2 February 2017 // 6 Shevat 5777
The weekend of January 27-28 was tumultuous to say the least. With headlines, tweets and videos rapidly firing updates from airports across the United States, the news of Trump’s Executive Order, effectively banning the entrance of Muslim persons from seven Muslim-majority countries into the U.S., sent shockwaves across the world.
“There is no doubt we are living in contentious times,” lamented Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). “Protests in cities and airports across the world, many led by Reform Rabbis and congregants, including many youth, along with the Religious Action Center (RAC) in Washington, gave hope as they stood up for justice. We rededicate our movement and its resources – our congregations, our rabbis, professionals and members– to live our commitment to be an Or LaGoyim (“light unto the nations”) by demonstrating to the world how religiously committed and humane human beings should behave toward each other.”
Protesters holding placards against Trump’s recent anti-refugee
and anti-migrant Executive Orders near the Israeli
Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem
(Photo by: JINIPIX)
In an effort to capture the global impact of the events unfolding in North America, the World Union asked Reform, Liberal and Progressive Rabbis, along with congregational leaders and regional presidents around the world, to send their responses, thoughts and reports of actions being taken by their congregations (see article below for more on this). While this is by no means a complete picture of all the Reform, Progressive and Liberal Rabbis’ and congregations’ writings and protests that take a stand for justice around the world, the list below serves as a starting point for conversations about ideas and reflections that show the importance of making our shared, global voice heard.
“The UPJ [Union for Progressive Judaism], representing the Progressive Movement across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, is adamantly opposed to bans being placed on any person because of ethnicity, nationality or religion. The U.S. has the right to vet immigrants and visitors, as all nations do. However, the leading democratic nation in the world, and an exemplar of freedom to others, should base bans on entry on specific security concerns about individuals and not apply blanket bans. The Jewish people have fresh memories of suffering from blanket bans being imposed and entry to refugees being denied on the basis of religion, race or country of origin.” -- Roger Mendelson, President of the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ); and Rabbi Fred Morgan, Movement Rabbi (also reprinted in the Australian Jewish News)
"'For you have been strangers in the land of Egypt'. As Jews, we feel particularly committed to welcoming refugees. We are well aware that fears and difficulties lead people to reject ‘the other’, but more than ever we need to be at the forefront of a movement that fulfills the vision of Torah: ensuring social justice and rejecting the hatred of foreigners.”
“The very recent images of bodies washed up on the beaches of popular European holiday destinations and of refugees queuing at central European borders in unspeakable conditions, have become indelibly engraved in my memory. They are bearable only because of the humane, generous and responsible reactions of governments, private organizations and individuals who reached out to help these people survive and find some hope and perspective for the future.
Whoever learnt any lesson for the 21st century from the German catastrophe of the 20th must be on their side. It is a tragedy for the free world that the new American President is not among them. I feel that as Jewish organizations committed to Jewish values, we must do everything in our power to counteract the decision to close America’s doors or any other doors – for our nations and our hearts.”
–- Sonja Guentner, Chairman, Union progressiver Juden (UpJ) in Deutschland K.d.ö.R.; Vice Chairman, European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ); Executive Board Member, World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ); and Representative at the United Nations, Geneva
“We know you, our friends across the ocean. You did not hesitate in the past to take out the Torah Scroll into the city streets and to march with it alongside Dr. Martin Luther King. You did not hesitate to walk with us and the Torah scrolls a few months ago at the Kotel. You will not hesitate to take it out this time as well, if doing so becomes necessary.
Now it is our turn to say to you: “Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed” (Joshua 1; 9)
Together we stand stronger in promoting justice, equality, inclusion and tolerance.”
-- Rabbi Gilad Kariv, President and CEO, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ); Reuven Marko, Chairperson, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism; Anat Hoffman, Executive Director, Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC); Rabbi Na’amah Kelman, Dean, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Jerusalem campus; Rabbi Prof. Yehoyada Amir, Chair, MARAM-The Israel Council of Reform Rabbis, excerpt from this statement
From North America:
“The Reform Movement denounces in the strongest terms the horrifying Executive Order on immigration and refugees issued late Friday evening by President Trump… As Jews, we know the impact that xenophobia and religious profiling have on all people whose lives are endangered by exclusionary laws… In the days, weeks and years that follow, we will work with our clergy, lay leaders, institutions and congregations to provide assistance and support to immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and others yearning for the refuge and opportunity for a better life that we know the United States, at its best, can provide.”
“President Trump’s Executive Order limiting entry to the U.S. of non-citizens from seven countries, barring Syrian refugees indefinitely, and suspending entry of all refugees for 120 days, has sown bitter confusion and upended innocent lives. It is in stark and disheartening contrast to the values of inclusion that we at HUC-JIR embrace and to the normal practices of our nation... May we do all we can in the days ahead to protect the lives of those at serious risk, and continue to build a community in America that is worthy of our democratic roots and our Jewish values.”
-- Rabbi Aaron Panken, President, HUC-JIR, excerpt from this statement
From the United Kingdom:
More than 30 progressive British rabbis signed a joint letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, following his Executive Order effectively banning Muslims coming from seven Islamic countries from entering the United States, stating: “We stand alongside our Muslim cousins as they face the consequences – both direct and indirect – of President Trump’s executive order. By effectively banning many Muslims from entering the United States, Donald Trump is inciting and legalizing hatred.”
-- Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism; Rabbi Alexandra Wright, Co-chair of Liberal Rabbinic Conference; Rabbi Richard Jacobi, Co-chair of Liberal Rabbinic Conference; Rabbi Josh Levy, Co-Chair of the Reform Rabbinic Assembly; and Rabbi Dr. Jackie Tabick, Convener of the Reform Rabbinic Court. Read the full article at the Jewish News Online. “The Statue of Liberty has always been our symbol of welcome,” Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein of Am Shalom told The New York Times. “It feels like Trump turned off the light.”
Following is a list of Reform and Progressive synagogues turning the light of tikkun olam - of justice, humanity, giving and hope - back on by opening their doors, resources and hearts to Syrian and other refugees.
The roundup of articles below provides inspiring examples of action being carried out by Reform Jews for you to join, initiate in your local congregation, support or just to keep in mind. The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) welcomes updates from individuals, synagogues and community groups working toward tikkun olam and not mentioned below to feature on our social media channels and in future newsletters, or to facilitate connections between interested volunteers.
Members of Am Shalom welcoming a Syrian refugee family at
O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Jan. 27, 2017.
(Courtesy of Am Shalom/ From JTA.org) In North America, efforts by Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois, were reported in The New York Times, (excerpt below):
Some of the volunteers were children or grandchildren of refugees. Their synagogue, Am Shalom (“People of Peace”) in Glencoe, Ill., displays a statue depicting members’ families who perished at the Nazis’ hands. The Syrian family, and the president’s orders, were coming on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, some of the volunteers noted with tears in their eyes. A hundred synagogue members had contributed in some way to helping resettle the Syrians: renting an apartment steps from a playground, assembling a vacuum cleaner, lining up juice boxes in the refrigerator.
Some of the synagogue members had signed on instinctually, so the Syrians would be helped the way their own parents or grandparents had been aided when they arrived in the United States. Others had joined as a way of countering Mr. Trump — just a few of the many Americans, of varied backgrounds, reacting with shock, outrage and concern to his curtailment of the country’s long-established refugee resettlement system.
[SLS raised] £50,000 to refurbish a disused caretaker’s flat in the building, which is a former school. “This is a very personal issue for a lot of our members,” said Alice Alphandary, the synagogue chair. “There is a sense that we as Jews have benefited from sanctuary in the past. For example, my father was a refugee in the 1950s. Now we want to repay that welcome to a new generation.”
James Krikler of South London Liberal Synagogue speaking to the
to welcome Syrian refugees
… The plan has been called the “Abraham’s tent project” after the biblical story of an open-sided tent created by Abraham to welcome strangers. “Hospitality is almost a religious obligation,” said Alphandary. Other synagogues in the UK, along with churches and mosques, have also raised funds for and supported refugees.
Danny Rich, senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism and co-chair of the National Refugee Welcome Board, said: “Liberal Judaism has been a leading partner in the campaign to bring Syrian refugees to Britain. We have done so not only because our own history reminds us of the fate of families whom the world abandons, but because the single most repeated ethical injunction in the Hebrew Bible is: ‘You shall love the stranger because you know the experience of being a stranger in the land of Egypt’.”
The synagogue will launch its fundraising drive at an event next month, and is to set up a donations page on its website next week.
Dan Moskovitz is the rabbi at Temple Sholom, a Reform congregation in Vancouver, B.C. He told me that during a conference call with members of the Canadian Conference of Reform Rabbis, which he chairs, “we were all talking about what can we do.”
The High Holidays were coming up, so Moskovitz took the opportunity to give a Yom Kippur sermon on the importance of helping Syrian refugees come to Canada. “I expected some push back from people that would feel this was not a Jewish problem, that we’re importing people—Muslims in particular—who have it in for the Jews and for Israel,” he said. “But I also knew we were all affected by what we had seen and heard in the media, and a slumber had sort of crept over us over the last four or five years, where we hadn’t paid much attention to this conflict and the crisis it was creating for families.”
The response was “amazing,” said Moskovitz: “Following the sermon, people were in tears. They came up to me in support. We sent an email after the holiday asking people to register their willingness to participate as volunteers and make a financial pledge. We were trying to raise $40,000 at that time, and we raised it in two days.” So, the synagogue decided to double its goal and sponsor two families. They have now brought in over $80,000.
The Al-Balkhi family is welcomed at the airport. Rabbi Stephen Wise,
Photo: Shirley Smurlick, Courtesy of Tablet Magazine
Canada is the only country in the world with a sponsorship program allowing groups of individuals and community organizations to bring refugees into the country. The program was introduced in 1979, in response to the crisis surrounding the Vietnamese boat people. Privately sponsored families still have to be recognized as legitimate refugees (usually by the United Nations) and their applications processed by the federal government. But their sponsors are responsible for the full cost of feeding and housing them for a year and helping them become integrated into Canadian society. The amount required varies depending on the cost of living in different cities, but family sponsorship generally costs at least $30,000, in addition to donations of furniture, clothing, and other supplies, and a lot of volunteer time.
While Moskovitz started the ball rolling in Vancouver, “other rabbis were thinking the same thing,” he told me. Soon, about two dozen Canadian congregations—most, but not all, Reform—would become involved in sponsoring Syrian refugees.
Last July, anguished by the war in Syria and the plight of millions fleeing the grisly six-year conflict, Andrea Dettelbach e-mailed her rabbi at Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C. She suggested that the synagogue sponsor a Syrian refugee family. He agreed. Temple Sinai has since raised “unbelievable amounts of money” for the family, she told me, found cell phones to give when they arrive, organized a life-skills team to help with everything from banking to education, and lined up doctors, including a female internist who speaks Arabic. Dettelbach’s basement is full of boxes, of donated furnishings, clothing, a television. “One member of the congregation decided, instead of giving gifts last year, to buy all new pots and pans in the names of her friends.” Temple Sinai partnered with Lutheran Social Services to launch the complex process.
The wait was almost over. “We were expecting a family within a week or two,” she said. “This is the history of the Jewish people and a commitment to helping those in need. As an American, it’s opening our doors to those who seek refuge. It’s who we are as a people. How can we turn our back on them?”
In 2005 the United Nations established January 27 as a day to honor the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Named “International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” January 27, 1945 also marks the day Auschwitz was liberated.
Rabbi Grisha Abramovich and Dr. Alex Kagan were interviewed for TV
channel "Belarus 1", which has an audience of over a million viewers,
as part of their television coverage of the International
Holocaust Remembrance Day Event in Minsk.
Click here to view the full video. On the eve of this solemn day, January 26, the Sandra Breslauer Beit Simcha Center for Progressive Judaism in Minsk held a memorial service for the third consecutive year. Initiated by Netzer youth and Hillel, and organized by the Religious Union for Progressive Judaism in the Republic of Belarus together with the IBM Minsk, Johannes Rau International Centre for Education and Exchange, the ceremony was attended by dignitaries and politicians, including representatives of embassies of the European Union, Israel, the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Turkey. UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative Sanaka Samarasinha attended the ceremony for the first time. World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) FSU Director in the CIS and Baltic States, Dr. Alex Kagan, attended with Rabbi Grigory Abramovich and leaders from ten Progressive communities across Belarus.
Irina Belskaya, Coordinator of Jewish Education, and Viktor Balakirev, Director of the IBM Minsk, Johannes Rau International Centre for Education and Exchange, addressed the audience of more than 300 with words of peace. Other speeches and readings called on the attendees to remember the Holocaust, to teach the lessons of genocide and preserve its memories for younger generations. Memorial (yahrzeit) candles were lit by Catholic Priest Yuri Sanko and Lida Mikhail Dvilyansky, Head of the National Ensemble of Jewish Music, "Shalom". After the ceremony Michael Kemerov, Executive Director of the Religious Union of Progressive Judaism in the Republic of Belarus, opened the exhibition "Reading and Writing with Anne Frank”.
International Holocaust Memorial Ceremony at the Bundestag in Berlin
© Deutscher Bundestag / Fotograf: Achim Melde
In Germany, a central commemoration event took place at the Bundestag (House of Parliament), and was attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal President Joachim Gauck, President of the Federal Constitutional Court Andreas Vosskuhle, President of Parliament Norbert Lammert, who also conducted the ceremony, and members of the Cabinet. The focus of this year’s ceremony was “Victims of the Nazi ‘euthanasia programmes’,” which killed 300,000 people. Ernst Putzki, Benjamin Traub and Anna Lehnkering were among the victims represented during the ceremony. A Berlin actor with Down Syndrome read aloud a letter from Ernst Putzki, an inmate in the Hadamar euthanasia center, detailing the appalling conditions of the facility where as many as 30 inmates a week were starving to death. Family members of Benjamin Traub and Anna Lehnkering spoke about their relatives’ fates and of their families’ struggles to recover any facts about their murders. Sonja Guentner, Chairman of the Union progressiver Juden (UpJ) in Deutschland K.d.ö.R., attended the event with UpJ Executive Director Irith Michelsohn. To read the official press release from the Bundestag about the ceremony and view the full program, click here.
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Spend five days meeting with leading politicians, judges, legislators, professors, attorneys and activists, each presenting a different facet of the prism that comprises Israel’s national and international law. Tour the Israeli Supreme Court and meet with justices; visit the Knesset and discuss legislation with ministers; debate the issues with fellow professionals from around the world for a unique, global perspective. *With CLE accreditation for participants from the US. The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) extends its deepest condolences to Rabbi Nathan Alfred on the passing of his mother, Jackie Alfred. A beloved member, founder, and pioneer of the Bromley Reform Synagogue (BRS), serving Jewish individuals and families across south east London and north west Kent, Jackie’s presence, ideas, and joie de vivre will be sorely missed. Read the full “Hesped of Jackie Alfred” by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild to get a glimpse into Jackie’s impact on the community as a whole and on so many others individually.
May Jackie’s memory be for a blessing and may Rabbi Alfred and his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) extends its heartiest congratulations to Michael Lawrence and Nobert Schweitzer on being awarded the prestigious Order of Australia (OAM). In response to being honored for his service to education, youth and the community, Michael told J-Wire: “I am extremely humbled and honored to have been chosen.” Michael went on to credit his involvement at The King David School of Melbourne, Australia as his most significant achievement. “Established on the principles of inclusion, egalitarianism and social justice, The King David School strives to embed in students a strong and proud Australian identity and a close and meaningful relationship with the Land and State of Israel,” he explained.
Norbert Schweizer was “very humbled” by the award, honoring his service to the community through voluntary roles. J-Wire reported that Norbert cites spending more than two decades on the board of Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney and later as the Synagogue’s president as ‘his proudest achievements to date’. “To be part of the growth and vibrancy of the Synagogue,” Norbert reflected, “has been a huge honor. My vision of the Jewish community in Sydney is that it should play an ever more constructive, vital role in society and be respected. Emanuel Synagogue, the largest progressive Jewish synagogue in the Southern Hemisphere, has been integral to the strength and vibrancy of the Jewish community.”
When asked about what it was he enjoyed about ‘doing his part,’ he says it gives him “a wonderful sense of achievement to contribute to the welfare of others”.
Join Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), on this special mission to experience and learn more about Netzer Summer camps across Ukraine, Germany and France. See first-hand how we’re reviving Jewish identity and engagement through camping among the next generation.
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