First Jew of Color to Head Reconstructionist Rabbinical School

(JTA) – The reconstructionist movement has chosen a Jew of color to lead its rabbinical college, a first for a major American Jewish movement.

Hebrew scholar Amanda Beckenstein Mbuvi, who is black, will head the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside of Philadelphia, the umbrella organization of the Reconstructing Judaism movement announced this week. She will become vice president of academic affairs, the school’s most senior position, and report to Reconstructing Judaism’s executive director, Rabbi Deborah Waxman.

Mbuvi is neither a rabbi nor previously involved in the Reconstructionist movement, although she told Waxman in an online conversation that her “formative experience of community Jewish life” took place in a conservative synagogue that had a Reconstructionist rabbi. .

In that conversation, she said that the diversity of the American Jewish community is important to reflect in rabbinical education. She said her vision for rabbinical education is that “it enables students to imagine, embody, and bring forth new possibilities for the world – to root them in Jewish tradition and to equip them to engage the others in this tradition in all the various incarnations and social places that people bring to the Jewish community now.

The 44-year-old is currently a faculty member at High Point University, a liberal arts college in North Carolina, where she helped found the school’s minor in Jewish studies. Mbuvi holds a doctorate in religion from Duke University and in 2016 published a book entitled “Belonging in Genesis: Biblical Israel and the Politics of Identity Formation”. Her online biography says that she “grew up Jewish in the black church.”

The Reconstructionist movement, which seeks to change its Jewish teachings to suit contemporary times, is the smallest and most progressive of the four major currents of American Judaism – including Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox. Mbuvi is the second Jew of color the movement has hired in recent months for senior positions. In January, this led to Rabbi Sandra Lawson, who had served as Rabbi Hillel at Elon University, also in North Carolina, to become its first-ever Director of Racial Diversity, Equity and Social Affairs. inclusion.

Lawson told The Forward this week that Mbuvi stood out among a large number of leadership contenders. “The fact that the best candidate is also a Jew of color shows that this is the direction the Jewish community is taking,” Lawson said. “There are going to be some incredibly talented people in the Jewish community who are not white. “

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