|Education||Ph.D. in American Jewish History|
B.A. in Religion
|Occupation||President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College|
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D. is the president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities. Waxman was inaugurated as the president of both on October 26, 2014. The ceremony took place at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Waxman is believed to be the first woman rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is both a congregational union and a seminary. She previously served as the vice-president for governance for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. In 2015 she was named as one of The Forward 50.
Waxman has focused her scholarly work on American Jewish history. She is a member of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society. Her topics of research include American Jewish history, Jewish identity and peoplehood, women in American Judaism, and Mordecai Kaplan. She has published articles in academic and Jewish journals and presented at conferences.
As an undergraduate religion major at Columbia College, Waxman began her religious scholarship. She earned a Master of Hebrew Letters from and was ordained as a rabbi by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1999. She completed a Ph.D. in American Jewish History at Temple University. She also earned a certificate in Jewish Women's Studies from RRC in conjunction with Temple University.
From 2006 to 2008 RRC undertook a strategic planning process to serve as a 5-year guide for the organization. Waxman was central in the strategic plan's development. The "Key Issues" addressed by the plan included: demographics of the Jewish community, image and influence, and the educational program. Regarding the plan, Waxman stated:
a Reconstructionist perspective is crucial. Everything we do is informed by the values and ideas of Mordecai M. Kaplan, other members of the "founding" generation, those who came after them, and contemporary Reconstructionist thinkers. That is why developing influential and innovative resources that will let us share those values and ideas with the world is one of the Strategic Plan's highest priorities.
In the "Making Change Happen" section of the plan Waxman explained that the ideas the strategic planning committee considered "most potent" include "the expansiveness and creativity inherent in Kaplan's definition of Judaism as the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people [and] the sense of both empowerment and responsibility embedded in that concept and in the ensuing mandate that every generation of Jews must reconstruct Judaism for its own time." About the committee's motivation, Waxman said:
We do all this because we know that if we are successful, our graduates will become change agents capable of transmitting RRC's approach to Judaism and religious life, and ultimately making the world a better place. They will foster individual growth and transform institutions, whether they work in synagogues, colleges and universities; hospitals or Jewish communal organizations; or in settings neither we nor they can imagine... Our ultimate goal is transformation writ large--the personal, religious and social transformation of all humanity.
During the fourth year of the five-year plan (2012) the Reconstructionist movement as a whole underwent a restructuring. At that point the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF)--the union of Reconstructionist congregations--and RRC became one organization and RRC then became the "primary national organization" of the Reconstructionist movement, under the leadership of RRC President Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz. Ehrenkrantz explained "our congregations voted to restructure, closing the doors of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF) and bringing together most movement activities under one roof at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC).
On October 9, 2013, that more broadly structured RRC named Deborah Waxman as its next president, the first to be appointed to lead the new RRC organization. She is believed to be the first woman rabbi to head a joint Jewish congregational union and Jewish seminary. Before she began her presidency on January 1st, 2014, Waxman was "working on completing the merged organization's first-ever strategic plan. ... Waxman said the organization's goal is to further engage people involved in Reconstructionist Judaism and to provide an avenue into Jewish life -- be it cultural, religious or activist -- for anyone who is searching. In the wider American landscape, she views Reconstructionism as a strong voice for a progressive religion that is deeply engaged in social-justice issues."
In addition to her experience in strategic planning, Waxman has written grant proposals that have won support from funders such as the Kresge Foundation, Wexner Foundation and Cummings Foundation and has stewarded major RRC donors.
Waxman was born and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut. She has two siblings. She was raised a Conservative Jew and was one of the first girls in Connecticut to have a Conservative Bat Mitzvah on a Saturday morning (in 1979). Her father was a traveling salesman and her mother was president of the sisterhood of their synagogue in Bloomfield, Connecticut.