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Schreibman, Ex-Brandeis Hillel Head, Raises Visibility of Reconstructionism

February 7, 2010

Reprint of article as it appeared in the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California

Ex-Brandeis Hillel head wants to raise visibility of Reconstructionism

by Alexandra J. Wall
Staff writer

Rabbi Henry Shreibman is proud of what he’s accomplished as head of school at Brandeis Hillel Day School in the past 13 years. He’s grown the student body by 60 percent, and greatly increased the budget.

Now, following his departure, he is looking forward to stimulating growth of another Jewish institution — the Reconstructionist movement, which has a peripheral presence in the Bay Area.

He has been named the West Coast director of advancement and outreach for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside of Philadelphia.

Besides working with the movement, Shreibman will be lecturing college students at U.C. Davis and Dominican University in San Rafael. He is teaching one course on comparative religion, with a focus on Judaism, Christianity and Islam and another course on ethics in health care.

But his main effort will be giving the Reconstructionist movement some local visibility.

Although there are a number of Reconstructionist rabbis in the Bay Area, there are very few synagogues that are actually affiliated with the movement. Up until now, the college has never had its own representative here.

Shreibman was typical of many of the local Reconstructionist rabbis. Nobody knows where they were ordained.

“I would bet that after being at Brandeis Hillel for 13 years, most people thought I was a Reform or Conservative rabbi,” said Shreibman. He is being replaced at the school by longtime educator Chaim Heller, who will serve as the acting head.

Shreibman explained that many Reconstructionist rabbis take positions at Reform synagogues and other non-Reconstructionist institutions, such as day schools and Hillels.

“I believe that almost 50 percent of Reconstructionist rabbis who serve in congregations are serving in a non-Reconstructionist setting,” he said.

Reconstructionism was founded in the 1920s by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, a Conservative-trained rabbi whose daughter became the first bat mitzvah.

“The other movements come from European roots, and had to come to learn to involve women and to feel comfortable about Israel,” Shreibman said.

Just as the Reform movement began in Cincinnati and spread to New York and Los Angeles, and the Conservative movement flourished in New York and then also spread to Los Angeles, if there is enough interest, Reconstructionism could potentially open a center in the Bay Area, he said.

“Reconstructionism is a much younger movement, and it’s looking at the potential and possibility of San Francisco as a source of spiritual and financial support for the Reconstructionist perspective.”

Shreibman is offering independent Reconstructionist High Holy Days services this year, to offer a taste of what Reconstructionism is about.

“It’s a very unassuming movement, it doesn’t tag itself heavily,” said Shreibman. “In many ways, this was the reluctant movement, but now its [leadership] realizes that it has its own camp, school and synagogues, and has several hundred rabbis, and is really making a mark in the Jewish community.”

Shreibman maintains that many American Jews are probably Reconstructionist in their beliefs without knowing it.

“If you took away the bat mitzvah and women in the rabbinate, and prayer in spite of the fact that you don’t believe in God, and rituals that change and evolve, and that you don’t have to keep all the laws to be halachic, if you take all that away, you don’t have American Judaism,” Shreibman said.

Rabbi Henry Shreibman will be leading Reconstructionist Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at the Golden Gate Club in S.F. and second-day Rosh Hashanah services at Dominican University, San Rafael. Tickets $75. Information: (415) 491-4000 or shreib4@aol.com.

CopyrightJ, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California

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