Issue #534

March 24 2016 // 14 Adar II 5776


Brussels Congregations Cancel Purim 

Conversations about Conversion: The Times of Israel delves deep into the issue of Reform Jewish conversions 

Connecting Communities: Meet Madregot Congregation in Siberia

Double Celebration at Bet Shalom Barcelona, Spain 

Live from Israel 
Congregational Leadership Opportunities
Netzer News
Dear Reader

Upcoming Events


Brussels Congregations Cancel Purim

Following the attack on Tuesday March 22nd, 2016 in Brussels, city life - and Jewish communal life drew to a halt. Two Reform congregations, Liberal Jewish Community (IJC) in Brussels and Synagogue Beth Hillel were forced to cancel their Purim celebrations. In response, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) issued this joint letter of solidarity and support. Leaders of the local Jewish communities replied with the following:  

Dear WUPJ and EUPJ Friends, 

Today's events in Brussels have cast a dark shadow over the lives of IJC members. The places attacked are frequented often by IJC members and friends. We fear the casualty list (as yet unreleased) will carry names we know. Of course we also fear further attacks more targeted on Jewish sites.  I have abandoned my day job today as a lawyer to deal with all the issues raised for the IJC by the attacks. For instance, we have cancelled our Purim Megilah reading tomorrow night. It was scheduled to be held in a Brussels pub downtown. The exact location is 2 blocks from the bombed Metro station. We are still considering whether and where to hold our Shabbat services this weekend.

In light of our fears, worries and grief as IJC President, I thank you all for your expression of concern and support at this fraught moment. I hope in some future year we can invite you to our shul for a moment of light and gladness - perhaps at a Brussels pub over a good Belgian beer listening to the Megilah being read where we can boo Haman rather than fear his appearance around the corner.

Steven Brummel, President, IJC Brussels


Dearest friends,

Thanks so much with your message.
This is hugely appreciated.
Everybody is shocked by these bombings in Brussels.
Over here, everybody is safe so far.
For security reasons we had to cancel Purim and activities in the next days at Beth Hillel.
Hopefully our activities will be back to normal by next week.

Warmest regards,

Gilbert Lederman, Président, Synagogue Beth Hillel

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Conversations about Conversion: The Times of Israel delves deep into the issue of Reform Jewish conversions 

“What happens when two Jews means two different peoplehoods? The clash between much of the Diaspora and Israel over conversion and the question of ‘Who is a Jew?’ means the Jewish State now has two de facto classes of Jews. Where will it all end?” By Amanda Borschel-Dan for the Times of Israel, March 14, 2016

Photo copyright: DNaveh

Click here to read the in-depth article.

“After three days of meetings with rabbis from across the Diaspora, WUPJ President Rabbi Daniel Freelander said that “openness to conversion is one of Reform Judaism’s unique contribution to 21st century world Jewry. When someone expresses interest in Judaism, we need to welcome them to explore Jewish spirituality and practice… The [Beit Din] symposium, Freelander said, was a forum for brainstorming ‘how we can be welcoming within our defined Jewish boundaries, creating new openings for entry into the Jewish people’.”
At the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s Beit
Din Symposium in Jerusalem, February 2016

To read more about the first-ever WUPJ Beit Din Symposium, click here.

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Connecting Communities: Meet Madregot Congregation in Siberia, Russia

One of the largest cities in Siberia, Tyumen, located in the Tyumen Oblast, was first established in 1586 as an important economical and industrial center in Russia. The only synagogue in the city, and the entire region, was opened in 1912, but from 1930 until 2000 it served various community purposes, including as a library. 

Madregot Congregation was established in 1992, and it was clear from the beginning that this congregation would have a modern, Reform Jewish affiliation. 

Community leader, Igor Varkin, started as the head of the youth club and, after completing training at the Institute for Modern Jewish Studies (Machon) in 2000, he became the para rabbinic spiritual leader of the congregation, leading services and conducting different lifecycle and holiday ceremonies in a variety of rented halls and activity centers. His wife, Elena Mozgovaya Varkin, also serves as a community leader for the congregation. In 1994, the city’s old synagogue building was granted to the community through a restitution process; after a great deal of time, money and effort, renovations were completed in 2000. 

Bar Mitzvah ceremony at Madregot Congregation,
Tyumen, Siberia, Russia

Today, Madregot, meaning steps in Hebrew, offers a variety of activities to its growing community, including: 
  • Shabbat and holiday services
  • Beit Midrash Judaic text learning program 
  • Classes on Jewish history and traditions 
  • Activities for seniors (Yiddish club, creative workshops, music evenings, theater performances)
  • Sunday school for children, teens and parents
  • Meetings with the community leaders to address individual issues such as personal matters, conversion, and life cycle events (brit milah, baby naming, bar-bat mitzvot, weddings, funerals, etc). 
Baby naming ceremony under a chuppah,
Madregot Congregation, Tyumen, Siberia, Russia

Madregot also hosts regional, multi-year programs such as: 
  • A cycle of historical role-playing games called "Staff Time" for Jewish youth and students of the Ural region.
  • The annual Interfaith Music Festival, "Harp of David," which has been operating for several years alongside the Interfaith Festival of children's drawings on the theme of heroes and stories of the Torah (called "Bezalel").
  • Archival research of the history of the Jewish community in Tyumen in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 
  • A regional studies conference and exhibition of archival photographs of Jews from the 20th. 
  • Historical and cultural tours of the synagogue and Jewish sites across the city.
Packed room for Madregot Congregation event with
Community Leader Igor Varkin, Tyumen, Russia 

Community Leader, Elena Mozgovaya Varkin

In 2017 Madregot will celebrate its 25th anniversary. The past quarter-century have been filled with activities, and its membership continues to grow as more children, youth and adults become engaged with its events and classes; and attend communal services at the large, beautifully-restored synagogue. All new participants are welcomed into the community and the Madregot family, as they are introduced to other members through social events and at each service, and invited to return to their Jewish traditions and roots through events. 

Over the past 24 years, more than 100 young people from Tyumen have made aliyah or emigrated elsewhere to join other Jewish communities. They continue to come visit Madregot and involve the community in Russia with their new congregations elsewhere. 

To learn more about WUPJ communities across the FSU,  click here.

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Double Celebration at Bet Shalom Barcelona, Spain

On Saturday March 12, 2016, there was a twofold celebration which marked the 10th anniversary of Bet Shalom and the dedication of their new premises. President Jai Anguita, as well as Rabbis Stephen Berkowitz and Rifat Soncino, were joined by nearly 100 people for Havdalah, the entry of the Sefer Torah into the synagogue and dancing to a great band. Maria Prieto was the MC; Representatives of ATID, the other Barcelona progressive community, joined representatives from congregations in Madrid and Rota; and local dignitaries from the City Council of Barcelona also participated. 

L-R: Bet Shalom President Jai Anguita, EUPJ
Chairman Miriam Kramer and 
Rabbi Stephen Berkowitz

EUPJ Chairman Miriam Kramer, who spent the evening at Bet Shalom, commented that “this is a milestone in the story of Progressive Judaism in Spain. Bet Shalom is a vibrant and growing congregation and my wish is that in due course they have to look for even bigger premises.”

Spirited L’Chaim led by Maria Prieto

Recapping his involvement with Bet Shalom and the Barcelona Reform Jewish community, Rabbi Rafi Soncino noted in his blog, “I am very proud of my association with Beth Shalom and hope that with local and international help, it will continue to grow in number and stature, even encouraging others to follow its steady path. Already a few progressive groups are functioning in Madrid and other cities, and look to Bet Shalom for guidance. Spain is emerging again as a new Jewish light. I only hope they go from strength to strength.” 

The dedication ceremony of the new synagogue and the community’s anniversary were notable events also picked up in local press, as you can read in Spanish here and here and watch a clip on Barcelona local television here

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Live from Israel 

Join us for Passover in Jerusalem: Reduced Rates at Beit Shmuel-Merkaz Shimshon Hotel and Guesthouse

Next year in Jerusalem? Make last year’s Passover Seder promise, this year’s reality! Spend your Passover Seder at the Beit Shmuel-Merkaz Shimshon Hotel and Guesthouse – your Jewish home in Jerusalem – with new, reduced rates.
Beit Shmuel

Recount our annual tale of liberation from slavery next to the Old City; sing and celebrate alongside other Reform Jewish community members from around the world to share traditions and discover new ones. Explore historic sites across Israel and visit newly-renovated cultural destinations nearby in Jerusalem. 

The Beautiful Evening View from Beit Shmuel

It’s Passover at “home” in the heart of Jerusalem. 

Double occupancy room in the hotel: $169 per night, reduced from $189, including breakfast

Additional guests per room: just $50 per night

Double occupancy room in the guesthouse: $149 per night, reduced from $169, including breakfast

Additional guests per room: just $40 per night

Breakfast at Beit Shmuel

Seder evening meals for only $90 per person. 

All additional meals, during Passover’s Chol Hamoed week, are only $30 per meal per person. 

Join us today, and come home to Jerusalem this Passover. To reserve today or get more information, email Reservations

To view rooms and facilities, click here

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Friday Night Lights in Jerusalem: You’re Iinvited to a New Summer Kabbalat Shabbat Experience 

Join us for an engaging Shabbat celebration in Jerusalem! A new joint initiative of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) is welcoming individuals, families and groups visiting Israel for an uplifting Shabbat experience – all within walking distance of your Jerusalem hotel.


Feed your soul with prayer and song and your body with delicious food, with our three-course package: 
  1. Kabbalat Shabbat services led by top Reform rabbis and scholars on our picturesque Beit Shmuel -HUC campus, facing the Old City walls
  2. A festive, catered, Kosher dinner 
  3. The sweet sounds of a musical program that includes all your favorite Shabbat songs 
When: June 24th, July 1st, July 8th, or July 15th 

Cost: $70 per person, all inclusive

Individuals or groups (even through tour operators) can register online here.  

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Congregational Leadership Opportunities

Sign Up for the Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators 

The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) invites you to join our upcoming Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators taking place in Israel July 14-24, 2016 designed to transform your school and community educators with leadership training. 

Bergman Seminar participants 2015

Implementing the Bergman Seminar is the Saltz International Education Center's faculty which includes some of the most accomplished Jewish scholars and educators in the world.
As one Bergman Seminar alum summarized, "Although I had been to Israel several times this was the experience that allowed me to put all the puzzling pieces together. There was tremendous attention to depth, detail and knowledge - Israel's history and society is so complex. Previously I felt like an outsider peeking over a Jerusalem stone wall into a mystical world, now I feel a part of this country and can relate to its challenges and accomplishments as if it is part of my own identity."

Sign up for the Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators today.

To connect educators in your community to this unique opportunity or receive more information, contact Rabbi Steve Burnstein.

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Last chance to tour South Africa: Join our African Adventure and Safari Tour with Rabbi Lennard Thal

Join us on July 6-15, 2016 as we encounter the best of the animal kingdom on Safari in Pilanesberg National Park while also connecting with South Africa's Progressive communities. Get an insiders look into the fascinating  city of  Johannesburg and its noted Anti-Apartheid Museum, enjoy outstanding food and wine throughout on this unique adventure, and attend the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) Biennial Conference in Cape Town and meet the leaders shaping Progressive Judaism in the country (included with the tour cost). 


Rabbi Lennard Thal, the designated tour leader, is also the Senior VP Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and has spent time on every continent (other than Antarctica) partly as a result of his longstanding involvement with the WUPJ, including two trips to South Africa. He also had led many group trips to Asia, South America, Europe and Israel and looks forward to sharing the excitement of a return visit to South Africa. Rabbi Thal is the recipient of the World Union's 2015 International Humanitarian Award.

For more details and to book your reservation today, please click here.

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Netzer News

Netzer Shnat Maayan participants reflect on their after visiting the West Bank 

As the Reform Zionist Youth movement of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), Netzer engages close to 18,000 youth around the world in programs that build Jewish identity, strengthen their sense of belonging to the global Reform Jewish community, and deepen their connection to Israel. Shnat is the ten-month year course program for participants from South Africa, Australia, Europe and the UK. 

“Looking at this land it’s hard to believe in the Big Bang and the dinosaurs and evolution when all can see is the olive groves and the burning bush and the holy stones and Moses’s footsteps in the dusty, rocky, biblical earth.

Netzer participants at Shilo historical site,
debriefing about the West Bank

“It’s hard to imagine millions of years of this earth when God’s presence emanates from every pebble and speck of dirt and pebble on the rolling hills of eretz Israel, the land of milk and honey, the birthplace of humanity, of faith, the centre of the earth, for 5000 years.

Click here to read the full blogpost on “Maayan’s words”.

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Birth of Grandson to Susie and Charlie Rothschild

Leadership and staff of the WUPJ offer their hearty congratulations and Mazal Tov to Susie and Charlie Rothschild on the birth of their grandson. Charlie is a member of World Union for Progressive Judaism’s (WUPJ) Management Committee.

Mazal Tov to the entire family, may he bring happiness, joy and blessing to all.

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Wedding of Daughter of David and Maureen Robinson 

The leadership and staff of the World Union offer their hearty congratulations and Mazal Tov to Executive Board member David and Maureen Robinson on the wedding of their daughter Hayley to Matt Buckley. David is a member of World Union for Progressive Judaism’s (WUPJ) Management Committee.

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Dear Reader

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Upcoming Events

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

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

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

June 23-25, 2016 - Latin America Region Biennial Conference (WUPJ-LA), Sao Paulo, Brazil

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

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

July 19-24, 2016, Bergman Seminar for Jewish Educators, Anita Saltz International Education Center, Jerusalem, Israel

September 15-18, 2016 - FSU Biennial Conference, Minsk, Belarus

November 9-18, 2016, WUPJ Travel Tour, China & 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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