22 September 2016 // 19 Elul 2016
More than 120 rabbis, professional staff, Netzer staff and community chairs from congregations across Russia, Belarus and Ukraine came together in Minsk on September 15-18 for the FSU biennial convention of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). Special guests included World Union Chair Carole Sterling, President Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, and Vice President Emeritus of International Development Rabbi Joel Oseran.
Celebrating 25 years together in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) at the
World Union for Progressive Judaism FSU Biennial in Minsk
The conference opened with greetings from Charge D'Affaires for the State of Israel in the Republic of Belarus Olga Slov. In his opening remarks Dr. Alexander Kagan, FSU Director at the WUPJ, asked participants to put present politics and tensions between countries aside for the duration of the conference, which they did, creating a very warm, friendly and familial atmosphere throughout the weekend. All participants noted that this conference was the best event that had taken place thus far in terms of the quality of organization, educational content, and spiritual services.
Panel discussion “WUPJ – Where do we go from here?” at the World Union for
Progressive Judaism Former Soviet Union (FSU) Biennial in Minsk
The conference themes were, “25 Years Together,” celebrating 25 years of World Union activity in the FSU, and honoring the 90th anniversary of the World Union. Program highlights included the opening panel, “WUPJ – Where do we go from here?” led by Rabbi Gregory Abramovich, outgoing Chair of the Rabbinical Council, Rita Fruman, Netzer Coordinator for FSU, Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, WUPJ President, Carole Sterling, WUPJ Chair, and Dr. Alex Kagan, WUPJ FSU Director. Each gave a brief 10-15 minute presentation on the achievements, challenges and future programs from his/her position and perspective.
Later that evening Rabbi Joel Oseran spoke about the development of the Reform movement in the Former Soviet Union since its inception, and summed up his professional career and connection with the FSU. His presentation was accompanied by cantors singing liturgical tunes from the past 25 years in the FSU.
Carole Sterling, World Union for Progressive Judaism Chair, presents
Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus a special award
for his efforts toward promoting interfaith dialogue at World Union for
Progressive Judaism Former Soviet Union (FSU) Biennial in Minsk
During Kabbalat Shabbat World Union leadership presented the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus with an award commemorating his contributions toward promoting interfaith dialogue.
Over Shabbat FSU rabbis met with participants who asked a variety of questions on topics related to current rabbinic work and future plans for the FSU movement. Twenty lectures on various topics presented by movement volunteers, professors, and mentors supplemented the emotional prayer services rabbis led throughout the conference. Participants included first and second year students from the Institute for Modern Jewish Studies in Moscow which opened a year ago and is a great source of pride for the World Union's ongoing work in the FSU.
“Without a doubt, the FSU biennial was successful in summarizing 25 years of the Reform Movement’s operations in the FSU and setting additional goals for its growth in the coming years,” noted Dr. Alex Kagan.
“I was proud and invigorated to be with our family from Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine at their biennial. We had the chance to share our challenges and opportunities, study and pray together, and honour Rabbi Joel Oseran for all his good works in this part of the world,” reflected Carole Sterling, Chair of the WUPJ.
As the popular camp song goes, “Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.” Yes, there are Jews in Amsterdam, Disneyland and Tel Aviv! However, what is Reform living like beyond North America? In short, our Reform communities around the world are vibrant and strong, modelling a progressive approach to our tradition in every corner of the world.
Invitation to global online event at Temple Sinai,
“Reform Jewish Living Around the World”
Gearing up for the High Holidays, I wanted to demonstrate to my Temple Sinai community in Toronto the many faces of Reform Judaism. Under the auspices of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), I arranged for a tele-conference with Rabbis from Sao Paulo, Paris, Moscow and Be’er Sheva. I’m grateful to Rabbis Pauline Bebe, Leonid Bimbat, and Ruben Sternschein, as well as rabbinic student Naomi Efrat, for inspiring us with their important words. Through the wonders of technology we were able to converse with ease before a live audience as if we were in the same room (a holiday miracle of sorts).
Interestingly, our communities go by different names, such as Reform, Liberal, and Progressive, but beyond the label there is so much that we share. Torah is our guide and God is by our side as we go on our way. We are committed to our traditional Jewish sources, yet at the same time passionate about carving out an authentic Jewish path that addresses our contemporary reality. We are courageous and daring, recognizing that we belong to an evolving tradition. We pride ourselves in fostering inclusivity by taking down metaphorical walls that have obstructed participation in our practice. Tikkun Olam is a central premise for us – we’re excited about making our world a healthier place. And peoplehood is an important priority.
Of course, each of our respective communities also has unique qualities and challenges. Communaute Juive Liberale of Paris was mere steps from the recent terror attacks. The community has yearned to be a safe enclave amidst the recent security threats. In Moscow, Orthodoxy and Chabad serve as dominant voices, and there is a desperate shortage of Russian-speaking Reform Rabbis to stand up for our progressive values; our new rabbinical program in Moscow aims to address this problem. In Brazil, combatting the poverty of the favelas is a priority! While the news focuses on political scandals and sporting games, there is much work to be done on the ground. And in Be’er Sheva we can be proud of Kehillat Ramot Shalom, a new Progressive community in the Negev. My own Temple Sinai has recently donated a Torah to this congregation so that the community can ensure an authentic Jewish voice in the region.
We often bemoan technology as taking away the personal touch, but in this case we exemplified the opposite, using modern wonders to make bridges between our Jewish centres. Together we are stronger. Looking ahead to the year 5777, of course there are challenges, but we are ready to triumph as a bold Jewish community.
A special thank you to my partners in this endeavor Les Rothschild, Austin Beutel, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
About the author: Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg completed his studies at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles and was ordained in May 2008. After his ordination Rabbi Mikelberg had the unique opportunity to return to the synagogue in Vancouver in which he grew up, Temple Sholom, as assistant rabbi. Rabbi Mikelberg has been with Temple Sinai of Toronto since July 2011.
The High Holy Days interweave tradition and introspection into everything from prayer to food. Individuals, families and communities come together in synagogues to pray for a better year for themselves, for their communities, for Israel and for the Jewish people, reading Siddurim written in so many native languages, but expressing the same hopes and dreams. Then, following the shofar’s universal blast, they head home to feast on an array of edibles that symbolize more blessings and hopes.
for High Holy Day recipes, crafts and traditions for your family’s
or community’s celebrations this year!
It is here, in the settings of homes and across tables around the world, that the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) hopes to offer some creative and tasty reminders of the wonderful traditions and foods that have nourished Jews for generations. We invite you to visit the World Union’s new Pinterest inspiration boards for Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Follow us, pin us, and click through the links of crafts, prayers, and recipes that are sure to enhance your family’s holiday celebrations. We’ll be adding new pins periodically, so check back to find new inspiration. Ask any educator and, despite the ages they teach and cultural contexts they work in, they will all agree on the following: It is one thing to learn from textbooks, but it is another experience entirely to learn from interactions and on-site experiences while grappling with large questions. The Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators, led by Rabbi Steve Burstein, Director of the World Union’s Anita Saltz International Education Center, recently hosted 12 Jewish educators from the US, UK, Brazil, and Hungary on a ten-day study visit that looked at key teaching concepts and practices in alleyways, kibbutzim, museums and community centers across Israel. Participants met with social impact activists, nonprofit directors, teachers and change-makers using educational approaches to change the way people think. Site visits offered stepping stones for participants to plan and rethink how they approach such areas as disability inclusion, project-based learning, and contextualizing art and politics.
Project-based learning at the Kibbutz Ein Shemer Greenhouse Teaches the Teachers
As children and their families head back to school this fall, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) asked graduates to share insights they gained from attending the seminar and how they are applying ideas learned in their classrooms and schools. Here’s what one participant had to say: At [our site visit to] Na Laga’at I was struck not only by the actors, but also by the helpers. The actors, in accepting help, gave these people the gift of the opportunity to assist in amplifying the voices and lives of those who often go unheard and unseen. And we in the audience knew that as witnesses, the process was only completed by our presence. But we were not only passive witnesses, giving the actors a chance to be heard, we also benefited, we learned, we reflected, and we grew that night. So I took that experience home with me. This year we have begun a new small group class, called Koleinu, for children whose particular learning differences and social and emotional challenges make participating in our typical religious school classes impossible. The Atlanta metro area has been lacking in opportunities for these children to access Jewish education and community for some time. I am so excited to open this class to the wider Jewish community, not only to my congregation. After Na LaGa’aat I came home thinking about how I could provide opportunities and space for all of us to benefit and learn from the Koleinu students among us. I am creating a post confirmation class (11th and 12th grade) where students will spend an hour each session with our learning resource specialist. Part of that time will be spent learning about the unique challenges facing the Koleinu students and how they can best support them, and part will be studying relevant Jewish texts. They will then spend the second hour in the classroom with Koleinu, learning with them and supporting them. This is only a start and only touches a few other community members (I'm hoping for 3 to 4 teens) but it's a start! The Saltz International Educational Center of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) offers a range of customized training seminars that aim to strengthen the Progressive Jewish world through professional growth. The Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators is sponsored by the Bergman brothers, Stanley, a long-time supporter of Progressive Jewish causes, and Leslie, Honorary Life President of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ). The upcoming Beutel Seminar for Lay Leadership focuses on training congregational leaders to hone their leadership vision and skillset for increased impact and success in their congregations or communities. This prestigious ten-day seminar will be held in Jerusalem in February 2017 and is open to nominations and applications from community leaders around the world.
To nominate individuals from your congregation or find out how the Beutel seminar will transform your community, click here today.
The last year of my life is one that I will never forget. I sit here today as a different person due to the experience that I was privileged enough to take part in; not only different in the way I act, but the way I feel and the way I think. All of my opinions and critical thoughts about the wider world are guided by my time in such a small part of this large world.
In this report I will be focusing mainly on the second half of my year, arguably the most intense and stimulating part, on a programme called Etgar. This is the educational part of the year where participants of Shnat Netzer can pick between Machon (a pluralistic educational programme with other movements) and Etgar (a Netzer-run communal educational programme for Shnat Netzer participants).
Shnat Netzer participants in the courtyard of Beit Shmuel-Merkaz Shimshon
of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem, where they
lived during part of their Israel program
Etgar translates from Hebrew as challenge, and the programme really lived up to its name. Firstly, on a basic level, the education itself was challenging. It was entirely guided by Netzer’s ideology to uphold the values of Zionism, Judaism and Tikkun Olam. Classes ranged from ‘Gender Studies’ and ‘Chinuch and Hadracha’ to ‘Zionist Dilemmas’ and ‘Jewish Bookshelf’. The different teachers were all Israeli or had a youth movement background, meaning they engaged with us on a personal level: in each lesson you could see their enthusiasm for the subject shining through as they taught. It wasn’t that the classes themselves were challenging, but more the things we were learning about, like the challenges of the Jewish people, the challenges of Israel today, and the challenges of the LGBTQI+ community around the world. Each topic showed us the miracles and issues of the world, inspiring us to do more to help those in need.
The deeper ‘Etgar' came with the communal side of the programme. From February to June I lived in the centre of Jerusalem with 13 other people from England, America, Australia, Germany and South Africa. These people first became friends and then family, and while the journey to becoming family was difficult it was also very rewarding. In youth movements there is an idea called Kvutzah, which translates as group, but it means more than that, and that extra meaning is actually quite hard to put into words. Kvutzah is a group, but it’s one where everyone is aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, one that works together internally to support each other, and works to achieve externally, strives to always be better and looks critically at itself to see what can be done to be more effective and efficient. One of the aims of the programme is to build a kvutzah, which in four months is unrealistic, yet we still managed to lay the foundations of what could one day become a home for us all. In a weird way, although the idea is to learn about those around you, you actually end up learning most about yourself, knowledge that I found very personally valuable and that I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Finishing Etgar and Shnat was one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced. The mixture of emotions, the sadness to be finished, the excitement to see my friends at home again, the regret for things I didn’t do, the pride of the things I did, were overwhelming. When I reflect back on my year in Israel, I see the faces of the amazing, inspiring people I met, and the beauty of the land I call(ed?) home. I think that’s the most important thing: engaging young Jewish people with Israel, and creating global links between like-minded Jewry from communities around the world.
About the author: Tommy Grantley is from London, England, UK and just spent eight-and-a-half months in Israel on Shnat Netzer. He is an active member of RSY-Netzer, The Zionist Youth Movement for Reform Judaism.
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