Jack Moline, rabbi of Agudas Achim Congregation of Northern Virginia since 1987, is stepping down to become executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
He replaces David Harris, who left the NJDC in February, following what some saw as decreased Jewish support for the Democratic party. He had led the organization for three years and was author of an article about Republican donor and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who filed a defamation lawsuit accusing the NJDC of defaming him.
That suit was dismissed Monday.
“Rabbi Moline brings a wide and exciting range of abilities and experience to NJDC,” said Marc Stanley, chair of the NJDC board of directors. “His work as national co-chair of Rabbis for Obama, coordinator of public policy for the Conservative movement, coupled with his interfaith expertise and teaching and facilitating skills, make him a terrific leader for NJDC moving ahead.”
As the spiritual head of his congregation, Moline has been involved in and spoken out on numerous social issues in the news and was the president of the Washington Board of Rabbis. He also has served with Alexandria Call to Community, is a board member of the Interfaith Alliance and is a Capitol Hill reflection group leader for the Faith and Politics Institute.
He has been invited to the White House and even contributed to then-President Bill Clinton’s eulogy for slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Moline will begin his new job in January 2014. He wrote to his synagogue members explaining that “my heart and my home remain with my congregation. You can expect to see me regularly at services and synagogue functions, and of course I will continue to keep the confidences you have entrusted to me and maintain the concerns that reflect my affection for every member of the synagogue.”
Moline, who was named as one of the top rabbis in the country by Newsweek magazine in 2008 and 2010, is excited about entering into the political fray at a time when many people are being turned off by politics.
“If I didn’t think I could make that situation better, I wouldn’t” have taken this job, he said. He plans to use what he called the Jewish model of civil dialogue and focus on issues while “deemphasizing the culture of denigration that has typified politics of late.”
As a rabbi at a large shul, Moline had a bully pulpit to help move social issues. As head of the NJDC, he will working with a group of people to set priorities. “There is “a raft of issues all of which are going to be shut down tomorrow,” he said Monday evening, hours before the federal government’s probable shutdown.
He stressed that “support for the state of Israel is a foundational value” that shouldn’t be subjected to party politics.
In a prepared statement, Moline, 61, went on to note that “American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic. They do so not out of habit, but because of their values. NJDC is the voice of those values. We are the voice of those values to our government and the candidates who wish to serve, and we are the voice that speaks of those values to experienced voters and each next generation.”
While noting that “our support for the state of Israel is foundational,” Moline said, “There is more to Jewish activism than Israel. Education, health care, poverty reduction, all of those things that our Constitution points to with the mandate to promote the general welfare, have analogs in our long and rich history of the right and proper concerns of the society in which we live.”
As head of the NJDC, Moline will work to maximize Jewish support for Democrats and help educated elected Democratic officials and candidates on issues and priorities to promote a secure state of Israel as well the social justice needs of Americans.
Moline serves as an adjunct professor at both the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Virginia Theological Seminary and is the author of two books, “Growing Up Jewish” and “Jewish Leadership and Heroism.”
He also served as the fund director for The Sixty Fund, which provides small scale support for individuals and groups working to make the world a better place.
Prior to becoming a rabbi, he drove a delivery truck, worked as a clown in a family restaurant and gave tours at Universal Studios in California. He is a self-described diehard Chicago Cubs and Beatles fan.
Moline will be greatly missed, noted Joel Goldhammer, Agudas Achim president, who thanked him for “a career of exemplary service as our rabbi, thoughtful insights as our teacher, needed comfort as our counselor and friend, and for sharing your knowledge of Judaism and its beauty as our spiritual leader and advisor.”
In a letter to the congregation, Goldhammer said Moline made the congregation and its members “stronger, and more knowledgable Jews. He has, more than any other single figure, shaped Agudas Achim Congregation, and positioned us well to meet the challenges we will encounter in our next 100 years.”
Moline is expected to become rabbi emeritus at the Virginia synagogue and will continue on during the transition period, probably until the spring. Meanwhile, a search committee has been formed to choose a new rabbi.
But he will be “a Jew in the pews,” he said, noting that he won’t be moving out of the area.
“It’s a wonderful community. I love the people there. They have been very generous, allowing me into their lives” both during good and bad times, he said.
The interaction with people, whether it was during teaching, praying, singing or wrestling with issues, was his favorite part. He hopes to continue that interaction both at his old and new jobs.