WUPJnews #476

Issue #476 - November 26, 2013 | 20 Kislev 5774

The Leadership and Staff of the World Union wish you a Happy Chanukah!

In This Issue:

Historic milestone in the training of liberal rabbis in Germany

Women of the Wall celebrate 25 years of extraordinary activities

A National Association of Progressive Judaism in Italy is closer now than ever before

News in Brief:

     *Beit Shmuel reaches out to disabled youth during
       the Jerusalem Knights Festival
     *Progressive Jewish youth group from The Netherlands
       visits Jewish Highlights in Germany


Upcoming Events

Historic milestone in the training of liberal rabbis in Germany

The opening ceremonies at the University of Potsdam (Berlin, Germany)’s School of Jewish Theology held on November 19, 2013, represented an historic milestone in the teaching of Jewish religious thought and the training of Progressive rabbis. Closing a gap of nearly 200 years and for the first time in Europe, a state university is offering a course of study in Jewish theology - fulfilling the constitutional claim of equal footing for Jewish theology along with Christian theology and Islamic religious studies.

The opening ceremonies were moving and uplifting, with prominent representatives from politics, science and society, as well as members of different Jewish communities from Germany and abroad, including Rabbi Dr. Deborah Kahn-Harris, principal of Leo Baeck College, and Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, immediate past president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). Bishop Margot Käßmann,of  the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD), delivered the inaugural speech, and honored this very significant step together with Dr. Dietmar Woidke, governor of the state of Brandenburg , Federal State Secretary Thomas Rachel, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann, the vice president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, and the president of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ), Leslie Bergman. Mayor of Potsdam, Jann Jakobs, welcomed the School of Jewish Theology which will “enrich Jewish life and cultural cooperation in the city.”

Rabbi Walter Homolka with the Brandenburg governor Dietmar Woidke, university president Oliver Günther, the Israeli ambassador and other dignitaries (photo: Karla Fritze)

The opening of this school was described as a "historical milestone in the training of liberal and conservative rabbis" by university president Oliver Günther.

“The light of history now shines on Potsdam,” said Johann Hafner, dean of the Faculty of Arts at Potsdam. "It is the first time that confessional studies of Judaism at a state university are possible at an academic level.”

(L-R) Bishop Margot Käßmann, Leslie Bergman, Dr. Josef Schuster (photo: Tobias Barniske)

German President Joachim Gauck called the move "a milestone in the history of science, but also in the history of German and European Judaism...In Germany, of all places, where the Jewish intelligentsia — which had such a large and irreplaceable share in the intellectual prestige of German academia — was expelled and murdered, out of all places in Germany, Jewish theology is finally given its proper role.” (click here to see excerpts from President Gauck’s greetings)

Israel’s ambassador in Berlin, Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann said: “Almost 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, we are witnessing a rebirth of Jewish life in Germany. Not only because the number of Jews here is growing, but also because Jews and Judaism are increasingly in the focus of Germans’ research interests.”

Left photo: Israeli ambassador in Berlin, Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann; Right photos: Rabbi Homolka and Prof Admiel Kosman (photo: Tobias Barniske)

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) sent congratulations via a video message of its president Rabbi Rick Block (click here to see it).

With 47 students enrolled in its first class, the program is oversubscribed.The academic program is open to students of all backgrounds pursuing bachelor’s and advanced degrees in Jewish theology. All the instructors are Jewish. The school  offers with its nine full professorships a wide range of courses such as religious philosophy in antiquity, Middle Ages and modern times, liturgy and biblical interpretations, and Jewish music history. This unique program attracts young students from all over the world – Germany, Eastern Europe, Israel, and the US.

Cantorial students performing at the opening ceremonies (photo: Tobias Barniske)

Hartmut Bomhoff, public relations officer at Abraham Geiger College, said “the addition of the Jewish theology program presents a unique opportunity in Europe to teach Judaism from a religious perspective… It combines academic study with a search for identity and the research involving one's own family history and heritage."

After the ceremony, Rabbi Walter Homolka, the rector of the Abraham Geiger College, honored three members of the Brandenburg State Parliament for their political dedication to the institutionalization of Jewish theology at the University of Potsdam.

Additional articles and information on this program appeared in many prominent media sources, such as: Deutsche Welle, Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), i24News, and The Times of Israel.  The bilingual Festschrift can be retrieved here; click here and here for video clips on YouTube. Additional media links can be found here.

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Women of the Wall celebrate 25 years of extraordinary activities

Their journey began in December 1, 1988, when a group of some seventy women from different denominations, gathered to pray together at the Kotel (Western Wall) with a Torah scroll. Though attacked and threatened by men and women nearby, they completed their prayers. Rabbi Yehuda Gertz, Kotel Administrator at the time allowed them to continue the service stating that they were “not violating Halakhah.” Since that time, and for the past 25 years, the Women of the Wall (WOW) continue to gather for prayers, wearing tallitot and carrying a Torah. And over the years they have been attacked, yelled at, cursed at, spit at, have been detained, fingerprinted and arrested, and have continued to exhibit a non-violent approach. They have petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, have fought new regulations put forth by the Ministry of Religion and the Ministry of Justice to “prohibit any religious ceremony at a holy place that is not in accordance with the custom of the holy site and which offends the sensitivities of the worshipers at the place.” In April 2013, they were granted the right to pray out loud, with tallitot and tefillin (which was banned until that time); however, women are not and have not been allowed to carry or read from Torah at the Wall since their first prayer. They have gathered support from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox forums around the world, including the support of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and its affiliated congregations worldwide. 

Happy hugs at the Western Wall (Photos: Miriam Alster)

In November 2013, at the 36/4 Zionist General Council (Vaad Hapoel Hatzioni) meetings, one of the resolutions achieved was to adopt the Sharanksy Kotel Proposal which includes expanding the Western Wall site to contain a third – egalitarian  – prayer section with a common entrance for all three sections. Mr. Sharansky also met with a group of WOW representatives (see WUPJnews #475). 

The Next Generation joins in the celebrations (Photo: Miriam Alster)

The group also held services and events to mark their 25th anniversary, drawing close to one thousand participants. “We’ve come a long way, baby,” Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman told JTA during the service. “It shouldn’t have taken 25 years. It should have taken two weeks. But we’re now where we should be.” Women of the Wall Director Lesley Sachs, former WUPJ VP & COO, said that "the support that Women of the Wall received from the liberal Jewish world has been invaluable to the movement, the changes we have made at the Kotel and the future of pluralism in Israel."

Celebrating 25 years of activities in a sea of tallitot (Photo: Miriam Alster)

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A National Association of Progressive Judaism in Italy is closer now than ever before

Sunday, November 18, 2013 may very well go down in history as the day the first ever National Association of Progressive Judaism in Italy was launched. Gathering together in Milan were 23 representatives from four Progressive congregations in the country (Beth Shalom and Lev Chadash in Milan, Shir Hadash in Florence and Beit Hillel in Rome) and a representative from a small group in Turin hoping to grow into a formal congregation in the future. 

During the course of a 4 hour lunch meeting (graciously hosted by the EUPJ) Miriam Kramer, EUPJ Chairman, and Rabbi Joel Oseran, WUPJ Vice President of International Development, led a lively discussion which culminated in the declaration to embark on the formation of a National Association of Progressive Judaism in Italy.

The growth of Progressive Judaism in Italy has been evolving over the past 15 years. Lev Chadash in Milan was the first congregation to affiliate with the European Region of the World Union through the mentoring of a number of UK rabbis affiliated with the European Union for Progressive Judaism. Beit Shalom in Milan and Shir Chadash in Florence followed soon thereafter. The most recent community to join the family of Progressive Judaism in Italy is Beit Hillel, an emerging community in Rome which just celebrated its first High Holiday services this past September (see WUPJnews #473).

Considerable time at the November meeting was spent in discussion of how each congregation in Italy is developing its program and activities. All communities have an active religious life program which includes Shabbat and holiday services, adult study, and involvement with the larger Jewish community. New ventures in Jewish education for the youth are underway as well.

The establishment of a National Association of Progressive Judaism in Italy will provide numerous benefits for each congregation. First and foremost will be the legal recognition the Association will receive in Italian society – recognizing the status of Progressive Judaism as a Jewish religious movement. The Association will also enable member congregations to work together in a more coordinated fashion to further the message and approach of Progressive Judaism. A National structure will help congregations to prepare educational material for shared use, create Italian language resource materials on the philosophy and ideology of Progressive Judaism for adult study, to represent Progressive Judaism in national Jewish programming efforts, and share resources of all kinds.

As we begin the holiday of Chanukah, the World Union and EUPJ wish our congregations in Italy much success and achievement as the project to create a National Association of Progressive Judaism takes shape in the face of a Jewish establishment in Italy less than eager to have us included in the official Jewish community. The legacy of Chanukah is a most fitting message for our Italian movement today. We Jews have fought repeatedly over our history for the right to worship our tradition as we believe. We have struggled against more powerful forces which have tried to dictate our practice and limit our freedom of expression. But we Jews have never succumbed to such imposed limitations. Chanukah reminds us that the few can and will succeed and that "not by might nor by power but by faith shall we prevail".

Chanukah Sameach to all the Jews in Italy!

At launch of Italian National Association of Progressive Judaism

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News in Brief

Beit Shmuel reaches out to disabled youth during the Jerusalem Knights Festival
The Jerusalem Development Authority, in cooperation with the Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, the Jerusalem Municipality and Ariel Municipal Company, recently ran the fourth annual Knights of the Old City Festival. Beit Shmuel’s Walking Tours department featured prominently in the festival program, and they ran a number of fully subscribed tours, including Knights and Fables in the Old City – a magical tour that floated between fantasy and reality, taking the visitors through alleys, passageways and rooftops in the footsteps of the princesses, knights, horseman and battles of the Middle Ages.

One of the highlights of Beit Shmuel’s participation was a group of 30 mentally disabled youth who were taken on their own private tour during the festival. This tour was offered to them at cost, in order to enable these youngsters the opportunity to enjoy the festival, as otherwise they would not have been able to do so.

Old City walls lit up for the festival

Progressive Jewish youth group from The Netherlands visits Jewish Highlights in Germany
A group of 42 teens from the Progressive Jewish Movement in The Netherlands recently visited Berlin on a tour of Jewish highlights in that country. They visited the Holocaust Memorial Monument, the Jewish Historical Museum, took a walking tour through Jewish Berlin, visited Checkpoint Charlie, participated in services at the Fasanenstrasse synagogue, and several other highlights of Berlin.

The group in Berlin

The group was led by Rabbi Menno ten Brink, Rabbi of Liberaal Joodse Gemeente Amsterdam and Dean of the Levisson Institute, with Itamar Magid, Jessica Meijer, Jamila Ross, Yuval ben Chorin (shelicha for the Dutch Progressive youth), and Daniel ten Brink (youth worker). 

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The leadership and staff of the World Union offer their sincerest condolences to former Executive Board member Diane Marcus and family on the passing of her husband Dr. Hubert Marcus. May his memory be for a blessing.

The leadership and staff of the World Union offer their sincerest condolences to WUPJ-LA executive secretary Berta Zylberstajn and family on the passing of her mother Ester Ber. May her memory be for a blessing.

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Upcoming events

December 11–15, 2013 – Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial, San Diego, California

January 2–9, 2014 – The Anita Saltz International Education Center Roswell Seminar for Social Justice, Jerusalem, Israel

January, 2014 – Netzer Veida Olamit, Israel

January 29–February 1, 2014 – Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL) Biennial, Costa Rica

February 13–23, 2014 – The Anita Saltz International Education Center Beutel Seminar for Progressive Jewish Leadership, Jerusalem, Israel

February, 2014 – TaMaR Conference, Israel

April 24–27, 2014 – European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) Biennial, Dresden, Germany

May 9–11, 2014 – Liberal Judaism (LJ) Biennial weekend, Reading, UK

May 23–24, 2014 – Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) Conference, Israel

June 6-8, 2014 – South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) Biennial, South Africa

June 27-29, 2014 – Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ) UK, biennial conference - "Chagigah"

July 24–August 3, 2014 – The Anita Saltz Education Center Bergman Seminar for Jewish Educators, Jerusalem, Israel

November 2014 – Union for Progressive Judaism in Australia, Asia and New Zealand, (UPJ) Biennial

May 2015 – Connections 2015, World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) 37th Biennial Conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

November 4–9, 2015 – Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) 73rd Biennial Conference, Orlando, Florida

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