2019 Scholars in Residence – ATLANTA Convention
Rabbi Jonah Pesner
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner serves as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He has led the Religious Action Center since 2015. Rabbi Pesner also serves as Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism, a position to which he was appointed to in 2011. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine, he is an inspirational leader and tireless advocate for social justice.
Rabbi Pesner’s work has focused on encouraging Jewish communities to reach across lines of race, class, and faith in campaigns for social justice. In 2006, he founded Just Congregations (now incorporated into the Religious Action Center), which engaged clergy, professional, and volunteer leaders in interfaith efforts in pursuit of social justice. Rabbi Pesner was a primary leader in the successful Massachusetts campaign for health care access that has provided health care coverage to hundreds of thousands and which became a nationwide model for reform. Over the course of his career, he has also led and supported campaigns for racial justice, economic opportunity, immigration reform, LGBTQ equality, human rights, and a variety of other causes. He is dedicated to building bridges to collectively confront anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate and bigotry.
Rabbi Pesner has trained and mentored students on all four campuses of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and gives speeches in interfaith and secular venues all over the world. Rabbi Pesner serves as a board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, JOIN for Justice, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and the New England Center for Children. He is a member of the Leadership Team for the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. He has served as a scholar for the Wexner Foundation, American Jewish World Service, the Nexus USA Summit, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies, among others.
Ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1997, Rabbi Pesner was a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston and at Temple Israel in Westport, Conn. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the Bronx High School of Science, Rabbi Pesner is married to Dana S. Gershon, an attorney. They have four daughters: Juliet, Noa, Bobbie, and Cate.
Gregory C. Ellison, II
The Rev. Dr. Gregory C. Ellison, II joined the Candler faculty in 2009. He serves as an Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling. His teaching draws primarily from his work with the organization he founded called Fearless Dialogues, a non-profit organization that creates unique spaces for unlikely partners to have hard, heartfelt conversations on taboo subjects like racism, classism, and community violence.
Ellison’s research focuses on caring with marginalized populations, pastoral care as social activism, and 20th and 21st century mysticism. He is the author of Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men, and Fearless Dialogues: The Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century and has one book in progress with Westminster John Knox Press—Anchored in the Current: The Eternal Wisdom of Howard Thurman in a Changing World.
Ellison is the board chair of the Fund for Theological Education, and a member of the Society for Pastoral Theology and the American Academy of Religion.
Ellison has twice been the recipient of Candler’s “Faculty Person of the Year” award, in 2010-2011 and 2016-2017. Also, in 2014, Ellison received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, Emory University’s most prestigious faculty teaching honor. He is an ordained Baptist minister who has served in Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
Fearless Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice. Westminster John Knox, 2017
Atlanta is synonymous with Social Justice and Civil Rights history and education, and it’s about so much more! We will explore the many faces of Atlanta including being a leader in music and arts when we gather June 23-27, 2019 at the Westin Buckhead Atlanta.
During the convention, we will gather as colleagues and friends to study with scholars and peers who can take the idea of Tikkun Olam and help us put it into action and we will also have the opportunity to learn and grow as Jewish clergy and musical professionals. We will learn the history of Atlanta and its role the Civil Rights Movement, focusing on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Temple Bombing. We will explore how to better dialogue with those whom we do not always agree and how we as Reform Jews can help move the needle on Pay Equity. Those who are interested in “all things organ” will have an opportunity to visit the AE Schlueter Pipe Organ Factory as well as play The Temple’s celebrated Fifty Rank Aeolian Skinner Pipe Organ, one of 12 in the country to merit a signature plate from its rebuilder, G. Donald Harrison. We will talk about technology for synagogue professionals, the role of choirs within religious communities, retirement planning, and hear new compositions from Transcontinental Music Publications. The new ACC Officer Team will be installed as we thank and celebrate the outgoing team. We will have our business sessions that represent the business of the Conference and the Guild.