16 March 2017 // 18 Adar 5777
By Miriam Vasserman
The idea came to us last year during a discussion with Ruth Bohm, a representative of Women for Reform Judaism (WRJ) in Latin America. We were talking about ways to connect Jewish women from our region, with diverse backgrounds, in a new and exciting way.
That’s when it dawned on us: the most special rite in a woman’s life is her coming-of age-ceremony, or Bat Mitzvah. So we thought how about we organize an adult Bat Mitzvah ceremony for women from Latin America, who never had the chance for their own Bat Mitzvah, and hold the ceremony and celebration at the Kotel in Jerusalem?
As we started to identify the resources both within our region and belonging to the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), we realized that our global reach offered a unique opportunity to bridge 30 women from different cities, states and countries of Latin America with a range of scholars and rabbis around the world. The common waystation for all involved was Jerusalem – the Kotel – and in May 2017, many members of our region, along with members of our extended global family, are coming together for CONNECTIONS 2017. What an opportunity to commemorate and exalt the significance of this moment!
Bnot Mitzvah from Latin America meeting at the Congregação
Israelita Paulista (CIP) during their preparation program
We started planning, and with the dedication and hard work of some key people and our great team, it is now a reality. We are pleased to invite you to join us at the Kotel in Jerusalem on Thursday, May 18, between 8-10am at the Kotel to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah ceremonies of twelve women from Latin America as part of the World Union’s CONNECTIONS 2017 biennial conference. Rabbi Ruben Sternschein, from Congregação Israelita Paulista (CIP), in Brazil, was the first to support the project, completely embracing the idea. He quickly invited educators from the Reform and Conservative Movement, some locals and some from abroad, to not only teach the participating women, but to elevate the level of education and insights offered during the lead-up to the event. International professors who are teaching the participating women and leading workshops include: Rabbi Deborah Kahn-Harris from Leo Back College; Rabbi Deby Grinberg from the Institute for Diaspora Leadership; Rabbi Joseph Edelheit from St. Cloud State University and PUC Rio de Janeiro; Rabbi Marla Feldman from the Women for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute for Religion (HUC-JIR) in Jerusalem.
Local teachers contributing include Professors Suzana Chwatz, Gerorge Gabanyi and Alexandre Edelstein, as well as Rabbis Ariel Kleiner, Fernanda Tomchinsky, Michel Schlesinger, Rogerio Z. Cukierman, and Ruben Sternschein.
Screen shot from a skype class preparing participants in
Latin America for their Bat Mitzvah ceremonies
Among the courses and discussion topics: Definition and Meaning of a Bat Mitzvah; Women’s Evolution in Midrash and Talmud; Meaningful Views of Jewish Holidays (chagim or chaguim); Feminist Alternative Readings of Biblical Texts; Mystics and Kabbalah; Chasidism and Spirituality. Additional coursework focuses on learning Hebrew, Torah portions and prayers.
The use of technology afforded the group the ability to study together in real time. Karin Zingerevitz, Executive Director of World Union for Progressive Judaism-Latin America (WUPJ-LA), and Rebeka Anbinder, Program Assistant, provided critical support to the program, including developing an effective and easy-to-use communication platform for the participants to use and interact with each other, a website for the program with access to all lectures, and a Facebook page.
We are now several months into the program’s coursework and deep into our preparatory studies. Some women will read from the Torah, some will read a personal ‘drash’, one will lead prayers and another will read a blessing. With CONNECTIONS in May only a few months away, we asked participants to reflect on what their participation in this program means to them:
“When I heard about the opportunity to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah at the Kotel, in Israel, with my female colleagues and friends, I knew I could not let it pass. I think it will be one of the most beautiful moments of my life.” - Miriam Olchansky, Buenos Aires, Argentina
“It has been a reflexive process that has encouraged me to have a critical look at what I receive as knowledge. I am increasingly convinced that my life as a Jewish woman is less to reproduce what was established for a Jewish woman, and more to assume my responsibility in building a Jewish way of being. It became part of my interpretation of Tikkun Olam.” - Kelita Cohen, Brasília, Brasil
“It is an inexplicable emotion to have this opportunity.” - Ruth Bohm, São Paulo, Brazil
About the author:
Miriam Vasserman is the Vice Chair of the World Union for Progressive Judaism – Latin America. She lives in São Paulo, Brazil.
By Nelson Brutman
The 2017 Beutel Leadership Seminar in Jerusalem, Israel was a unique opportunity for me to dive into a world that, living in the diaspora, was distant from my everyday reality. This was my first time in Israel, and the Old City was as enchanting and symbolic as I had imagined. As I sat at Beit Shmuel in discussions about the difficulties each Jewish community experiences around the world, I could glance at the walls of the Old City just a short walk away and think about where I was and how I got there. I learned a great deal from Rabbi Steve Burnstein and Paul Liptz throughout the program; they kept us rooted in the details of the geopolitical-partisan relationship of the State of Israel and the loftier, more spiritual meaning all this has to us as Jews, both as Jews who live in the Diaspora and as Reform Jews.
2017 Beutel Leadership Seminar participants visiting the Kotel Plaza
and stopping at Robinson’s Arch to understand the challenges of
religious freedom and pluralism in Israel
At the end of the program it became clear to us, as participants from Reform communities in Brazil, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Israel, Poland, China and Australia, that while we have a great deal in common, we also differ greatly in our congregational needs, character and practices. During the course of the Beutel Leadership Seminar we learned by sharing with each other, exchanging experiences and offering ideas, and we agreed that as we headed to our home communities we were renewed both by our togetherness and by the skills we acquired as individuals.
WUPJ Chair Carole Sterling (second from right, bottom row)
joined participants of the 2017 Beutel Leadership Seminar
for a discussion about global Reform Judaism
As I head home and say goodbye to my dear colleagues from the seminar, I realize that what was once an expectation of what lies ahead is now clearly a long path to pursue, but I am not deterred because I no longer feel alone. Throughout the history of the Jewish people, we have shown resilience and fortitude. Visiting historical sites in Israel, learning about our Zionist forefathers and pioneers and following their footsteps across Israel, I was inspired with the weight of our people to continue my sacred work. It’s a path that invites debate in communities – the role of Israel and Zionism, for example, is a heated one - but I am prepared and equipped to take on the challenges and strengthen my community in dialogue. As Rabbi Steve Burnstein wisely advised us, “take a deep breath and dive in.”
About the author:
Nelson R. Brutman lives in Belo Horizonte, Brazil with his wife and daughter. He looks forward to becoming more engaged in Jewish life in his local community.
By Judy Smith
Jonathan is a passionate believer in the potential of Progressive Judaism in the Czech Republic. He founded a “start-up” named Or Tamid to work with Jewish communities in Prague and the surrounding area to encourage communal growth and engagement. As part of their outreach, he and Julie Bergmann organised a Kabbalat Shabbat in Prague for the weekend of March 10-13 that was hugely successful, selling out all tickets for close to 130 attendees, and reserving others on a long waiting list.
Judy Smith (right) lights Shabbat candles with student
Rabbi David Maxa (left) at Or Tamid weekend for
Progressive Judaism in Prague
The Friday night programme featured services led by student Rabbi David Maxa, a buffet dinner, birkat hamazon led by cantorial student Ivan Kohout, and much singing and dancing. Many of the attendees were not members of Reform congregations in Prague, but they were keen to engage and participate in Jewish activities. Other partners in this exciting venture were the Czech Union of Jewish Students and Moishe House, along with the Jewish communities ZLU and Beit Simcha.
There was a wonderful atmosphere in the room – it was a cross-generational event, with many children and even tiny babies in attendance. There was an obvious thirst for more Jewish engagement, and Or Tamid is developing a programme which will continue to attract more people.
Left: Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue, exterior; Right: Names of Holocaust
victims from Czech lands on the synagogue’s interior wall
Prague has an incredible Jewish history, with a wealth of ancient synagogues. On Saturday morning, we attended the full Shabbat morning service at Pinkas Synagogue. This is the synagogue with the 80,000 names painted on its walls of Moravian and Bohemian Jews who were deported to their deaths during the Holocaust. David Maxa (rabbinic student) and Ivan Kahout (cantorial student) – both at Abraham Geiger College – led a deeply moving service. David, himself from Prague, gave the sermon, which drew on his family roots and reflected on where we were praying and the hope for the future. (Click here to read the full sermon).
The weekend impressed upon me the potential of rabbinic and lay leadership, and the enthusiasm and thirst for Progressive Judaism, all in a beautiful central European city with its own unique Jewish history. Or Tamid will certainly shine brightly onto the future of Progressive Judaism in the Czech Republic.
The EUPJ just announced that it will hold its 2018 regional conference in Prague on April 26–29 in 2018. So save the date to experience the beauty and magic of Progressive Judaism – and Or Tamid – in Prague for yourselves!
About the author:
Educating the educators is one of the Bergman Seminar’s guiding principles. An intensive ten-day program for Progressive Jewish Educators from around the world, the Bergman Seminar, led by the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ)’s Anita Saltz International Education Center, combines classroom and text study with site visits and face-to-face encounters with individuals and educational projects that explore the multitude of Jewish narratives inside and outside of Israel.
2016 Bergman seminar participants usher in Shabbat with the
at sunset prayers on the promenade in Tel Aviv
For more information, including the schedule and fees, click here. This July, join Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) on a special ten-day 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.
Join the WUPJ Summer Mission in July 2017 to Netzer Summer Camps in Ukraine, Germany and France.
Click here for details, including fees and itinerary. The story of Jewish ties to the Caribbean is a fascinating one, dating back to Christopher Columbus and his first trans-Atlantic voyage. Home to some of the oldest Jewish communities in the Americas, the Caribbean also lays claim to synagogues with sandy floors, cemeteries that date back hundreds of years, and Jewish families who still call the islands home. Join the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) for a relaxing and historically stimulating trip to the Islands, featuring Jewish music, shared song and prayer.
Josh Nelson, pictured here performing at the World Union biennial in Rio,
will be joining the WUPJ 2018 Caribbean cruise for special performances
(Photo © Courtesy of Dale Lazar)
Click here for details, including fees and itinerary.
Eyal has served as Executive Director of Kehilat YOZMA in Modi'in since 2011, supervising their administrative, physical and financial concerns. Prior to YOZMA, he served as Executive Director of Seeds of Peace for five years, and in various Human Resources and Customer Relations roles for an additional ten. Working out of our Jerusalem office, Eyal will serve as the most senior professional on staff, supervising all day-to-day operations of the World Union, including managing Beit Shmuel and the Departments of Finance, Fundraising, Marketing, Administration, and Human Resources. He will partner with the President of the World Union to support the implementation of the organizational strategic plan and programmatic pillars, and liaise with the World Union Management Committee on policy matters, as well as lay leadership and committees.
Danny Jaffe will continue to supervise the day-to-day operations until Eyal's arrival in June, and will continue to serve as Chief Financial Officer afterwards. We are deeply grateful to Danny for assuming so many crucial additional responsibilities over the past months.
Please join us in welcoming Eyal to our WUPJ family.
We followed Purim festivities around the world and reposted moments captured by congregations, regions and members on the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Facebook page. Click through and like us to connect with and experience the global reach of our movement.
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