19, 2010 - Rabbi Richard Hirsch, first director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and longtime head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), the international arm of the Reform Movement, today became the first Reform rabbi to receive the honor of lighting a torch during Israels Independence Day ceremony. He joined 13 other Israelis in participating in the evening ceremony opening Israels 62nd Independence Day celebrations on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, televised throughout Israel.
The Independence Day torch-lighting honor, bestowed upon Rabbi Hirsch by a committee within the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recognizes his key role in the Zionist movement, as chairman of the Zionist General Council, and strengthening ties between Reform Judaism and the Zionist movement.
Appointed in 1962 by Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath to direct the newly-formed Religious Action Center, Hirsch served as director of the RAC until 1973, when he moved to Israel and became executive director of WUPJ. He is credited with influencing the organizations decision to relocate its headquarters to Israel, solidifying the commitment of Progressive Judaism and its adherents to Israel and the Zionist endeavor. He became a major figure in Zionist politics, serving as chairman of the Zionist General Council.
Albert Vorspan, Senior Vice President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, said, ÐDick Hirsch led the Religious Action Center during this countrys historic and tumultuous struggles for civil rights and peace in Vietnam. He helped to mobilize the coalitions of decency which secured passage of milestone civil rights laws and Great Society programs in America.
Echoing Vorspans sentiments, Rabbi David Saperstein, who is Hirschs successor as Director of the RAC, said, ÐRabbi Hirsch is one of the great institution-builders in Reform Jewish history. His world-wide reputation as an influential Zionist leader makes our work so much easier, and we congratulate him on this wonderful honor. When I arrived here in the mid-1970s, Dick had set a remarkable standard as the RACs first director. A respected friend of Israeli Ambassadors, Members of Congress, and interfaith leaders during his tenure in Washington, he helped set in motion the trademark social justice programs and advocacy efforts that have helped define the Reform Jewish Movement in America and across the globe.Ó Rabbi Hirsch is the author of a book titled From the Hill to the Mount, recounting great struggles for justice in America and the quest for pluralism and social justice in Israel.