Editor's note: Rabbi Rick Jacobs presented this address before a live audience at the 2019 Union for Reform Judaism Biennial, the largest Jewish gathering in North America. Watch the video of his address below, or visit URJ.org to read the full text.
Did you ever wonder what happened to the 10 Lost Tribes of ancient Israel? In 721 B.C.E., they disappeared. Poof. Gone.
Imagine if we could find them today? Our Jewish community could increase to as many as 85 million worldwide.
But demographers tell us that our numbers are not likely to grow in the next 50 years; that, in fact, our numbers shrinking. And some Jewish leaders don’t care.
They think that though the Jewish future may be numerically smaller, it will be made up of a more intensely engaged few, and that’s OK.
Seriously? There are people out there that are looking for the authentic, meaningful experience that we offer. Why would we turn our backs on them?
As long as I have the great honor of leading our movement, we’re not going to walk away from millions of people in the name of focusing on Jewish elites. Not now, not ever.
Jewish history is littered with groups that failed to understand new realities. The Essenes? The Sadducees? The Karaites? All are now footnotes in our history. The Jewish communities that are still here are the ones that figured out how to adapt.
Today, my friends, that is us.
We need to do what Jews have been doing for thousands of years – look to Torah. The key to our future isn’t demography; it’s theology. Back in Genesis, our ancestors were told over and over that Jewish life was meant to expand and grow, not contract.