6 October 2016 // 4 Tishri 5777
At this holiest time of the year for the Jewish people, we pause to reflect and commit ourselves to making 5777 a brighter and more peaceful year.
Watch: Our Progressive family from across the globe comes together
to wish you a happy and healthy new year, click here for the full video In Paris recently Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, proclaimed that there is no future for Jews in France. We disagree! The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) is dedicated to ensuring that Jewish life in France remains vital and vibrant. Our new camp outside Paris welcomed over 120 campers this summer. This is just a small example of the work we do to strengthen the future of Jewish life. As a matter of fact, over 3,000 Jewish youth attended WUPJ Netzer camps around the globe. Our camps in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were filled to capacity with more than 1,000 campers. Knowing the transformative nature of the summer camp experience, we must make sure that hundreds more will have this opportunity each summer.
We could not sustain these initiatives and dreams without your help. We encourage you to support our sacred work with a meaningful gift to help transform the present and future lives of Jews around the world.
From our families to yours, we wish you a new year filled with possibility, hope, good health and shalom.
Rabbi Daniel Freelander Carole Sterling
It is with great sadness that the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) joins the world in mourning the passing of Shimon Peres. His many titles befit a legend who is now no longer - former President of Israel, former Prime Minister, one of the youngest Defense Ministers in Israel's history, founding father of Israel, statesman, politician, activist, advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Shimon Peres at CONNECTIONS 2009 in Tel Aviv, Israel
Shimon Peres was a man of extraordinary vision, great passion, and great eloquence who brought much honor and respect to each of his roles and to the country of Israel. His love for Israel and of all Israelis, no matter their background or faith, knew no bounds. His genuine belief in peace, stemming from mutual respect between warring parties, led to his shared Nobel Prize for his work on the Oslo Peace Accords.
Mr. Peres was, in his own words, a dreamer, who foresaw in Israel's technological innovations its chance to bridge peoples and nations, in the Middle East and around the world. He devoted over 70 years of his life to Israel and Jewish communities around the world, advancing economic, defense, cultural and social platforms through his various initiatives in the private and public sectors.
Former Chairman of the World Union for Progressive Judaism Austin Beutel
honoring Shimon Peres at CONNECTIONS 2009 in Tel Aviv, Israel
In 2009 the World Union had the privilege of honoring Shimon Peres with its International Humanitarian Award (IHAD) at the celebratory closing gala of its CONNECTIONS international convention. This World Union honor celebrates an individual's extraordinary contribution to advancing Progressive Judaism and its values. Presented by former Chairman of the World Union, Austin Beutel, the award recognized Mr. Peres' "lifelong vision and leadership in building the State of Israel and [his] commitment to peace, humanitarian causes and the timeless values of democracy, pluralism and freedom".
Rabbi Richard Hirsch, Honorary President of the World Union and a close friend of Mr. Peres, reflected: "Shimon Peres was the premier statesman of the State of Israel, and a vibrant symbol of the highest values of the Jewish people. While other political leaders, frustrated by the complexities of the Israeli-Arab conflict, projected pessimism, he remained the persistent optimist. In keeping with Jewish tradition, he not only sought peace, he 'pursued' it." To read more from the World Union on the passing of Israel’s founding father, click here.
Earlier this fall, the German media marked an anniversary: ten years ago, rabbis were ordained in Germany for the first time since the Shoah. The founding of the Abraham Geiger College (AGC)—the first rabbinical seminary in postwar Germany—was indeed a historical milestone for more than just pundits. Due to the work of AGC and the School of Jewish Theology that opened in Potsdam in 2013, rabbis “made in Germany” have become the symbol of a significant revival of Jewish life. “Today, rabbis of all three large denominations of Judaism are being trained again in Potsdam and Berlin,” explains Rabbi Walter Homolka, rector of the Abraham Geiger College. "Thus we could successfully reconnect with the infrastructure of prewar Germany. A vision has come true.” These achievements, however, would not have been possible without the commitment of the federal government and German society-at-large.
Abraham Geiger College Press Event Honoring Decade of Ordinations with
Walter Homolka, Daniel Alter, Malcolm Matitiani and Tom Kucera
Photo: Tobias Barniske
Among the historical moments noted were the 2009 ordination of Juval Porat (the first person to be trained as a cantor in Germany since the Holocaust) and the first generation of rabbis ordained by AGC in 2006. That class of 2006 - Daniel Alter, Tomáš Kučera and Malcolm Mattitiani - traveled from Oldenburg, Munich and Cape Town, respectively, to reunite and honor the College.
In November 2010 AGC ordained Alina Treiger, the first female rabbi to be ordained in Germany since World War II; her ordination was held at Berlin's Pestalozzi Synagogue and attended by Christian Wulff, then President of Germany, along with Jewish leaders from around the world. In 2011 the College ordained Antje Deusel, the first German-born woman to be ordained as a rabbi in Germany since the Nazi era.
More than two years ago the World Union partnered with Abraham Geiger College and others to open the Institute for Modern Jewish Studies in Moscow. The Institute, which opened this past March, offers a four-year BA degree program at RSUH, Institute for Philology and History in Moscow, called "Art and Humanities with a Specialization in Jewish Theology". Students recognized as having potential to continue toward rabbinic studies pursue an additional two years of study at Potsdam University and AGC.
The Institute’s programs began in September 2015 with seven highly-motivated students; applications doubled in 2016. To date, two students have already been selected to continue their rabbinic studies at Geiger. Soon AGC will be celebrating more ordinations as a cadre of locally trained Russian-speaking rabbis join communities in the region.
To learn more about this World Union initiative, click here. To read a report in German about Abraham Geiger College, click here. For more about the Jewish community in Germany in English, read this supplement of The Jewish Voice of Germany
The Beit Din, Reform Judaism’s religious court, does vital work in welcoming individuals to Judaism and supporting Jews through counsel on sensitive matters including questions of Jewish status, adoption and divorce. But did you know th¬¬at Reform Judaism also runs a European Beit Din, supporting member communities of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ)?
The European Beit Din is the Rabbinic Court of the EUPJ. It provides rabbinic services and guidance to Progressive (Liberal and Reform) communities in countries where there are an insufficient number of rabbis to form a national Progressive Beit Din. In addition, the European Beit Din will consider cases from individuals in European countries were the EUPJ does not currently have a member community.
The first international gathering of Beit Din rabbinic councils from
around the world, including the European Beit Din, at the World Union
for Progressive Judaism headquarters in Jerusalem in February 2016
Based at the Sternberg Centre in London, the European Beit Din strives to combine modernity with Jewish tradition in a manner that is welcoming, compassionate and inclusive. In the year 2015 alone the European Beit Din welcomed individuals from Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain to the Jewish people. Many of these individuals discovered Jewish roots and are now in the process of embracing their Jewish heritage.
While many conversion candidates travel to the Beit Din in London to begin or complete their conversion processes, other conversions take place at courts in Barcelona, Bratislava, Florence, Kraków and Warsaw.
As a snapshot of its work, in 2015 the Beit Din spent two days in Florence welcoming 33 candidates from Italy and Spain to Judaism. On this occasion the candidates, who had all undertaken a demanding course of study, hailed from communities in Calabria, Florence, Milan, Sardinia and Rome, with one traveling all the way from the Reform community in Valencia.
The standard of knowledge and commitment was extremely high. Candidates told stories of grandmothers lighting candles every Friday night in their basements and of mothers-in-law beckoning young couples into gardens on the day of their wedding so she could put a canopy over them and bless them. The group from Rome were so excited that at the end of the day they spilled out onto the street singing and dancing.
“It is always a privilege to be part of this enormously important and moving time in the lives of candidates, and it is an honour to be able to contribute in a wider sense to the wellbeing of Progressive Jewish life in Europe,” said Rabbi Dr. Jackie Tabick, Convenor for the European Union of Progressive Judaism’s Beit Din.
This past January Prime Minister Netanyahu made a commitment to the entire Jewish people. His government passed a resolution to include all forms of Jewish worship at the Western Wall, with detailed plans to build an egalitarian prayer space that would be administered by a pluralistic group including rabbis from our movement. For the first time in the history of the Jewish state, Progressive rabbis would join an official government-supported religious body.
Unfortunately, in the months since the Israeli government has repeatedly avoided implementing its own commitment. We are encouraged by the recent statements of two Supreme Court Justices urging members of the movement to appeal to the government to follow through with its decision.
For this, we ask for your help: Make the voices of our Progressive movement heard from across the world. Click through to join our letter campaign to the Israeli government demanding that Israel remain a true democracy and a home for all Jews; and that the Kotel remain a place of prayer for ALL Jews.
In March 2016, Netzer Shnat Maayan participants spent time with researchers from the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) to discuss a range of issues facing young Jews today. Conversations covered forming and defining one’s Jewish identity, exploring ways to deepen one’s connection to Israel and examining the role of Diaspora in Israeli society. Their contributions, and others, are featured in a recently released JPPI Special Report on the 2016 Structured World Dialogue, “Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity,” by Shmuel Rosner and John Ruskay.
Shnat Maayan participants contributed to a global study of
Jewish identity among Diaspora young adults for the most recent
report by the Jewish People Policy Institute
To quote the editors, “A century ago, defining who was a member of the Jewish people was relatively clear. Biology was decisive. Jews were either the children of a Jewish mother or those who converted to Judaism through broadly accepted procedures under Jewish law. Today, while biology remains a significant determinant, it has been gradually eroded as more and more Jews have a non-Jewish parent, family members of Jews see no need to convert, and self-identification is perceived to be the critical component of Jewish connection.
“These changes in the larger Jewish tent have policy implications in many areas. This special JPPI report on the 2016 Structured Jewish World Dialogue aims to describe the viewpoints of Jews on the contemporary meaning(s) of Jewish belonging.”
To read the full report, click here.
Nancy Ruth, z”l
“Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto has been blessed with extraordinary lay leaders, not least its presidents. Not only did these women and men devote much of their talent and energy to the congregation, but almost invariably they were also leaders in the larger community - locally, nationally and beyond.
“One of them was Nancy Ruth, who died a month ago. She was the second female president in the 160-year history of the congregation. (Since then, there have been three others, including the incumbent.)”
Click here to read the full essay in the Canadian Jewish News
One more new year greeting from the World Union for Progressive Judaism before Yom Kippur next week. Sing along with this Rosh Hashana video from the 92nd Street Y in New York City with several WUPJ member congregations, rabbis and cantors. The project was conceived by Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, Rabbi Emeritus at New York’s Central Synagogue, and current director of Jewish Life at the 92nd Street “Y”.
Usher in 5777 with Songs and Blessings from the 92nd Street Y and
Progressive Rabbis and Cantors from Around the World,
click here for the full video
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