Issue # 333

Issue #333 – 23 October 2008 / 24 Tishrei 5769


IN THIS ISSUE:


SIXTH SEASON FOR IMPJ PRE-DRAFTEE GAP YEAR PROGRAM

WARSAW CONGREGATION HOSTS WORLD-FAMOUS SINGER

PROGRESSIVE TEENS FROM BRITAIN AND GERMANY GET ACQUAINTED

REGISTER NOW TO ATTEND THE WORLD UNION’S 34TH INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION

UPCOMING EVENTS

 

SIXTH SEASON FOR IMPJ PRE-DRAFTEE GAP YEAR PROGRAM

The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism’s mechina, a gap year program that helps prepare high school graduates for army service, has entered its sixth year with a record 35 participants (18 male and 17 female). The goal of the program, which is based in Jaffa, is to increase the pre-draftees’ sense of responsibility through communal living and working with populations at risk; develop their leadership skills through special seminars and field trips; and strengthen their sense of Jewish identity through a program of study with esteemed rabbis and educators.

The mechina, which was established in late 2003 with just six high school graduates, is now fully recognized by Israel’s Ministry of Defense.

This year, for the first time, two of the participants are Hebrew-speaking young women from the United States. Both participated in the Eisendrath International Exchange High School in Israel program of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY). Their presence in the mechina reflects a long-held desire to turn it into a program that focuses on more than just preparation for the army. (Neither of the young women is planning to enlist.) Iri Kassel, executive director of the IMPJ, said he hopes this development marks “the beginning of a new path for participation of Hebrew-speaking Diaspora teens in this important program, which helps in shaping Jewish identity and leadership.”

Among those leading this year’s course are Michal Immerman, Yaya Tobias and Benji Weiman-Kelman, former mechina participants who have completed their military service. “Our movement is blessed with these young graduates, who return to us to guide the next generation,” said Kassel. The program is overseen by Rabbi Aharon Fox, a senior reserve officer in one of Israel’s top army units and head of the IMPJ’s youth department.

Graduates of last year’s program were feted in July with a party attended by parents, counselors, members of the teaching staff and representatives from the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality, which helps coordinate the participants’ work with populations at risk. Also in attendance were former World Union president Ruth Cohen and her husband Harvey, who are generous supporters of the mechina; Rabbi Meir Azari, spiritual leader of Tel Aviv’s Beit Daniel, the mechina’s “adoptive congregation”; and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of North America’s Union for Reform Judaism, who was in Israel on one of his many annual working visits.

“I truly feel a debt to the framework that let me live the values I was raised on, the values that continue to guide me,” said Ariel Sawicki, one of the graduates. “The opportunity to spend a year of pure hagshama, self-fulfillment, is not one I take for granted. I feel like I am part of a lifelong relationship - that I am a part of the mechina and it is a part of me.”


Participants in the IMPJ’s 2008-2009 mechina.


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WARSAW CONGREGATION HOSTS WORLD-FAMOUS SINGER


Singer-actor Theodore Bikel appeared in concert recently at Beit Warszawa, the World Union affiliate in Warsaw. Bikel has long supported Beit Warszawa, as well as other Jewish projects and organizations in Poland. He is also the first recipient of the World Union’s Maggid award, which recognizes prominent members of the arts by commemorating the itinerant Jewish story teller of European tradition (see WUPJnews #159).

“It was standing room only," according to Jan Cudak, an active member of Beit Warszawa and one of the concert organizers. “Mr. Bikel played Yiddish songs, as well a wonderful gypsy ballad and a Russian ‘protest song,’ all intertwined with narratives from his life and views. It was truly inspirational to listen to songs sung in a dying language. For us, they are still very much alive and meaningful.”

The Viennese-born Bikel achieved stardom both in Hollywood, where he was nominated for an Academy Award, and on Broadway, where he was twice nominated for a Tony Award. He is believed to have portrayed Tevye the Milkman in more stage performances of Fiddler on the Roof than any other actor. He debuted as a folksinger at Carnegie Hall in 1956 - where next June he will be feted on his 85th birthday. He is also credited with being the co-founder of the renowned Newport Folk Festival.


Folksinger Theodore Bikel performs in August at Beit Warszawa, Poland’s first post-war Progressive congregation.


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PROGRESSIVE TEENS FROM BRITAIN AND GERMANY GET ACQUAINTED


German and British members of Netzer Olami, the World Union’s international Zionist youth movement, recently met in Hanover to get to know one another and build bridges between their branches. The British youth, members of the country's Reform and Liberal movements, were in Europe as part of a joint late-summer tour for 17-year-olds to the Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary.

The German youth, members of the junior wing of Jung und Jüdisch (Young and Jewish), were aged 15-17 and came from throughout Germany – in many instances undertaking long train journeys for the one-day event.

"There was a tour of Hanover and a short talk about Jewish Hanover," says Gali Reich, youth director of the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany (UPJ). "There was also a visit to the new city hall, where the group learned about the city's destruction during World War II and its reconstruction. They held a service together in the park behind city hall, and then had dinner followed by a discussion with members of the city's Progressive Jewish community."

Reich relates that some of the British youth had not found it easy to come to Germany, yet in the end they were glad. One of them, Hanna, said, "We have learned a lot about the past…and now that we have gotten to know the youth, it makes it more special and alive." The German youth echoed the same sentiments. Nina, from Hamburg, said she was glad the visitors saw that "there are Jewish youth in Germany who are keeping the Reform movement alive.” They were also grateful for the chance to meet with youngsters from older, more established branches of Netzer. Said Rebecca from Bad Segeberg, "It's important for us to learn from them. It's also nice to see how many things we do similarly."
 
"It was a real celebration of vibrant Jewish youth," says the UPJ's Reich, "and the fact that it was in Germany was very meaningful. I think those who managed to come had a great experience and I hope they will become leaders who make this meeting a tradition for the future."


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REGISTER NOW TO ATTEND THE WORLD UNION’S 34TH INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION


Registration for CONNECTIONS 2009 is now open! You are invited to go to the special convention Web site - www.kenes.com/connections2009 - and either sign up on line or download the necessary forms, which can be faxed or sent by mail. Don’t forget - an early bird discount rate is available through November 30, so hurry and reserve your place!




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UPCOMING EVENTS

October 30-November 2, 2008
– Biennial conference of the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) for Australia, Asia and New Zealand in Melbourne, Australia

March 15-17, 2009
– Golfing FORE! Reform – Second annual IMPJ amateur fund-raising golf tournament in Caesarea

March 17-23, 2009
CONNECTIONS 2009 – The 34th international convention of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

March 29-April 2, 2009
– Riding4Reform – Sixth annual IMPJ countrywide bicycle fund-raising tour.


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