Connecting our Communities: What Biennials are All About

Leadership from the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) joined board members of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) December 2 – 4 for a weekend of celebrating the strength of our movement and planning for the year ahead at Keren Or synagogue in Lyon, France. Nowhere was this conflation of priorities and experiences more apparent than during Shabbat morning services as Keren Or welcomed a Sefer Torah that was given by KAM-Isaiah Israel in Chicago, US, through the WUPJ’s Shomrei Torah program.

Leadership from WUPJ and EUPJ welcome a new
Sefer Torah at Keren Or in Lyon, France

“It was a privilege to be at Keren Or for Shabbat, and in Lyon in general,” noted WUPJ President Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander. “Joining our European leadership and congregations to think about our future activities, and personally delivering this Torah Scroll, really emblematized the strength of our movement, and the power of our congregational connections – that they overcome geographical borders in a unique and inspirational way. “

The Reform congregation of Keren Or in Lyon has many successes to speak of: they brought together two split communities, bought beautiful premises for their growing congregations, and raised money to employ a rabbi on a part-time basis. As a result, Keren Or has more than doubled its membership over the past year, along with increased religious school enrollment, service attendance, and participation in the many new community activities. Services have also, in turn, multiplied manifold, including adding a second day of Rosh Hashanah services, additional holiday festivals and celebrations such as Tu B’shvat and Slichot. Additional community events include a Tsedakah or Charity Social Action day, tiny tots programming, youth group activities, a planned trip to Auschwitz, a tour of Israel in July, increased teacher training, and more. Having a Torah Scroll for Keren Or synagogue will clearly strengthen the congregation’s presence for the thousands of Jews in Lyon and their efforts to enhance their services. One of the congregation’s key members is currently studying to become a rabbi at Leo Baeck College in London, so the Torah Scroll will certainly serve the growing community and its leadership for years to come. 

WUPJ Chair Carole Sterling lights candles at Kehillat Shanghai
during Friday night services 

Rabbi Freelander, along with Carole Sterling, Chair of the WUPJ, just returned from Perth, Australia where they attended the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) biennial in mid-November and visited congregations in Asia and Australia. The Australian Jewish News was on hand to interview biennial attendees from abroad, including Carole, to understand what motivates Reform Jews to attend biennials halfway across the world:

In the eyes of World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Chair Carole Sterling, non-Orthodox Judaism is thriving in unlikely parts of the world. She travelled to Perth from Shanghai, where Kehilat Shanghai, the Progressive congregation of China’s mega-metropolis is growing, as are congregations in Beijing, Tokyo and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation. And in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, a renaissance of Progressive Jewish communities – in locations such as Moscow and Belarus, led by rabbis, some of whom received s’micha from Abraham Geiger College, the Progressive seminary located in the Reform movement’s birthplace, Germany – is a heartening development, she said. For Sterling, “inclusivity” is a key word in grappling with intermarriage. In her home country, Canadian Progressive rabbis do not perform mixed-marriage ceremonies, but she subscribes to what she called “audacious hospitality” in welcoming non-Jewish partners into the Jewish lifestyle. Elected to office at the WUPJ’s conference in Rio last year, Sterling, a mother of two who lives in Toronto and worships at Holy Blossom Temple, was in her element at the UPJ conference in Western Australia, even if it is in a far-flung corner of the Jewish world. “I’m always amazed at how we can sit down and half an hour later, we’re family.”

Coming together with family, ushering in Shabbat together, and planning for greater impact in the Reform Jewish world are some of the highlights to experience and explore at the World Union’s upcoming biennial CONNECTIONS 2017. Taking place in Jerusalem, Israel, May 17-20, CONNECTIONS 2017 is about taking time, in Israel, to experience and support, strengthen and develop a pluralistic, inclusive and global Jewish peoplehood among the 1.8 million Progressive Jews around the world who share a common vision for Klal Yisrael. 

Registration is now open for CONNECTIONS 2017 and more information can be seen on our website. We’re finalizing speakers, events and details every day so check back often for updates and news. And check out our exciting pre-conference options to maximize your Israel visit with specialized tours and seminars for women, young adults, legal professionals, social activists, rabbis and more. 

Click here to register today!

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