Issue #485

Issue #485 – 10 April, 2014 | 10 Nisan, 5774

The Leadership and Staff of the World Union wish you a Happy Pesach. Please note that the next issue of WUPJnews will be published on May 1.


In This Issue:

The newest Progressive Jewish Congregation in Italy celebrates its launch

20th annual Purimshpiel sees 3 awards for Netzer Kiev

New publications around the World Union

Progressive movement and allies gearing up for elections at the next Zionist congress

News in Brief

Mercaz Shimshon-Beit Shmuel hosts Foreign Ministry cadets for a prestigious weekend seminar
Pinecones into birds at Beit Shmuel’s “Children Create Shabbat” series
Leo Baeck College London announces new chair
Fruitful visit of Geiger College staff to Israel and Beit Shmuel

Upcoming Events


The newest Progressive Jewish Congregation in Italy celebrates its launch

In the human realm, we know that the period from conception to birth is 9 months. In the world of Jewish communal growth, and especially in the Italian context, it is unheard of for a Jewish congregation to go from idea to
reality in just 9 months. And yet that is precisely what happened when the newest Progressive congregation in Italy, Beit Hillel in Rome, celebrated the launch of the congregation on March 1, 2014.

The story of Beit Hillel's growth into a Progressive congregation reflects not only the profound need in Rome for a pluralistic, Progressive Jewish community, but also the determination of a small group of committed Jews, who, together with the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ)/World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), literally willed the congregation into being.


Rabbi Joel Oseran leading Havdallah services (Photo: Fabio Benjamin Fantini)

In May 2013 Rabbi Joel Oseran met in Rome with a small group of Jewish activists who dreamed of establishing a Jewish community based on the principles of pluralism, egalitarianism, inclusivism and respect for diversity. A public lecture at the Jewish community center in Rome (Pitigliani) was organized with emails sent to everyone who might be interested. It was a shot in the dark but the only way to generate awareness that there was a different way to be Jewish.

To the delight of the activists, nearly 100 people showed up for the lecture which marked the first step in the creation of the congregation – now called Beit Hillel. Rabbi Oseran's lecture touched the very core issues which were of concern to Jews in Rome who had become increasingly frustrated with an overly rigid and narrow minded Orthodox establishment which refused to open its communal tent to include Jews who wanted a more liberal, pluralistic approach to tradition and worship.

Following the visit, a Steering Committee was formed and a mailing list established to keep people aware of future gatherings. Rabbi Oseran was invited to lead High Holiday services last September, 2013,  which attracted over 150 people (see WUPJnews #473), helping to establish an awareness that this was not a passing idea but an important indigenous community with a solid future ahead of it.

An Italian speaking Rabbi, on Sabbatical in Israel, agreed to travel to Rome once a month to lead Shabbat and holiday services. More and more people became aware of Beit Hillel which was formally registered as a community in January 2014. A festive "coming out party" was organized in March and the inaugural ceremony took place on Motzei Shabbat, March 1 with more than 110 participants in attendance.

Congregational President Fiorella Kostoris opened the evening with a welcome and presentation of the importance of Beit Hillel for the Jewish community in Rome. EUPJ Chairman Miriam Kramer and Rabbi Oseran brought greetings on behalf of the EUPJ and WUPJ respectively. And a representative from Lev Chadash in Milan brought greetings on behalf of all the sister Progressive congregations in Italy. A lovely musical presentation and great Italian food and wine followed the ceremony.

Looking at the smiling faces of all the people attending the celebration, it is clear that Beit Hillel is not only the newest "child" of Progressive Judaism in Italy, but an important member of the family of Progressive congregations which will bring great promise and a strong future to the Jewish community in Italy! Yeshar Koach to Beit Hillel and welcome to the family.


Newly formed board of Beit Hillel (Photo: Fabio Benjamin Fantini)


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20th annual Purimshpiel sees 3 awards for Netzer Kiev

Over 1,000 people took part in the 20th annual Purimshpiel. This year, there were 3 Netzer groups competing: one joint Netzer-Jewish Agency group, the second was a Netzer group from Minsk, and the third a Netzer group from Kiev.

The 20th Annual Purimshpiel in Vitebsk is the most anticipated event for the Jewish youth of the FSU. This festival provides an excellent opportunity to experience Purim in a young Jewish atmosphere, where youth from all over the FSU, the Baltic States and Israel, come together for 3 days of celebrations, where they present their colorful and original interpretations of the Purim story.  

Each group was unique, however the one that made the biggest impression was the group from Kiev. Their emotional interpretation of the Purimshpiel embodied all the hurt, frustration and hope for a better future they are currently experiencing as a result of recent political events in their country. Kiev won the most prizes of any group.

Their 3 awards were as follows: 1. Best actor 2. Judges' prize 3. Audience favorite for best play.

The trip for the group from Kiev was made possible by the generous donation of the Samerian Foundation which enabled the group to travel to Vitebsk and get a much needed change of scenery in light of recent events.

The participation of the other Netzer group was a result of support from Netzer Olami and the World Union.

In addition to the 3 Netzer groups, two Reform Rabbis, Rabbi Gregory Abramovich from Minsk and Rabbi Leonid Bimbat from Moscow were responsible for all religious ceremonies that took place at the festival. Netzer Coordinator for FSU Rita Fruman, FSU Director Alex Kagan, and Executive Director for Russia Valery Sheinin also took part in the festival as judges.

The 20th anniversary of the festival resulted in the publication of a very special and colorful album detailing the history of this special event and included photos and the very first script ever written by Alex Kagan.


Proud performers from Netzer Kiev


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New publications around the World Union

Three new publications from three different World Union affiliate organizations have recently been announced. Two of the publication projects are new Haggadot for Pesach and one is a new prayer book in Poland.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), in cooperation with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, has published The New Union Haggadah, a contemporary revision of the CCAR Hagaddah published back in 1923. The editor of the Haggadah project, Rabbi Howard A. Berman, is Rabbi of Central Reform Temple of Boston and Rabbi Emeritus of Chicago Sinai Congregation. Rabbi Berman is also the Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism.


Preserving universalistic spirit with contemporary style

According to Rabbi Berman: "This volume preserves the literary beauty, the direct and accessible text and the broad, universalistic spirit that rendered the 1923 version the longest-lived publication in CCAR history….We have rendered the majority of the English text in contemporary, inclusive, gender-neutral language… with all of the major Hebrew texts included in transliteration, and accompanied by versions of the most popular holiday songs and hymns that may be sung in both languages."  Go to the CCAR website for information to order copies of the Haggadah.

Another new Haggadah will be available this Pesach – produced by the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, Germany. This is a new Russian-Hebrew Haggadah, with illustrations from the British Library. The Geiger College previously produced a German-Hebrew edition of the Haggadah which was very well received in Germany. In light of the large number of Russian readers in the Jewish community in Germany, the decision was made to produce the Haggadah in Russian-Hebrew as well. The publisher of the new Haggadah is Hentrich & Hentrich, Berlin. 

The Ten Plagues depicted in a beautiful picture – one of the many exquisite pages in the Haggadah

As a demonstration of deep appreciation for the tireless work of Anne Malloy who Chairs the World Union's FSU committee, Rabbi Dr. Walter Hamolka, Rector of Abraham Geiger College, will present the new Haggadah to Ms. Malloy at the EUPJ Bi-Annual Conference in Dresden. Go to the Abraham Geiger website to order copies of the Haggadah.

The third new publication coming out shortly will be a new Polish Progressive Prayer book, Siddur Bejt Polin, for use within the Union of Progressive Congregations in Poland. This will be the first Progressive prayer book to be published in Poland since World War II. The prayer book's editors are Rabbi Gil Nativ, the current rabbi of Beit Warszawa, and Rabbi Burt Schuman, who previously served as rabbi for Beit Warszawa.

The prayer book features a contemporary Polish translation with Hebrew and transliteration. It will include Shabbat and Festival prayers as well as home ceremonies. A unique feature of the prayer book will be the internet links to essays in Polish about the history and development of the Siddur.

The World Union sends congratulations to all three groups on the publication of these wonderful new resources. We are truly an Am Sefer, People of the Book!


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Progressive movement and allies gearing up for elections at the next Zionist congress

Following the previous elections to the World Zionist Congress, ARZENU – the International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists – established a joint faction with the World Labor Zionist Movement and Meretz Olami (the political arms abroad of these Israeli Knesset parties), enabling our voice to be heard and influence the Knesset. This was crucial when we protested against the Rotem Conversion Law, fought for Egalitarian Prayer at the Kotel, promoted bills to support civil marriage and divorce, and the prosecution of Israelis who incite racism.

Rabbi Stanley Davids, past president of Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), said recently: "It is time for the voices of Reform/Progressive Zionists to be heard. Welcome to the ARZENU Facebook page and welcome to a world within which it is believed that Israel is too important to leave in the hands of professionals, permanently entrenched lay leaders and self-serving politicians. Israel belongs to us. Israel needs us. And we need a strong, Jewish and democratic state. We certainly differ among ourselves on many critical issues, but as Reform/Progressive Jews there are values that unite us. So join the conversation. Help shape a new vision for Reform Zionism.”

What can you do to support and promote Arzenu? As you know, Arzenu needs to gather as many votes as possible.  To this end, ARZENU has established a dedicated website and a Facebook discussion forum to promote conversations among Reform and Progressive Jewish Zionists across the globe. In order to attract traffic to these pages, we ask that you help by visiting, liking, and sharing these pages. The more traffic we get, the more we promote our cause, and the more successful we will be in the elections

Voting at 2010 Congress


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News in Brief:

Mercaz Shimshon-Beit Shmuel hosts Foreign Ministry cadets for a prestigious weekend seminar
Beit Shmuel-Mercaz Shimshon played host recently to a group of Israeli Foreign Ministry cadets for a weekend seminar. This prestigious course prepares the next generation of Israeli diplomats, and the cadets, who come from diverse personal and academic backgrounds, are selected after an extensive screening process.

The weekend seminar was coordinated by our Courses Department, with speakers chosen from our pool of successful educators offering our unique Progressive aspect to a variety of contemporary issues. These included Rabbi Dalia Marx, Professor of Liturgy and Midrash at HUC-JIR, who spoke about Tefilla and prayer books; Tamir Nir, graduate of the HUC-JIR Rabbinic program, who spoke about festive meals in Jewish tradition; educator Steve Israel, who focused on relationships to God, the Torah, Jewish Law and Modern Life. Friday night services included a visit to two synagogues – the Reform Kol Haneshama, and the Orthodox Ramban. Our Walks Department (siyyurim) led them on a walking tour of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, ending with a traditional tisch at the Toldot Aharon sect. In between the walks and talks, the cadets enjoyed the special hospitality that Beit Shmuel has to offer.

This is a significant feather in our cap, as this is one of the most prestigious and important courses in Israel today. We are proud to note that this is the second time that they chose our venue for this weekend – including accommodation, hospitality, and content.

Pinecones into birds at Beit Shmuel’s “Children Create Shabbat” series
At a recent session of Mercaz Shimshon-Beit Shmuel’s successful “Children Create Shabbat” family series, dozens of families came together to learn and create Pesach ideas. Together, parents and children learned about the holiday and its customs, as well as the spring season which is associated with Pesach, and which is in fact one of the names given to the holiday – Chag Ha’Aviv (the Spring Holiday). While “springtime” in Israel is a short season, it still has a strong presence with animals coming to life and wildflowers growing everywhere. The value of protecting nature was also discussed, with children learning about animals, flowers, and the importance of recycling. This was followed by an arts and crafts session where the participants created fanciful pyramids from sand, beautiful birds from pine cones, and Elijah’s cup from recycled materials.

The “Children create Shabbat” series continues to attract dozens of families each month, with innovative workshops focusing on topics such as Chagim, environment and Tikkun Olam, with unique Progressive Jewish input. Being one of the few programs offered to families in Jerusalem on Shabbat, it has become a focal Shabbat activity for many families.


Connecting with nature while learning about Pesach - "Children Create Shabbat"

Leo Baeck College London announces new chair
The Governors of Leo Baeck College announced at their recent AGM that Noeleen Cohen has been appointed as the new Chair. She replaces Alasdair Nisbet who is standing down, having led the board since 2010.

The governors paid tribute to Alasdair’s outstanding contribution over the past 10 years, thanking him for his tireless commitment to the work of the Leo Baeck College in the UK and wider Progressive Jewish world.

Noeleen and her family joined Alyth synagogue when they came to London in 1998. Noeleen serves as an honorary officer at Alyth. She is on the board of the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ) and serves as a governor of Leo Baeck College since 2011. She is also on the board of PaJeS (Partnership for Jewish Education in Schools) as a representative for the UJIA.


Noeleen Cohen

Please click here to read the full press release.

Fruitful visit of Geiger College staff to Israel and Beit Shmuel
The staff of Geiger College, Potsdam, Germany, recently visited Israel, holding meetings with partners with whom the college works and visiting important sites and organizations. The group stayed at the Beit Shmuel Hotel and Guest House, located in the heart of Jerusalem and met with the senior staff of the World Union as well as Beit Shmuel and Hebrew Union College.


Geiger College and WUPJ senior staffers enjoying the sunshine and Old City views


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Upcoming Events

April 24–27, 2014European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) Biennial - "Faith in Action", Dresden, Germany

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

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

June 5–10, 2014TaMaR Conference, Israel

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

June 27-29, 2014Movement 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 20–23, 2014Union for Progressive Judaism in Australia, Asia and New Zealand (UPJ) Biennial - "You and I Will Change the World", Adelaide, Australia

May 13-16, 2015 – Connections 2015, World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) 37th Biennial Conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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



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