Issue # 541
30 June 2016 // 24 Sivan 5776
Live from our Regions
The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) is deeply saddened by yet another terrorist attack, this time in Turkey, where many innocent lives have been lost and a number of people were seriously injured. This mindless violence is sadly becoming a regular occurrence, but we ourselves must never become immune to the ghastly horror and pointless loss of life. We send our deepest condolences to the families of the murdered and wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured.
During his last trip to Moscow, Dr. Alex Kagan, Head of the FSU Department at the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), met with Professor Evgeniy Ivakhnenko, recently-appointed Rector of the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), Professor Pavel Shkarenkov, Head of the Philology Department, and Professor Leonid Katsis, Coordinator of the Institute for Modern Jewish Studies program at RSUH. Among issues discussed were ways to strengthen the partnership between the WUPJ, Abraham Geiger Kolleg, and Potsdam University in operation and oversight of the recently-launched Institute for Modern Jewish Studies in Moscow.
From left to right: Prof. Pavel Shkarenkov, Prof. Evgenigy Ivakhnenko,
Dr. Alex Kagan, and Prof. Leonid Katsis
In parallel, six first-year students in the program, met with Moscow rabbinic and administrative staff, to summarize their first year of studies, assess strengths and evaluate weak areas to improve upon. Overall students were enthusiastic for the quality of the program and its faculty. Among the highlights presented were two seminars on Halacha led by Professor Admiel Kosman from Abraham Geiger Kolleg.
Meeting with the first-year students of the Institute for
Modern Jewish Studies in Moscow
Now on summer break, most of these students plan on working in Jewish summer camps in the FSU.
Looking toward the 2016-17 academic year, the number of applicants more than doubled since the first year. Out of 25 applicants, ten were selected for admission pending their final exam grades; only the top eight students will be accepted to begin their studies in September 2016.
Shavuot in Minsk this year was very special because the weekend of June 10-12th also marked the 5th anniversary of Beit Simcha. Over 400 people from six different towns in Belarus joined the ambassadors of Israel, the USA, Czech Republic, Rumania, and Italy to celebrate and honor the achievements of this vibrant community. Rabbi Grisha Abramovich, Head Rabbi of Beit Simcha, welcomed all honorees and congregants and introduced special guests, Stephen Breslauer and his son David, who helped purchase the building five years ago, at the ceremony.
Honoring its Fifth Anniversary: Beit Simcha in Minsk
Reflecting on the significance of the anniversary, Stephen noted, “Five years ago, I attended the dedication of the Sandra Breslauer Beit Simcha Center in Minsk. The new synagogue and meeting facility was beautiful and full of promise. This weekend my son, David, and I attended the rededication of the Center and were amazed and gratified to see how that promise has been fulfilled. The center is constantly alive with multiple activities from morning to night. In the two days of our visit, we observed a pre-school program, Tamar activities, a cooking competition, conversion classes, a meeting of the Sheket (deaf) community, an artist lecture, training for madrichim, and, oh yes, Shabbat services complete with a bar mitzvah, dance and song. The energy and excitement were infectious. Our family is so proud to be a part of the rebirth and growth of the Progressive Jewish community in Belarus.
During the Shavuot services, Steve presented The Torah: A Modern Commentary by W. Gunther Plaut to Scott Roland, the United States Charge d ’Affairs in Minsk, and to Viktor Radzivinski, representative to the UN in Belarus. David Breslauer also presented a copy of The Torah to Igor Savostenko, Editor of Narodnaya Gazeta, a national government newspaper, in gratitude for publishing monthly articles about Judaism by Rabbi Abramovich, as well as mentioning Sandra Breslauer in numerous articles.
Both Steve and David joined Sheket, Simcha and TaMaR communities, the Jewish Men's and the “I am mother” clubs to cook the traditional and festive Shavuot community meal, which also included: a Bar Mitzvah; baby-naming ceremony; children’s activities by the STEP program of Irina Abramovich, for toddlers ages 1-3; a puppet theater performance by Sheket Leaders called “Jewish People receiving the Torah” for hearing-impaired attendants; and youth-Havdala services by Netzer and Moishe House in three languages (Belarusian, Hebrew, and English).
Le Dor VaDor, the Moscow Center for Progressive Judaism, welcomed 50 participants to its Shavuot celebration which included a festive communal meal, followed by text studies and songs led by Rabbi Leonid Bombat and Rabbi Sasha Lyskovoy.
Shavuot Celebration at Le Dor VaDor, the Moscow Center for Progressive Judaism
At Shaarei Shalom in St. Petersburg, conversion holds a central place in Shavuot celebrations as Rabbi Elena Rubinstein has been addressing issues of conversion in the community for over 20 years. "The Jewish Nation has an important mission of showing the light of Torah to others. We should aim to do this important Mitzvah by opening our hearts to those who want to share our destiny and our faith,” she explained. “We have an educational program for conversion in our congregation, and students and graduates of this program are among our most active congregants.” Shaarei Shalom hosted about 50 congregants for services, including reading the Book of Ruth and the Ten Commandments.
Shavuot Celebration at Shaarei Shalom in St. Petersburg
Reform community members in Lipetsk celebrated Shavuot alongside celebrations of the national holiday of Russia Day at a municipal festival of national cultures.
Lipetsk Reform community celebrates
In Krasnodar, the Makor Congregation welcomed 32 members and Sunday school participants who decorated the hall with their holiday drawings, and joined for holiday services, including readings of excerpts from Megillat Ruth. Adolf Goldberg a community leader noted: "We call Shavuot Giving of the Torah, not a holiday of receiving the Torah, because The Torah was given on Shavuot, but to get it we must always, incorporate it every day of our lives."
Children’s Drawings for Shavuot at Makor Congregation in Krasnodar
Over 43 people attended services at Madregot in Tyumen which in addition to reading Megillat Ruth and the Ten Commandments, also celebrated four Bnei Mitzvahs in moving ceremonies.
Bnei Mitzvah Celebrations Outside Madregot in Tyumen
The Hatikvah Religious Center for Progressive Judaism in Kiev held a special celebration of Shavuot with Leil Shavuot study sessions led by Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny among others, with sessions open to the general public. More than 30 students from the National University attended. Additional celebrations included the Bat Mitzvah of Sarah-Golda Kostenko, which served as a meaningful prelude to the congregation’s reading of the Ten Commandments and Yizkor services.
Shavuot Readings at the Hatikvah Religious Center for Progressive Judaism in Kiev
The Odessa community fulfilled the tradition of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, studying Jewish texts throughout the night.
Tikkun Leil Shavuot study sessions in Odessa
One of the sessions was held by Michael Nankin, a member of the Board of Communities, who taught about various Shavuot holiday traditions. After Havdalah, Rabbi Julia Gris led a study group in the Beit Midrash, exploring the meaning of the book of Ruth, interpretations of the Ten Commandments, and how to answer the question “Who is a Jew?”
The Fifth Biennial conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism Latin America (WUPJ-LA) opened on June 23 in São Paulo Brazil with more than 150 participants from all over the world. Gathering for a weekend of panel discussions, tours and workshops exploring “the continuity of democracy as a Jewish value,” activities involved leadership and members of the Congregação Israelita Paulista (CIP), Unibes Cultural, Residencial Israelita Albert Einstein and A Hebraica.
Gathering for Services at the WUPJ-LA Biennial
“The WUPJ dedicates significant resources and efforts to maintaining and growing Progressive Judaism across Latin America,” World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Chair Carole Sterling told JTA. “Our last event in Rio, CONNECTIONS 2015, intended to raise awareness of and involvement in the great work taking place across congregations, in communities and by dedicated leaders across the region in general, and in Brazil in particular.”
“It is important to demonstrate that the purposes of the institutions of Latin America are aligned with the WUPJ International,” she added, emphasizing that it is the largest Jewish religious entity in the world, present in more than 50 countries.
President of WUPJ-LA, Raul Cesar Gottlieb, introduced major projects in the region, such as a course for rabbinical students in Buenos Aires and the translation of the five books of the Torah and part of the book of Prophets into Portuguese, with interpretations from Reform Rabbis and scholars. “We decided to adopt a different format at this time. Instead of having several parallel activities, we seek the objective of the entire world to take together the exchange of ideas," said Gottlieb.
During the course of the biennial, Rabbi Sergio Bergman, who also serves as Argentina’s Minister of Environment and Sustainability, spoke about various critical issues, including a panel on social justice with Rabbi Roberto Graetz, President of the WUPJ Yad B’Yad Task Force, which has been actively working on social justice across Latin America for decades.
Minister Rabbi Sergio Bergman dancing with participants of the Fifth Biennial
of the World Union for Progressive Judaism – Latin America
Responding to a question about what he personally defined as "double ministry, the religious and the Minister of State,” Minister Rabbi Bergman answered, “The best thing I can do as Minister of the Environment of the Argentinian government is to be a Rabbi. Technical issues can be followed and maintained by people who are very well trained. As a Rabbi I have to be a teacher and leader, with values and a clear direction to be followed.”
Speaking about the importance of involving and attracting young people to Jewish institutions, Bergman believes that it is necessary to focus on the present: “The present is fundamental. If we focus in the past, it is only nostalgia. If we focus in the future, it is only expectation. In Reform Judaism we offer young people the possibility to question.”
Other focus areas for discussion groups addressed the function of Jewish institutions in the region, international politics from Europe and its impact on Israel, the role of women and homosexuals in Judaism, and inclusion and media coverage of the Middle East.
For more about the conference, read this article in The Forward.
Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn at Finchley Reform Synagogue
The SBWA provides religious, educational and welfare support to a community of refugees and their families who fled conflict in Somalia. When their north London community centre was destroyed in an arson attack in 2012, Rabbi Miriam Berger of FRS offered a helping hand. With the support of North London Citizens community organising group, connections were established between the two groups that enabled the synagogue to become a temporary meeting place for Muslim prayers. The long wait for the SBWA to be able to move into their new centre continues and in the meantime, FRS has now had the honour of playing host to four SBWA Ramadans.
Sadiq Kahn returned to FRS for a celebratory Iftar with 200 guests, having also been present in 2014 and 2015. London’s first Muslim mayor spoke warmly about the inspirational connection between FRS and SBWA, and recounted that it is a story of friendship that he often shares with his fellow mayors from other cities worldwide. Rabbi Miriam said of the event “After a weekend of profound political uncertainty the coming together of two such different communities who are now long standing friends, along with the hope filled leadership of the Mayor of London, was a deeply healing moment for everyone there.”
To read more about this event, click through for a column by Mayor Sadiq Kahn addressed to the Jewish community in London in the Jerusalem Post.
Productive discussions led to many significant partnerships among attendees, most notably the unanimous vote to pass a resolution urging the government of Israel to implement a plan to resolve interdenominational disputes over the Kotel in Jerusalem.
For more about this resolution, and others, read the press releases in this JTA article.
Attendees met with leadership of the French Progressive Jewish community at the Union Libérale Israélite de France (ULIF), also called the rue Copernic synagogue, for discussions with rabbis and community leaders. They also visited the oldest synagogue in Paris, La Victoire Synagogue, which was built in 1874, and has served as the center for Jewish Parisian life for 135 years. They also visited the synagogue of the French Israeli Liberal Union which was bombed in 1980 on the evening of Shabbat and Simchat Torah.
Pictured above: Stéphane Beder, President of l'Assemblée du Judaïsme
Libéral (AJL), Jean- -François Bensahel, President of ULIF-Copernic,
Marc Konczaty, President of Mouvement Juif Liberal de France (MJLF),
Paul Azoulay President of Kehillat Gesher, Rabbis Yann Boissière,
Philippe Haddad et Jonas Jacquelin, Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander,
President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and Shai Pinto,
Vice President and COO of the WUPJ
Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur of the Mouvement Juif Liberal de France (MJLF) presented an engaging presentation on the future of French Jewry. In her own words, the challenges is “learning how to live in creatively in two simultaneous cultures.” As one of two women rabbis in France, Rabbi Horvilleur is trying to expose the country's Jews to a more liberal line of Judaism in her congregational and academic work. Reflecting on the significance of the meetings, Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander noted, “It was an affirmation of Jewish life in France.”
As many of the Netzer Shnat programs came to an end this past month, and participants headed back to Australia, the UK and elsewhere, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) sat down with Netzer staff to understand the impact Netzer Shnat and Israel programs have on its participants. Here’s what they said:
“Shnat Netzer is the flagship leadership program of Netzer Olami, the Progressive Zionist worldwide youth movement. The post-high school program is for Bogrim, graduates, of the Netzer Olami youth movement from all over the world. These young people are interested in being leaders and making an impact in their communities – on younger participants, on growing communities, and in new areas of the world where Reform Judaism is still only a dream.
The program has about 30 participants each year, who are equipped with knowledge, tools and experiences to be proactive Progressive Jews, who are deeply involved with Israel. Once they graduate from the program the vast majority of our graduates have a two-year commitment to volunteer in the youth movement in their home countries. They become the actual leaders of the movement – running weekly sessions, winter and summer camps and educational seminars.
Netzer Shnat Year-long Programs in Israel: Experience of a Lifetime
From our point of view, our graduates are change-agents in their home countries. They are there to connect individuals and communities to Progressive Judaism, to Reform Zionism, and to Israel. They are active in educating the next generation of youth. We are in touch with them from Jerusalem, we see them making changes on the ground, and they do it well – in their communities, schools, campuses and congregations.
Good education is not an easy task, especially as it takes years and years – of planting the seeds, giving them enough light, water and love. One is lucky to see them grow and develop. Our program has been running for over 20 years, and we fortunately have a lot of brilliant examples of community involvement by our graduates, and active leadership roles taken by them from Rabbis to cantors; from Presidents of student bodies to heads of NGOs. In addition, we have a good number of participants who make Aliyah and want to contribute to the Israeli society. We are privileged to see more and more Aliyah to Israel, and to hire some of them to come and lead our programs for newcomers in subsequent years. It’s a cycle that we perpetuate each year, and we see successes on the ground that keep the framework going and growing all the time.
If you were once a Netzernik we’d like to hear from you! Please click through to complete the survey and reconnect with us!
"Belong, believe and behave. These were three of the most significant takeaways I will apply to my congregational work. It is so important to have gained this global perspective from the heart of Jerusalem and the WUPJ." - 2015 participant
Workshop for Participants in the Seminar
The Beutel Leadership Seminar, run by the Saltz International Educational Center of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), is opening its application process to nominations of congregational and community leaders to join its prestigious ten-day seminar in Jerusalem in February 2017. Courses explore Jewish texts, current political and social issues across world Jewry and Israel, spiritual pathways and concepts of Jewish leadership and more, all within an interactive and experiential Progressive Jewish context.
To nominate leadership from your congregation or find out how the Beutel seminar will transform your community, click here today.
“Looking Back and to the Future” frames the upcoming program for the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) biennial in November 2016. Co-hosted by Temple David, the biennial will be preceded by three days of optional touring around the Perth region, and will also include an optional one-day, post-Biennial tour of the Margaret River region. The tours will provide an opportunity to get to know fellow conference attendees, build friendships and visit some of the beautiful attractions in and around Perth. Scholar in residence Dr. Ron Wolfson will be speaking about the future of Australian Progressive congregations and strengthening the movement in the region.
For more information, and to register in time for the early bird discount, click here.
Medal of the Knight Commander of the Federal Merit Order
of the Republic of Austria
The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) is proud to congratulate Rabbi Dr. Walter Homolka, Rector of Abraham Geiger College, on being appointed a Knight Commander of the Federal Merit Order for Services rendered to the Republic of Austria. The investiture ceremony will take place at Dietrichstein Palace on July 4 2016 by the Minister of the Federal Chancellery of Austria, Thomas Drozda, in Vienna. Honorary Life President of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ), Leslie Bergman, has been invited to attend.
May Kathy’s memory be for a blessing and may the entire family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion.
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