Rabbi Mordechai Liebling has worked throughout his career for tikkun olam, the repair of the world. He created and directed the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s innovative Social Justice Organizing Program; and he led the initiative to invest rabbinical students with the clarity of purpose, vision and voice to become powerful, spiritually strong leaders in the drive towards social justice and environmental sustainability. He believes that spiritual leaders have a unique position to demonstrate and inspire ethical choices, and to lead a pursuit of justice fueled by love rather than rage.
Liebling served as the executive vice president of Jewish Funds for Justice, where he oversaw the creation of the Selah Leadership program; the highly successful drive to involve more synagogues in congregation-based community organizing; and the expansion of the inter-seminary program to train rabbis as organizers. Prior to that organization’s merger with the Shefa Fund, he was the Torah of Money director, guiding people to apply Jewish laws and values to how they spend, invest and donate, and created the first Jewish shareholder engagement network.
For 12 years, Liebling served as executive director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF). Under his tenure, the movement experienced its most rapid growth, going from 54 affiliates to nearly 100; experienced its longest stretch of years without an operating deficit; published the Kol Haneshamah Prayerbook series; and issued groundbreaking reports on homosexuality and on the roles of non-Jews in congregations. He also initiated the report, The Rabbi-Congregation Relationship: A Vision for the 20th Century. He was the founding chair of Shomrei Adamah: Guardians of the Earth, the first American Jewish environmental organization, initially under the sponsorship of the JRF.
In 1997, Liebling’s wife, Rabbi Devora Bartnoff, passed away, leaving him to raise their four children under the age of 13. In order to fulfill parenting responsibilities, he resigned as executive director to work part-time as a consultant for the JRF. He has never returned to working full-time.
While a senior at RRC, he was co-executive director of P’nai Or and co-created what is now known as the Aleph Kallah, a biennial event that attracts as many as 1,000 participants. Also as a student, he was a co-author of The Children of Abraham Haggadah, the first seder to tell the history of Israel/Palestine as a dual narrative.
Liebling is the only rabbi to have answered all three clergy calls to go to the actions in Ferguson, Mo.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Standing Rock, N.D. He has written about all of these experiences. Currently, he is part of a training team for Faith in Action (FIA), the largest network of faith-based community organizing groups in the United States, which team trains leaders how to address the intersection of racism, antisemitism and Christian hegemony. He also leads workshops on these issues for congregations. Locally, he is leading the strategic planning process for POWER, an FIA affiliate and the largest community organizing group in the state.
Liebling has maintained a decades-long commitment to environmental justice. He and his wife, Lynne Iser, have been trained by the deep ecology elder, activist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy in The Work That Reconnects, about which they lead international workshops and retreats. He helped create and was part of the leadership team of Green Justice Philadelphia that successfully stopped the development of a new Southport Oil Terminal in 2016. He has committed civil disobedience and been arrested numerous times acting as part of the Earth.
Liebling was a founder of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. He has served on the boards of various national and international nonprofit organizations; currently, he serves on the board of the Faith and Politics Institute, and is the president emeritus of the Shalom Center.
The multiple-award-winning documentary Praying with Lior focuses on Liebling’s son, Lior, who has Down syndrome. The movie depicts a family and community working together to raise, and in turn, learn from a person with different abilities. His other children from his first marriage are Reena, Yoni and Luna. He has a stepson Ben, with Lynne Iser, as well as a granddaughter, Solana.
Liebling holds a Bachelor of Arts in government from Cornell University and Master of Arts in the history of American civilization, specializing in American progressive movements, from Brandeis University. He is a 1985 graduate of RRC.
He has published chapters in several books — most recently, in Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, issued in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day; in Seeking Redemption in an Unredeemed World; and in God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors. Liebling has also written articles for many publications, including Tikkun, Jewish Currents and The Reconstructionist.
April 13th, 2020 | Season 1 | 54 mins 7 secs
When he confronted demonstrators at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.,hearing the chants of “the Jews will not replace us”, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling came face-to-face with white supremacy and antisemitism. As a child of Holocaust survivors, Liebling has thought about antisemitism his entire life, and as a veteran organizer and activist, he’s worked with a cross-section of groups to combat intolerance in all forms. In this conversation, Liebling describes his experiences in Charlottesville: what brought him there, and what he learned about hate in America. He also reflects on two of his Evolve essays: “Thoughts on Racism and Antisemitism” and “A Brief History and Update on Antisemitism”, paying particular attention to relations between American Jews and African Americans.