WUPJ Makes Strong Impact at North American URJ 2015 Biennial

November 12 2015 / 30 Heshvan 5776


Over 5000 Reform Jews gather in Orlando at the URJ 2015 Biennial 

A Wonderful Celebration! Thank you! 

New Era Begins: Rabbi Daniel Freelander Installed as WUPJ President

Rabbi's Rabbi: Lennard R. Thal Receives 2015 WUPJ International Humanitarian Award

Work it Out: WUPJ Sponsors Well Received Workshops at Biennial

Dallas to Brisbane: 500 WUPJ Friends Celebrate Torah Scroll Transfer

Modeh Ani: Rabbi Daniel Freelander Receives Debbie Friedman Award

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Over 5000 Reform Jews gather in Orlando at the URJ 2015 Biennial

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) brought together 5,000 Jewish leaders at the 73rd URJ North American Biennial convention, which took place November 4-8, 2015, in Orlando, Florida. Gathering from North America and many other countries, these leaders connected, prayed, learned, shared, and celebrated at the largest Jewish gathering on the continent with 130 learning sessions, inspiring worship sessions, Torah study, music, plus Tikkun Olam and Jewish learning opportunities.

Delegates included lay leaders, professionals, rabbis and cantors, congregational presidents, youth leaders, and young adults from 550 North American congregations and 120 delegates from outside North America.

 Michael Doughlas, Academy Award-Winner and Reform Jew
and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ President (Photo: David Braun). 

Some of the noted speakers included U.S. Vice President Joe Biden; URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs; Birthright Founder Charles Bronfman; Academy Award-Winner, Inclusion Activist and Reform Jew Michael Douglas; Member of Knesset Stav Shaffir; US Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein; WUPJ President Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, recipient of the URJ’s Debbie Freidman award; and hundreds more leading authors, scholars, and Israeli and North American opinion leaders, and an amazing line-up of Jewish musicians.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism had a strong presence at the biennial. From the workshops led by WUPJ leaders from around the world, to the exceptional Gala dinner, the interesting and informative  WUPJ booth, Shabbat morning study with Rabbi Steve Burnstein and Saltz Alumni, and a strong showing at the WRJ YES Lunch, the WUPJ was definitely seen and heard throughout the biennial. In total, approximately 70 WUPJ-affiliated delegates representing the Former Soviet Union, United Kingdom, Guatemala, Argentina, Germany, Israel, Brazil, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Australia took an active part in the biennial's scheduled programming. 

 Full Attendance at the URJ Biennial (Photo: David Braun)

Watch and listen to some of the sessions here.  

View More Photos of the event taken by Dale Lazar.

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A Wonderful Celebration! Thank you!

International Humanitarian Award Gala

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A fantastic evening! . . . The room was packed and full of energy! . . Close to 500 people joined the celebration!

Everyone Joining the Gala Celebration! (Photo: David Braun)

The night was filled with music, laughter, inspiration and connection. We presented the International Humanitarian Award to Rabbi Lennard Thal and officially welcomed Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander as our new president. Our hearts were full as the members of Temple Shalom in Dallas donated a Torah to Congregation Beth Or in Brisbane, Australia.
Torah symbolically traveling from Dallas to Brisbane

Rabbi Lenny Thal, recipient of
WUPJ International Humanitarian Award

Rabbi Freelander and Cantor Jeff Klepper – the legendary
Kol B’Seder duo (PHOTOS: Dale Lazar)

The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) held its Gala dinner during Biennial on November 5, 2015 . With a 500 strong audience in attendance, the WUPJ held the installation of Rabbi Freelander as WUPJ president, conferred the International Humanitarian award on Rabbi Lenny Thal, and witnessed the exciting donation of a Torah from Temple Shalom in Dallas, Texas to Brisbane, Australia. 

Carole Sterling, WUPJ Chair said during this evening:

"It was gratifying and heartwarming to see the room filled with friends from around the globe, gathered in one place to celebrate Progressive Judaism and two of our most inspiring leaders, Rabbi Lenny Thal and our President, Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander.

I am especially grateful to Lynn Magid Lazar, Tadd Schwab and our dedicated professional staff for their efforts to ensure the evening’s success and to all who contributed to and supported the event."

Tadd Schwab, Rabbi Freelander and
Lynn Magid Lazar 
(PHOTOS: Dale Lazar)

Several leaders of the Movement attended the IHAD Gala Dinner, including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ President; Daryl Messinger, URJ Chair and Rabbi Marla Feldman, Women of Reform Judaism Director (WRJ). Other notable attendees included Stav Shaffir, the youngest female Israeli Knesset member in history.

Due to health issues, Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, Honorary Life President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, was not able to attend the Gala Dinner. However, he did send his blessings and congratulations to Rabbis Freelander and Thal by way of a video that was screened during the Installation.

Josh Nelson and Neshama Carlebach (PHOTO: Dale Lazar)

The memorable evening closed to a music tribute by noted American Jewish musicians Josh Nelson and Neshama Carlebach.

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New Era Begins: Rabbi Daniel Freelander Installed as WUPJ President

On November 5, World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) history was made with the installation of Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander as WUPJ president during the WUPJ's International Humanitarian Award (IHAD) Gala Dinner at Union for Reform Judaism's (URJ) 2015 Biennial.

It's Official: Rabbi Daniel Freelander, surrounded by family,
is installed as WUPJ president by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman.

During his Installation remarks, Rabbi Freelander acknowledged the presence of the first cohort of Roswell Klal Yisrael Fellows as well as past participants of the Beutel Seminar for Progressive Jewish leadership. The importance of such leadership programs was emphasized several times throughout the evening. 

Rabbi Freelander also spoke about a number of new programs including the WUPJ Travel Program, and the new Moscow Rabbinic Leadership Institute, an exciting new initiative that was officially launched in September, 2015. The WUPJ Travel Program offers the opportunity to visit and connect with Progressive Jewish communities around the world. Most of these tours also include the option of participating in one of our regional conferences. 

In a moving address, Rabbi Freelander said:

"We will guarantee that Progressive Jews everywhere have rabbis who speak their language, whose cultural norms match their constituents.

We will create the powerful, immersive summer camps that impress young lives and transform future communities.

will anticipate and support new congregations in communities once abandoned, glimmering now with the hope of Jewish renewal."

Read Rabbi Freelander's complete Installation address here.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D., the Barbara & Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship & Ritual at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York, conducted Rabbi Freelander's Installation, using a tallit brought directly from Jerusalem. Rabbi Freelander's entire family stood underneath the tallit, symbolically enveloping the entire WUPJ family. 

Rabbi Elyse Frishman & Rabbi Daniel Freelander 
(Photo: David Braun)

A lifelong Reform Jew and product of the Movement, Rabbi Freelander has held nearly every professional leadership role within the Union for Reform Judaism, including North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) director, URJ regional director, director of programs, and URJ senior vice president. 

A longtime supporter of the World Union and the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), Rabbi Freelander has led the effort to build a Mechina residence in Jaffa under the auspices of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). 

In the past four decades, Rabbi Freelander has provided the URJ with creative vision and direction in programs, worship, Biennials, and many other facets of Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Freelander assumed the role of WUPJ President in September 2014, and in that time he has provided this organization with creative leadership and vision, strengthening and supporting the WUPJ lay leadership, meeting with regional leadership, and guiding the international WUPJ staff. He has participated in a number of regional meetings around the world, and played an important role in the recent Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and World Zionist Organization (WZO) conferences in Israel.

View highlights from Rabbi Daniel Freelander's Installation here.

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Rabbi's Rabbi: Lennard R. Thal Receives 2015 WUPJ International Humanitarian Award

Rabbi Lennard R. Thal received the 2015 WUPJ International Humanitarian Award (IHAD) at the Gala Dinner that was attended by close to 500 friends of the World Union from around the world and celebrated World Jewry and the vibrancy and growth of more than 1,400 Progressive Jewish communities in 50 countries across the globe.

For Humanity's Sake: (left to right) Rabbi Lennard R. Thal
receives the 2015 WUPJ IHAD Award from Rabbi Eric Yoffie.

Rabbi Lennard Thal was honored in recognition of his lifelong devotion to strengthening, enriching, and promoting Progressive Jewish communities in Asia and Latin America. 

During his acceptance speech, Rabbi Thal asserted:

 "I am convinced that in many ways Asia IS the continent of the future and that we dare not miss the opportunity to develop Progressive communities in places like Bangkok, Delhi and Ho Chi Minh City just as we have done in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tokyo and my beloved congregation in Singapore. It’s not just an opportunity; it’s an imperative. And with adequate resources, the World Union can do just that."

Surrounded by Family: (left to right) Ariella Thal Simonds,
Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds, Rabbi Grisha Abromovich, Rabbi
Lennard Thal, and Dr. Linda Thal. (Photo David Braun)

Read Rabbi Thal's complete 2015 WUPJ IHAD Award Response here.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President Emeritus, Union for Reform Judaism, presented the 2015 IHAD Award to Rabbi Thal. Rabbi Yoffie's 'roast' of Rabbi Thal was nothing less than hilarious. This was followed by Rabbi Yoffie's beautiful tribute to Rabbi Thal, in which the 2015 IHAD Award winner's many accomplishments were extoled. 

Recieving the Award: Rabbi Lennard Thal, Carole Sterling
and Rabbi Eric Yoffie.

The Progressive Jewish world owes Rabbi Thal a tremendous debt of gratitude for his expertise and commitment to this sacred work, which has been instrumental in building and sustaining congregations that serve as holy kehillot and beacons of Reform Jewish life.

Due to health issues, Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, Honorary Life President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, was not able to personally congratulate Rabbi Thal. However, Rabbi Hirsch did send the 2015 IHAD Award winner his blessings by way of video.

View highlights from Rabbi Lennard Thal's 2015 WUPJ IHAD Award ceremony here.

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Work it Out: WUPJ Sponsors Well Received Workshops at Biennial

At Biennial, the WUPJ played an important role in this crucial gathering of lay leaders, professionals, clergy, youth leaders, and up-and-coming congregational leadership.


The World Union sponsored three workshops at the URJ's gathering. These interesting, informative and interactive discussions spotlighted the breadth of knowledge and scope of experience of the WUPJ lay leadership and staff.

WUPJ's workshops focused on:

"Klal Yisrael: Building Bridges with Reform Jewish Communities around the World" 

"Connecting Russian-Speaking Jews with Progressive Judaism"

"Responding to Anti-Semitism in Eastern and Western Europe"

"My Roots are on Both Sides of the Sea: Torah Study with WUPJ Beutel Seminar & Saltz Alumni"

All these workshops were popular, with "Responding to Anti-Semitism" actually being oversubscribed!

In addition, a "WUPJ Information Booth" at the Kikar Biennial Town Square that was open throughout the conference featured candies from World Union-affiliated communities around the world. A map on display at the booth highlighted each of the 50 countries that contain WUPJ kehilot.

A steady stream of visitors stopped by the booth, connecting with Reform Jews from around the world. 

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Dallas to Brisbane: 500 WUPJ Friends Celebrate Torah Scroll Transfer

During the World Union's 2015 International Humanitarian Award Gala Dinner, a powerful example of Jewish solidarity took place when Brisbane, Australia's Congregation Beth Or received its first Torah Scroll, donated by Dallas, Texas, USA's Temple Shalom.

The WUPJ's Shomrei Torah program facilitated the connection between Congregation Beth Or and Temple Shalom. Since 1984, this initiative has ensured that Progressive Jewish communities around the world have access to the most basic of Jewish spiritual objects – a Torah scroll. 

Making the Rounds: The journey from Dallas to Brisbane is
symbolically reenacted by close to 500 participants at
the 2015 WUPJ IHAD Gala Dinner.

To date, the Shomrei Torah project has succeeded in sending over 100 Torah scrolls to congregations around the world.

The donation of a Torah is a significant and meaningful experience for both the donor and recipient congregations. It is not just the value that the Torah itself brings to the community, but also the connection that is built between people, bringing them together, and embodying the very essence of klal Israel.

The journey continues: Everyone is congratulating
the Congregation (Photo: David Braun)

The entire WUPJ family would like to thank all the members of Temple Shalom for their gracious sharing of Torah with the Congregation Beth Or community.

The Torah presentation ceremony was attended by, among nearly 500 other people:

Rabbi Andrew Paley, Senior Rabbi, Temple Shalom

Cantor Don Alan Croll, Cantor Emeritus, Temple Shalom

Jacque Comroe, Co-Chair, Torah Gifting Committee, 
Temple Shalom

Cantor David Bentley, Spiritual Leader

Sally Castle, Treasurer, Congregation Beth Or, Brisbane, Australia

Jocelyn Robuck, Executive Officer, Union for Progressive Judaism

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Modeh Ani: Rabbi Daniel Freelander Receives Debbie Friedman Award

On November 6, Rabbi Daniel Freelander, WUPJ President, received the Debbie Friedman Award for his lifelong commitment to Jewish Music and the Reform Movement.

Rabbi Freelander is a gifted musician, who has composed dozens of popular Jewish melodies with Cantor Jeff Klepper, including the well known Shalom Rav and Lo Alecha

As WUPJ president, Rabbi Freelander has heard his classic compositions performed in congregations from Sydney to Belarus and from Haifa to Guatemala City.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ President, noted at the award ceremony: "Few people have given voice to Reform Judaism as Rabbi Dan Freelander. Over more than four decades, the sounds of our movement have become those that he created. And now, as the new president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Danny's leadership is transforming our movement around the world." 

Music Man: View the inspirational tribute to
Rabbi Daniel Freelander here.

During his acceptance address, Rabbi Freelander stated, "My goal was for all the musical traditions we inherited, new and old, to be woven together into one fabric that might inspire and reshape our movement's spirituality. I'm deeply grateful for Debbie's inspiration and for every Union leader who shared a vision of the power of music to transform this movement.

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Upcoming Events

February 4-14, 2016, Beutel Leadership SeminarAnita Saltz International Education Center, Jerusalem, Israel

April 14-17, 2016 - European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ), Biennial Conference, London, UK

April 7-14, 2016 - WUPJ Travel Tour, Berlin and London

May 19-25, 2016 - The Roswell Seminar for Social Justice, Anita Saltz International Education Center, Jerusalem, Israel

May 19-26, 2016 - WUPJ Travel Tour, Israel

May 27-28, 2016 - Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) Conference, Israel

July 6-17, 2016 - 
WUPJ Travel Tour, South Africa

July 15-17, 2016 - SAUPJ 2016 Biennial Conference, South Africa

August 4-7, 2016 - Latin America Region Biennial Conference (WUPJ-LA), Sao Paulo, Brazil

November 9-18, 2016, WUPJ Travel Tour, China and Singapore

November 17-20, 2016 - 
Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) Biennial Conference , Perth, Australia

May 15-21, 2017 – CONNECTIONS 2015, World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) 38th Biennial Conference, Jerusalem, Israel

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