Change is in the air. As you and your congregation prepare for the New Year, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on World Jewry and our Reform/Progressive community.
WUPJ Moving Forward: President Daniel H. Freelander
Intolerance threatens Klal Yisrael. We are experiencing many setbacks, including reversals to religious rights in Israel resulting from the recent political coalition, reactions to anti-Semitic violence in France and Belgium, increased anti-Semitism across Europe, the lack of civil discourse surrounding the Iran deal and our Jewish community has become less respectful of one another.
Our progressive Jewish commitment to pluralism and tolerance requires us to fight for our vision of the Jewish future – and the rights of others to express their opinions. Building Jewish coalitions that respect the diversity of Jewish convictions is work we must address at every level. 5776 should be the year when we strive to rebuild a sense of Klal Yisrael - respect, love and tolerance in all our communities.
We approach Rosh HaShanna with the images of tens of thousands of Libyan and Syrian refugees searching for new, safe homes – and ambivalence of potential host countries to accept them. We Jews have been there before – in the late 19th Century and the 1930s and 40s. Many, if not most of us, are the offspring of those refugees. How different our lives would be if we had succeeded in re-establishing our lives in our new homes. We are, and have always been, immigrants.
May that lesson not be lost on us during these Days of Reflection.
Within the World Union, we are redoubling our efforts to support pluralistic Jewish communities wherever Jews choose to live. Our International CONNECTIONS 2015 convention in Rio celebrated our vibrancy, and potential. We have welcomed new leadership that will guide our efforts in the years ahead. Chair Carole Sterling of Toronto has brought new energy and focus to our work. A new travel program will bring Reform Jews from around the world to every regional biennial and dozens of our congregational communities. New professional management at Beit Shmuel will develop our beautiful campus, and plan new programs to bring greater awareness to our worldwide Progressive community. In addition, the new Moscow Rabbinic Leadership Institute has just welcomed its first class – the first time Progressive Jewish rabbis have been trained in Russia for more than 70 years. ARZENU will host the largest delegation ever to the upcoming World Zionist Congress, making our coalition the most powerful group in the Zionist world.
I am proud to lead our Movement at this time in Jewish history. I value our partnership in exploring new ways to strengthen Progressive Judaism around the world, and look forward to working with you in the year ahead. May the New Year be sweet for you, your families and the entire Jewish People.
On August 31, Bielefeld hosted its first ordination of Reform rabbis as well as the investiture of a cantor, at a ceremony in the Beit Tikva Synagogue.
Irith Michelsohn, President of Beit Tikva, noted, “This is the most important day since we dedicated our synagogue in 2008.”
Four New Reform Rabbis: (L to R) Natalia Verzhbovska,
Eli Reich, Alexander Grodensky and Sonja Pilz.
Two state governors were among the notables who attended the ordination. Hannelore Kraft, the Premier of North Rhine Westphalia, greeted 350 invited guests, including members of parliament, the board of the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany (UpJ), representatives of the General Rabbinical Conference of Germany, senior clergy, and Jewish communal leaders from across Europe, including Poland and Russia. “This is a day of great joy and gratitude,” Kraft said, welcoming the first female rabbi of Westphalia, Kiev born Natalia Verzhbovska. In his speech on behalf of the Leo Baeck Foundation, Bodo Ramelow, Premier of the Free State of Thuringia, assured the five graduates that they would continue to “belong to us”.
Three Great AGC Supporters: (L to R) EUPJ President Leslie L.
Bergman, faculty member Bettina Schwarz, and Hebrew Bible
scholar Professor Rüdiger Liwak were duly honored as senators.
While Natalia Vershebovsla will serve three Progressive congregations in Westphalia, her colleague Alexander Grodensky, who hails from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, will take a pulpit in Esch-sur-Alzette, the second-biggest city in Luxembourg.
The two other rabbis who were ordained will pursue academic careers. Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, who was just awarded her Ph.D., is in New York City now for post-doc studies. Eli Reich, who was born in Sweden and educated in Israel, will join the faculty of Potsdam’s School of Jewish Theology. The ordination was conducted by Rabbi Walter Jacob, President of Abraham Geiger College (AGC). He also invested Munich born cantor Amnon Seelig, who grew up in Israel.
Sacred Moment: Rabbi Walter Jacob investing
Amnon Seelig as cantor.
“Fifteen years ago, hardly anyone could have imagined that rabbis trained in Germany, of all places, would be working in neighboring countries in Europe and beyond,” said Abraham Lehrer, Vice President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
Abraham Geiger College was founded in 1999 and ordained its first class in 2006. Since then, its students and more than 30 graduates have enriched the lives of Jewish communities throughout Europe, Israel, South Africa, and the United States.
Rabbi Daniel Freelander, WUPJ President, said:
"Only six Russian-speaking rabbis serve our entire FSU population. We need so many more, and some are approaching retirement age. The Machon Rabbinic Training Institute in Moscow will develop both the lay and professional leaders required to implement change and ensure a Jewish future in the Former Soviet Union. We hope this initiative will allow us – in about six years – to begin ordaining up to three or four Russian-speaking rabbis each and every year, and thus grow the professional leadership of all our congregations in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia."
Sensational Seven: Moscow Rabbinic Leadership Institute's
first incoming class.
The curriculum will include extensive fieldwork opportunities both at Moscow State University, in the students' communities between semesters, and in Israel during the MASA semester internship.
Students will have a chance to gain a BA in Jewish Studies that is facilitated by the Abraham Geiger College. Then, for those interested in continuing their studies towards rabbinic ordination from the Abraham Geiger College, there will be the option of pursuing a Master of Jewish Theology degree at the University of Potsdam.
Welcome! The Russian State University for the Humanities sets off fireworks
and launches balloons in honor of the Machon's first incoming class.
During the four-year program in Moscow, the WUPJ will provide financial assistance for housing, tuition and other program expenditures. Meanwhile, incoming students will be required to invest in their own future by paying for approximately one third of the costs. Such an unprecedented approach is a significant example of the WUPJ's emphasis on self-sufficiency.
The new Machon is open to everyone, not only members of the Progressive movement. The goal is to enable a new generation of dedicated men and women to return to their home communities and assume their rightful places as Jewish educators, leaders and spiritual guides.
According to Dr Alex Kagan, WUPJ Director for the Former Soviet Union, "With the beginning of the first academic year of the Moscow Rabbinical College I am convinced that we are turning a new page in the history of FSU Jewry. This is not merely a banner day for Reform Judaism. Indeed, the new generation of Reform rabbis will in the next six years begin to serve all Jewish men and women across the region. I am grateful and proud to have been given the opportunity to play a role in in the establishment of this institution. I salute everyone involved in this noble endeavor, and would like to congratulate the fine group of young men and women who comprise the Moscow Rabbinical College's first incoming class."
Get to know the seven students from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine who are taking part in this exciting new program.
Read Dr. Kagan's Times of Israel piece about the Moscow Rabbinic Leadership Institute.
Between August 28 and August 30, Czech Jews from throughout the Czech Republic gathered to celebrate at the ninth annual Shabbaton Conference. This year's event took place in the city of Jecin, located about 90 km Northeast of Prague, a region known as the “Bohemian Paradise.”
The purpose of the Shabbaton is to provide the opportunity for Jews to come together for worship, study, discussion of current issues facing Czech Jewish communities, and to strengthen the resolve of Progressive Jews in a country that is still led by an Orthodox Chief Rabbi.
Ancient Roots, Vibrant Future: Ninth annual
Shabbaton Conference, Czech Republic.
The Shabbaton was organized with the support of Olga Melzochova, Beit Simcha's administrator, Michal Spevak President of Beit Simcha, and Jan Kinderman, a local Jecin resident who directs the Federation of Jewish Communities’ synagogue restoration project. This year's guest speakers were Rabbi Joel Oseran, Vice President, International Development for the WUPJ and Professor Paul Liptz, Director of Education for the WUPJ's Anita Saltz International Education Center and lecturer at Tel Aviv University's Department of Middle East studies.
The small Jewish community in Jecin dates back to the 16th century with a synagogue dedicated in 1774. The Shabbaton used that same synagogue, beautifully reconstructed in the late 1990's, for the Shabbat worship services led by Beit Simcha spiritual leader Ivan Kohut.
Rabbi Oseran had the privilege of affixing a World Union Mezuzah at the entrance to the synagogue and brought the blessing of Progressive Jews throughout the world.
Blessed be this Home: (L to R) Jan Kinderman, Michal
Spevak and Rabbi Joel Oseran affix a World Union
Mezuzah at the synagogue's entrance.
In addition to Shabbat and Havdallah services, the Shabbaton provided a number of additional learning opportunities for the more than 50 participants.
Professor Liptz presented a comprehensive review of issues facing Israel in the Middle East, which generated considerable discussion. Rabbi Oseran used the opportunity to discuss progress of Progressive Judaism in Israel over the past few years as well as engaging in discussion regarding the issue of conversion and how the EUPJ can be of assistance to those candidates interested in conversion where no Progressive congregation exists. The model of teaching conversion classes through Skype, as is presently conducted in Spain, was discussed as well.
Dateline Israel: Professor Paul Liptz provides insights
into the latest developments from the Middle East.
Another, more unusual workshop topic was entitled, "Jewish Humor within the Framework of Halacha," and was taught by David Maxa, a native of Prague and now entering his second year of rabbinical studies at the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin. The group also toured the historic Jecin Jewish cemetery.
Holy Humor: David Maxa's (center, with blue shirt) workshop
was a Shabbaton highlight.
With less than an estimated 10,000 Jews in the Czech Republic today, the need to engage them in Jewish life is critically important.
As Rabbi Oseran noted: "The future of Jews in the country depends upon the extent to which Progressive Judaism will grow and develop inside the Czech Republic, providing religious leaders to guide the future of Jewish communities."
View highlights of the ninth annual Shabbaton Conference now. Read Rabbi Joel Oseran's complete report here.
This summer was full of action and fun-filled learning experiences for Reform and Liberal Jewish youth, young singles and families from around the world.
According to Maoz Haviv, executive director of Netzer Olami and TaMaR, this year’s camps were an unqualified success. “Close to 3,300 Netzer members participated in these events, not including NFTY camps in North America. This is a very respectable number, and I am fully confident that the experience enriched their lives, increased their understanding and insights of their Judaism, and enhanced their Jewish, Zionist and movement identity,” he said.
Below, is a brief summary of the summer that was.
Stay tuned for comprehensive camp reports from the various regions in upcoming issues of the WUPJ Newsletter!
Name of Country: England
2015 Camp Dates: August 11 – 24
Age Range of Campers: 8-15
Summer in Israel: (age 16): 45
Name of Country: Panama
2015 Camp Dates: July 10-13
Age Range of Campers: 8-16
Name of Country: France
2015 Camp Dates: July 6 - 19
Age Range of Campers: 6 – 16
Netzer South Africa
Name of Country: South Africa
2015 Summer Camp Dates: June 28 – July 3
Age Range of Campers: 14-17
Name of Country: England
2015 Summer Camp Dates: July 28 – August 11
Age Range of Campers: 10-15
Summer in Israel (age 16): 270
Name of Country: Israel
2015 Summer Camp Dates: July 13-29
Age Range of Campers: 9 – 18
2015 Summer Camp Dates: June 4 – August 20
Campers + Staff: 800
Age Range of Campers: 7-35
Name of Country: Germany
2015 Summer Camp Dates: July 30 – August 10
Age Range of Campers: 8-17
Name of Country: Spain
2015 Summer Camp Dates: July 13-25
Age Range of Campers: 5-16
Netzer Melbourne + Netzer Sydney
Name of Country: Australia
2015 Summer Camp Dates: June 30 – July 5
Age Range of Campers: 8-18
Name of Country: Australia
2015 Summer Camp Dates: July 7-12
Age Range of Campers: 8-15
From April 12 to 14, 2016, the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) will be convening the inaugural Wilkenfeld International Women's Leadership Seminar in London, England with the purpose of helping Reform/Progressive Jewish women from around the world learn leadership skills and encourage them to take on leadership roles in their home communities.
The Leadership Conference for Women is being presented by WRJ in cooperation with the WUPJ and the EUPJ. While in London, participants will:
- Learn the "why" and "how" of leadership.
- Meet Reform and Progressive Jewish women from around the world.
- Establish a new global network.
- Develop skills that can be used in their own communities.
The EUPJ Biennial Conference will take place on April 14-17, 2016, immediately following the Seminar, in the same location. As such, Conference participants will have the opportunity to stay on a bit longer in London and connect with leaders of the European Progressive Jewish world. The Wilkenfeld Seminar is in honor of Dolores Kosberg Wilkenfeld, a Past President of Women of Reform Judaism, which represents more than 75,000 Reform Jewish women around the world. She also is a Past President of Congregation Emanu El of Houston, Texas, a congregation of nearly 2000 members.
Legacy of Leadership:
Dolores Kosberg Wilkenfeld.
Dolores served as Chair of the North American Board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and currently serves on the WUPJ Executive Committee. Among her many honors, she received the 1994 WUPJ International Humanitarian Award.
Dolores has been a volunteer public speaking tutor for Bar/Bat Mitzvah students at her congregation for more than 45 years.
Dolores was married for almost 47 years to the late J.H. “Buddy” Wilkenfeld and has one son, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren living in Los Angeles.
Questions? Please contact WRJ Board Manager/Executive Assistant Abi Winter. On November 5, the World Union for Progressive Judaism will honor Rabbi Lennard R. Thal, recipient of the International Humanitarian Award (IHAD), during the URJ Biennial in Orlando, Florida.
Rabbi Thal is the Senior Vice President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. He served as Senior Vice President of the Union from 2002 until July of 2008 and Vice President from 1995 to 2001. In July 2003, he agreed to accept the additional role of Chief Development Officer, relinquishing his longtime responsibilities as Director of Regions.
After his retirement from the URJ, Rabbi Thal served from July 2009 through June 2011 as the Interim Director of Rabbinical Placement. Then, beginning in June of 2012, he has been named Interim Director of the National Commission on Rabbinical-Congregational Relations.
Rabbi Thal was Regional Director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Pacific Southwest Council from 1982 to 1995, Associate Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles Campus, from 1973 to 1982.
Man of Action: Rabbi Lennard R. Thal
Rabbi Thal received an A.B. from Princeton University, a J.D. from Stanford University Law School, and an M.A.H.L., Rabbinic Ordination, and a D.D. from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He is the recipient of numerous academic and community awards and has a lengthy and distinguished list of organizational affiliations.
According to Rabbi Joel Oseran, Vice President, International Development for the WUPJ: "Lenny Thal and I collaborated so often during the past several decades in support of World Union congregations that I often felt he was an additional World Union colleague. He has given so freely of his time, experience and commitment to Klal Yisrael, that I came to the conclusion I had to just overlook his questionable sense of humor!"
In addition to his many professional accomplishments, Rabbi Thal is a devoted husband and father, a good friend and advisor to his colleagues and staff, and has a widespread reputation for congeniality and wit.
Rabbi Thal recently celebrated his 48th anniversary of marriage to Dr. Linda Thal. The Thals are the proud parents of two daughters and grandparents of four young grandchildren.
We hope to see you in Orlando! Register for IHAD today. Rabbi Julia Margolis of Bet David Progressive Jewish congregation in Sandton, South Africa, recently received a most inspirational letter from one of her conversion students who passed the Beit Din in early August. Rabbi Margolis is in charge of conversions in the Gauteng province.
Below, is an excerpt from Neebashnee Kristnasamy:
Welcome to your Jewish Life: (L to R) Neebashnee
Kristnasamy and Rabbi Julia Margolis.
"Appearing before a rabbinical court brings with it feelings of trepidation and anxiety. However, there is something different in the air today, the added feeling of expectation, as this court will hopefully mark the culmination of my conversion process.
Nothing can prepare you for that moment when you stand before the three Rabbonim. My answers to their questions were tinged by my own nervous emotions. How could I hope to adequately enunciate the connection that I feel between divine and mortal, which sparks within me such a profound feeling of peace that I often “smile out aloud” at synagogue?
The journey to this point hasn’t been easy. Learning to open my mind and wrap my heart around a new faith and lifestyle has been a monumental challenge.
However, that’s what one does when one falls in love: you leave your own people, your own rituals, and your old ways of life to learn and embrace the one you fell in love with. You walk a path that is foreign and unseen, never knowing - and yet blindly trusting.
Suddenly we’re done, and I can officially begin my Jewish life.
Just as those who have walked before me, so will I walk. Just as those who have lived before me, so will I live.
And just as those who have been loved before me, so am I loved."
Between February 4 and February 14, 2016, the highly regarded Beutel Leadership Seminar will enable participants to connect with Progressive Jewish communities worldwide, form powerful bonds with the State of Israel and strengthen their own leadership skills as well as Jewish knowledge.
Over the past fourteen years, close to three hundred people from across the globe have participated in the Beutel Seminar for Progressive Jewish Leadership.
Field Trip: 2015 Beutelniks bask in the beauty of the
sun-drenched Arava Valley at Kibbutz Lotan.
The Seminar will address critical issues facing Progressive communities, such as engaging young adults, balancing innovation with tradition and much more. In addition to learning from each other, with the unique and varied perspectives of participants from around the world, the Seminar will draw on the resources of the WUPJ and Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism's (IMPJ) leadership.
While the primary focus is to address practical issues, Beutel 2016 will also explore ancient texts and history; discuss current political and social issues; explore spiritual pathways and concepts of Jewish leadership - all within a Progressive Jewish context.
Over the course of the 10-day seminar, Beutelniks will come into contact with a variety of leaders from many segments of Israeli society. Seminar participants will encounter religious Orthodox settlers living in Judea and Samaria; Bedouin in the Negev; activists working toward co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians, and idealistic young Israeli volunteers in the Mechina gap-year program of the Israel Reform Movement.
Registration for the 2016 Beutel Leadership Seminar is now open.
The application form and sample schedule are available on the
Senator Bergman: Abraham Geiger College
honors the EUPJ's
On August 30, Leslie Bergman, EUPJ President, was awarded an Abraham Geiger College (AGC) senatorship in honor of his lifelong dedication to Jewish life and his many achievements on behalf of European Jewry in general and AGC in particular.
The ceremony was held at the Bielefeld Synagogue in Germany. Rabbi Prof. Dr. Walter Jacob, Abraham Geiger College President said: “We have known each other for more than 50 years, starting when you studied in Pittsburgh. I am proud of how you have spent your life making Judaism meaningful to yourself and so many others.”
Rabbi Andrew Goldstein, Honorary Life President of Liberal Judaism UK and an AGC senator, was in attendance
The leadership and staff of the World Union extend their sincerest condolences to Eyal Rakover, CFO, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, and to the entire Rakover family on the passing of Eyal’s father, Mr. Alexander Rakover z”l, on Shabbat, Elul 21, 5775 (Saturday, September 5, 2015).
May Alexander Rakover's memory be for a blessing and may his entire family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion.
In July, Beit Shmuel-Mercaz Shimshon, the World Union's international headquarters in Jerusalem, organized a lovely Chuppah ceremony. The marriage of Dominika Lilach and Artur David, members of the Progressive congregation in Warsaw, Poland, Beit Warszawa, was officiated by Rabbis Gil Nativ, Joel Oseran and Uri Regev.
I Do: Dominika Lilach and Artur David are married
at the WUPJ's Jerusalem headquarters.
Dominika's and Artur's special day emphasized the importance of Klal Yisrael to the WUPJ. The fact that these young adults are proud members of the Progressive Polish community filled everyone in attendance, and beyond, with a sense of optimism about the future of the Jewish people in Poland.
The World Union wishes Dominika and Artur joy and happiness together. May 5776 bless them with good health and peace.
The United Hebrew Congregation of Singapore recently posted this catchy Rosh HaShanna jingle that you won't be able to stop humming once you've heard it!
Click here to sound the Tekiyah.