Amanda Beckenstein Mbuvi, Ph.D., has been named the next vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) outside Philadelphia. Mbuvi (she/her), a scholar of Hebrew Bible, brings to this role a wealth of academic, administrative and nonprofit leadership experience. As a teacher who bridges a wide range of disciplines, she focuses on identity formation and community-building in ways that speak powerfully to the current moment.
Mbuvi will be the first Jew of Color to lead a major American rabbinical seminary. The college is part of Reconstructing Judaism, the central organization of the Reconstructionist movement. Serving as the academic dean, Mbuvi will oversee all aspects of the rabbinical program: supervising faculty, implementing a new curriculum centering field education, bolstering learning and professional opportunities for students, and increasing diversity among the faculty and students while serving as an ambassador for Reconstructionist Judaism in the wider world.
In her role, Mbuvi will serve as a key member of the cabinet of the President of Reconstructing Judaism, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.
“Dr. Amanda Mbuvi is a rigorous and creative scholar who thinks deeply about identity formation, community construction and interconnection whether she is examining the Hebrew Bible, managing literacy programs or leading in her local Jewish community,” said Waxman.
“We welcome her as the new vice president for academic affairs. I am so excited to partner with Dr. Mbuvi in leading the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and in helping to shape the next generation of Reconstructionist rabbis. With her voice and her vision, Amanda is well-suited to help us articulate and build a nurturing, just and interdependent future,” added Waxman.
Mbuvi said she is “beyond excited about being part of the Reconstructionist community. This is a stronger cultural fit than I have ever experienced professionally. This role brings together my diverse array of experiences and the work I am most passionate about.”
Speaking about her role, Mbuvi said “it is really important that rabbinical education be holistic and that it equip students to envision, embody and bring forth new possibilities for the world. Our job is to help root future rabbis in Jewish traditions and prepare them to engage others in those traditions in all of the diverse embodiments and social locations in which people experience Jewish community.
“The American Jewish community is really diverse. It is important to bring that perspective to bear in rabbinic education and to empower rabbis to meet that diversity.” (Story continues below video)
Mbuvi, currently a faculty member at High Point University in North Carolina, is succeeding Elsie R. Stern, Ph.D., who, after providing seven years of visionary leadership to the Reconstructionist movement’s sole seminary, will be rejoining the faculty. Mbuvi begins her leadership as the college is implementing a bold new curriculum that offers nourishing and rigorous Jewish learning, and centers rabbinic training in the field — in congregations, hospitals, social justice organizations, start-up communities and more. With increased opportunities for remote learning, the new curriculum is designed to make rabbinic education more accessible and affordable.
A larger goal of the new curriculum is to train a rabbinate that reflects the expansive diversity of Jewish communities. This fits in with one of Reconstructing Judaism’s central goals of its newly adopted strategic plan to join and lead Jewish efforts to dismantle systemic racism, and to advance racial diversity in the movement, the Jewish world and beyond. Rabbi Sandra Lawson, a 2018 graduate of the college, joined the organization in March as inaugural director of racial diversity, equity and inclusion.
The accomplished scholar, author and nonprofit leader recalls being drawn to study the Bible because of its vivid stories, rich language and because of the ways ancient texts connect with various streams of her identity. In addition to numerous scholarly articles, Mbuvi is author of the 2016 book, “Belonging in Genesis: Biblical Israel and the Politics of Identity Formation,” published by Baylor University Press. She takes an interdisciplinary approach to biblical studies, engaging questions of identity and community that are as present in the biblical text as they are in contemporary society. As a teacher, she introduces students to voices from a wide variety of perspectives, expanding their horizons while also developing their own point of view.
Mbuvi has taught courses in the Hebrew prophets, the Five Books of Moses, Global Perspectives in Biblical interpretation, Women in the Bible, Storytelling and the Sacred, and Introduction to Judaism. In addition to High Point, she has taught at Elon University, Guilford College, Duke University Divinity School, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Renk Theological College in South Sudan.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, Mbuvi has served her local community in a number of ways. She has managed a major adult literacy program in North Carolina, served on the board of Beth David Synagogue and the B’nai Shalom Day School in Greensboro, N.C., and is a former member of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Greensboro Jewish Federation. Mbuvi also spearheaded the creation of High Point University’s first minor in Jewish studies. She serves on the board of the Society for Jewish Ethics and was a program co-chair for its annual meeting from 2019-2021.
Mbuvi earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and literary theory from Bryn Mawr College, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Palmer Theological Seminary, and both a Ph.D. in religion and a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University.
The Forward: In a first, Jew of color to lead major rabbinical school (June 16, 2021)
Jewish Exponent: RRC Names First Jew of Color to Lead College (July 1, 2021)