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Hirsch, Richard


HIRSCH, RICHARD (1926– ), U.S. Reform rabbi and Zionist leader. Hirsch was born in Cleveland and earned his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati and B.H.L. from *He-brew Union College (huc) in 1947. He received his ordination and M.H.L. from huc-jir in 1951. The seminary later honored him with a Doctor of Divinity degree (1976) and a D.H.L. (1999).

After serving as rabbi of Chicago's Temple Emanuel (1951–53) and Denver's Temple Emanuel (1953–56), he was appointed director of the Chicago Federation and Great Lakes Council of the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1956–61). In this capacity, he was instrumental in establishing new Reform synagogues, initiated the Live and Learn Institutes (an intensive adult education retreat program), and organized the Chicago Interreligious Conference on Religion and Race.

Hirsch was the founding director of the uahc Religious Action Center (rac) in Washington, d.c., charting the course of the Reform movement's national center for political action and social justice from its inception in 1962 until 1973. He invited the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the United Negro College Fund, and the Citizens Crusade Against Poverty to set up their headquarters in the rac; in effect, it became Martin Luther King's Washington office, and much of the legislation of the United States' Civil Rights Acts was formulated on its premises. As a civil rights leader, he organized Jewish participation in the March on Washington (August 28, 1963) and Jewish response to King's call to Selma, Alabama. Hirsch also served as the Washington representative of the *Synagogue Council of America as well as of the *National Conference for Soviet Jewry, testifying frequently before Congressional Committees.

In 1972, he was elected the executive director of the *World Union for Progressive Judaism, accepting the position on condition that the International Headquarters be moved to Jerusalem. The Reform movement acquiesced; and in 1973, he and his family moved to Israel.

In 1978, Hirsch helped found the Association of Reform Zionists of America (arza) and later arzenu, the International Body of Reform Zionists. He was instrumental in helping organize kibbutz Yahel, dedicated in 1976, and kibbutz Lotan, dedicated in 1983. Hirsch advocated building attractive facilities for synagogue-community centers and was influential in planning and raising funds for the construction of many buildings, including Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv and Or Hadash in Haifa.

Hirsch was also assuming leadership positions in the broader Zionist world. He was elected chairman of the Zionist General Council (1987–92); served as chairman of the *World Zionist Committee for Redesign and Reorganization of the wzo (1993–96); elected president in 1997 of the 33rd World Zionist Congress, and co-chairman of the Jewish Agency's Commission on the Former Soviet Union, a full-time position he continues to hold. He also remains a member of the Executives of both the wzo and the Jewish Agency.

Upon his retirement from the wupj in 1999, Hirsch was elected honorary life president of the World Union. The auditorium in Mercaz Shimshon was designated the Bella and Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch Theater. The following year, Hirsch published his fifth book: From the Hill to the MountA Reform Zionist Quest (2000); his previous works include Judaismand Cities in Crisis (1961); There Shall Be No Poor (1965); The Way of the Upright (1973); and Thy Most Precious Gift (1974). In addition, he contributed chapters and introductions to more than a dozen other books as well as articles to numerous publications, in both English and Hebrew.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed)]

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