The Revolutionary Proposal

Outreach: Breaking Barriers to Save Reform Judaism

The Revolutionary Proposal​​​​​​​

ההצעה המהפכנית

Rabbi Schindler served as the President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the congregational arm of Reform Judaism in North America, for 23 years. As its President, Rabbi Schindler was influential in setting the organization’s strategy and platform.

Rabbi Schindler was concerned about how the Jewish community would respond to modern issues that limited accessibility of Judaism to all. These key issues included intermarriage, patrilineal descent, and LGBTQ congregation  membership.

In one of the most lauded addresses to influential spiritual leaders of the Jewish community, Rabbi Schindler’s Outreach Speech paved the way for major changes in Reform Judaism. In this address, Rabbi Schindler tackled these topics, which had been the source of continued controversy and division within the Jewish community. 

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Date unknown, History For Sale

“I believe that the time has come for the Reform movement - and others, if they are so disposed - to launch a carefully conceived Outreach program aimed at all Americans who are unchurched and who are seeking religious meaning.” ​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​~ Rabbi Alexander Schindler, 1978, Outreach Speech

Reform Leader Urges A Program to Convert 'Seekers' to Judaism, 1978, The New York Times

Jewish Leader Asks Missionary Effort, 1978, The New York Times

Rabbi Schindler's influence on Reform Judaism remains relevant today. Non-Jewish spouses in intermarriages are widely accepted and welcomed into the religion. They are encouraged to raise their children Jewish, provide a Jewish education and, ideally, convert to Judaism. Children whose fathers but not mothers are Jewish are regarded equally to those with Jewish mothers. Reform Judaism fully welcomed the LGBTQ+ community into congregations and the clergy.

In the decade following Rabbi Schindler’s speech, about 120,000 American Jews formally converted and another 65,000 identified as Jewish but without formal conversion (Mayer 253). These figures continue to increase over time.

​​​​​​​Union of American Hebrew Congregations Outreach Resolution, 1978, Schindler Family Archives

"My core conviction, the mainsprings of all my actions, the driving power of my life has been ahavat Yisrael, a love for my fellow Jews which knows no limits.

My own principle expression of ahavat Yisrael has been the Outreach revolution of Reform Judaism. This programmatic initiative, for which I would like to be remembered, has 'ingathered' thousands of Jews and their partners and children.

The word 'ingathering' is, indeed, a good word for Outreach, for it suggests a gesture of embrace and not strain. We 'outreach' from the shoulders; we 'ingather' from the heart. We 'outreach' beyond our bounds; we 'ingather' to a rightful home."
~ Rabbi Alexander Schindler, 1996, Reform Judaism Magazine