Hirsch was eulogized by President Isaac Herzog who said he was deeply saddened to learn of Hirsch’s passing.
Rabbi Richard Hirsch, one of the world’s foremost advocates for Reform Jewry and Progressive Judaism and a former long-time leader of the Progressive Movement in Israel, died this week in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 95.
Hirsch was eulogized by President Isaac Herzog, who said he was deeply saddened to learn of Hirsch’s passing.
“Rabbi Hirsch was a genuine Jewish pioneer,” Herzog said. “He charted his own remarkable course based not on popularity or prestige, but on his unclouded intuition, his broad understanding of shifting realities and his deep connection to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
“After advocating for relocation of the World Union for Progressive Judaism headquarters from New York to Jerusalem in 1973, Hirsch immigrated to Israel in order to serve as executive director of the newly established international center. His profound love for Eretz Israel and for Hebrew as his treasured language was at the core of Rabbi Hirsch’s identity, as was his active engagement in social activism.
“Rabbi Hirsch spent many years as a dynamic leader in the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization, in which he proudly represented Reform Judaism and fought to strengthen the bond between Israel and the Diaspora. He was deeply disturbed by the increased dissociation of America’s Jewish youth from Israel and shared his grave concerns with me in our last conversation in Palm Beach.”
Herzog described Hirsch as “a gentleman of great warmth and brilliant humor, an exemplar of social justice and a magnificent storyteller.”
A native son of Cleveland, Hirsch was the 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.
His influence in moving the international WUPJ headquarters to Jerusalem is widely considered to be one of Reform Judaism’s most significant decisions in the 20th century. It was certainly instrumental in bringing Reform Judaism into the Zionist fold. Here, too, it was Hirsch’s influence that resulted in Reform Judaism becoming affiliated with the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency.
In his memoir, For the Sake of Zion, Hirsch wrote of his efforts to integrate Reform Judaism into mainstream Israel and the institutions of the Zionist movement.
“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,” former Jewish Agency chairman and human-rights activist Natan Sharansky said.