Issue #507

12 February 2015 / 23 Shevat 5775


Battling for Official Recognition, Budapest's Progressive Jewish Communities Meet with German Chancellor

'Mifgash' in Rio: Initiative Will Encourage Young Latin American Jews to Develop Social Action Skills during CONNECTIONS 2015

Living a Progressive Jewish Life in a Time of War: Update on Ukraine

Changing Minds: July's Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators Now Open for Registration

Live From Israel
Peoplehood in Action
News Bits
The WUPJ Family Welcomes… 
A Thousand Words 
Dear Reader

Upcoming Events

Battling for Official Recognition, Budapest's Progressive Jewish Communities Meet with German Chancellor

On Monday, February 2, German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a short visit to Budapest that included a historic meeting with representatives of all the Jewish denominations in Hungary.

Merkel’s visit was a milestone in the Progressive movement's ongoing struggle for official recognition in Hungary.

Bet Orim Hosts a Summit: (left to right) President of Progressive Congregation Sim Shalom Gergely Guba; President of Reform Congregation Bet Orim Gabor Kalman; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; President of the Federation of Jewish Congregations in Hungary Andras Heisler; Rabbi of Chabad Community Shlomo Koves. 

Progressive Jewry was represented at the gathering by two communities: Bet Orim and Sim Shalom.

Bet Orim was represented by the president of the congregation, Gabor Kalman.

Chancellor Merkel was briefed on the latest developments in Hungarian church law. Currently, the Hungarian government does not recognize the legal status of all religious institutions. It is the country's parliament that must afford official, legal acceptance of a religious community by way of a two-thirds vote.

As a result of this process, several worthy religious communities, including the two Progressive congregations, have been denied recognition - even though they have fulfilled all the legal prerequisites.
Seeking common ground: representatives of Hungary's Jewish denominations meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Currently, Bet Orim and Sim Shalom do not enjoy equal status with other Jewish denominations. At the joint meeting with Chancellor Merkel, Gabor Kalman spoke about the subsequent lawsuit that was won against Hungary at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

Chancellor Merkel expressed surprise and dismay that the recognition of religious communities is political and subject to parliamentary approval. The topic of the Hungarian church law occupied a significant portion of the discussions.

Other topics addressed at the joint meeting included anti-Semitism; the burden of the past on contemporary Hungarian society; German support of Holocaust survivors; education; research cooperation; the Jewish renaissance in Budapest and, most importantly, the current legislative developments in Hungary related to the recognition of religious institutions.

During her visit with the Jewish communities of Budapest, Merkel also took the time to pay her respects by laying a stone on the Tree of Life Memorial that commemorates the 5,000 victims of the Holocaust buried nearby and met with two Holocaust survivors prior.

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'Mifgash' in Rio: Initiative Will Encourage Young Latin American Jews to Develop Social Action Skills during CONNECTIONS 2015

During CONNECTIONS 2015, the Progressive movement's worldwide celebration taking place May 13-16 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 'Mifgash' - an initiative of Netzer's TaMaR youth movement - will bring together approximately 50 Jewish men and women ages 20 to 35 years old from across Latin America and the rest of the world.

By exploring various facets of living life as a young Jewish person in today's world, Mifgash aims to strengthen connections between young Jewish people and their communities.

Bonding over pasta: Mifgash participants eat, drink and connect.

For two days, Mifgash participants from across the Latin American region as well as Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic and the United States will take part in a variety of innovative activities that will focus on various aspects of 'Tikkun Olam'.  

Participants will have the opportunity to visit Rio de Janeiro's Dona Marta favela. Once there, Mifgash attendees will learn valuable lessons about the universal nature of the Jewish value of 'repairing the world'. In addition, these young Jewish men and women will acquire practical knowledge about social action that they will then take back to their home communities.

However, Mifgash members won't only be observing. Indeed, participants will also be taking an active role at CONNECTIONS 2015. Inspired by this global gathering of Progressive Jews, the young men and women of Mifgash will sit in on panel discussions, weigh in during workshops and share their ideas and experiences throughout a series of highly anticipated lectures. 

Tikkun Olam's generation next: At CONNECTIONS 2015, Mifgash participants will be taught the tools of effective social action.

To help defray the cost of attending CONNECTIONS 2015, the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) has generously contributed to the Mifgash initiative by donating to the travel and accommodation costs of some European participants. (Please check that this is correct)

According to Executive Director of Netzer Olami and TaMaR Maoz Haviv, the Mifgash in Rio will "significantly raise our organization's visibility. By telling our story at CONNECTIONS 2015, we believe that our ability to operate in the Americas will be enhanced."

Visit the CONNECTIONS 2015 website for a summary of the convention's itinerary.

Ready for Rio? Online registration for CONNECTIONS 2015 is now available!

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Living a Progressive Jewish Life in a Time of War: Update on Ukraine

Currently, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are meeting in Belarus to negotiate a cease-fire in Ukraine. The WUPJ's FSU Director Alex Kagan is "hopeful that these high level talks will defuse the escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine."

It has been an extremely difficult year in Ukraine and the most recent wave of violence indicates that the situation in the region will continue to be volatile for the foreseeable future. 

Regarding the fate of the region's Progressive Jewish communities, Kagan asserts, "The entire World Union family is following the latest developments very closely. Despite the heightened sense of uncertainty in Ukraine, the Progressive movement in the country continues to offer a wide variety of activities and access to synagogues and community centers."

The world's oldest hatred resurfaces: defaced synagogue wall in Simferopol.

Over the last year, a number of Anti-Semitic incidents took place in Ukraine: attacks on Jews in Kiev, graffiti (swastikas) on the synagogue wall in Simferopol, an arson attempt on the synagogue in Nikolaev - to name just a few. 

In response, Kagan says, "our congregations were greatly heartened by the financial support of organizations, twinning communities and individuals who provided the funds necessary to upgrade security systems. Specifically, our communities purchased and installed new video surveillance equipment, steel doors and bars for windows." 

However, despite the best efforts of Ukraine's Jewish communities and their supporters, the situation remains highly volatile:

In Crimea, the required new registration process that was implemented once the area transferred to Russian sovereignty is challenging local congregations.

Something to celebrate: Ivria camp in Odessa, a new initiative by Rabbi Julia Gris, has proven to be a remarkable success story in a period of great uncertainty.

In Eastern Ukraine, the war has had a negative effect on the economy and the moral of the general populace. A financial crisis is being acutely felt across the country as unemployment continues to rise. 

The unstable situation has also acutely affected local fundraising. 

The assistance from the World Union enabled Ukraine's Progressive congregations to address many of the essential needs in 2014. 

However, this support must not only continue but be enhanced, as there appears to be no end to the crisis in sight.

Read the WUPJ's complete report on the situation in Ukraine.

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Changing Minds: July's Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators Now Open for Registration

Every year, the Bergman Seminar turns Israel into a giant classroom for Progressive Jewish Educators from across the globe. This 10-day professional development seminar, based in Jerusalem, is carefully crafted to provide maximum impact on the work of formal and informal Jewish educators. 

This year's Bergman Seminar, being held from July 2 to 12, will incorporate art, culture, spirituality, liturgy, Hebrew, history, politics, text study, Jewish values, pedagogy and more.


Together, the various components of the seminar will address the critical challenges facing the Jewish people; encounter creative projects addressing these challenges and encourage participants to develop their own initiatives. 

Designing and implementing the Bergman Seminar is the Saltz International Education Center's faculty, which includes some of the most accomplished scholars and educators in the world.


Yet while this program is highly regarded for its caliber of speakers and educational content, the magic of the seminar is the diversity of its participants. Last year's seminar attracted exceptional Jewish educators from South Africa, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Israel, Australia, Panama, France and the United States.

One Bergman Seminar alum sums up the experience nicely: "Although I had been to Israel several times this was the experience that allowed me to put all the puzzling pieces together. There was tremendous attention to depth, detail and knowledge - Israel's history and society is so complex - previously I felt like an outsider peeking over a Jerusalem stone wall into a mystical world - now I feel a part of this country and can relate to its challenges and accomplishments as if it is part of my own identity."

Sign up for the Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators today!
Tell educators in your community about this unique opportunity.

For more information, contact Rabbi Steve Burnstein.

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Live from Israel

Watch Us Grow! Netzer Youth Group's Gap Year Program Tallies an Amazing February

Netzer Olami's Shnat 10-month leadership training program for young adults in Israel have been racking up impressive registration number of late, indicating that the gap year initiative is responding well to the feedback of former participants.

Taking Jerusalem by storm: Shnatties at Beit Shmuel, February 2015.

In October, 'Shnatties' from Europe and North America arrived as part of the Northern Shnat program. That, combined with the early February arrival of the Southern Shnat group from the southern hemisphere, has helped establish several milestones:

  • 43 current participants (26 in Shnat North, 17 in Shnat South): highest combined total since 2011.
  • A 'Shnattie' participant from South Africa, the first since 2012 (Southern Shnat program).
  • First time in recent memory that there's a 'Shnattie' from Canada (Northern Shnat program).
Between February and June, the Northern and Southern Shnat programs operate as one unit.

These latest successes are a direct result of a concerted effort to make Shnat programming more flexible and responsive to the needs of potential participants.

According to Shnat Director Michael Vainberg, the program has benefited from "us listening and incorporating the feedback of former shnatties. By doing so, Shnat has become more attractive and relevant to today's 18-year-olds."

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Lights, Camera, Action! Beit Shmuel Officially Open Jerusalem's Newest Movie Theater

On January 29, Mercaz Shimshon / Beit Shmuel, headquarters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, opened the doors of its Hirsch Theater to the high quality films of Orlando Cinema.

The gala reception at Blaustein Hall was attended by 250 leading figures of Jerusalem's cultural scene. As is always the case at Beit Shmuel, the breathtaking view of the Old City overwhelmed even native Jerusalemites. Next, the critically acclaimed Chinese movie 'Dearest' was screened to rave reviews.

High Culture: Jerusalem comes together to welcome 
a new landmark at Beit Shmuel.

Not just another Jerusalem movie house, Orlando Cinema screens critically acclaimed foreign films, with English-language substyles. 

Suited to locals as well as tourists, this cultural offering by Beit Shmuel is enhancing Jerusalem's cultural landscape by delivering the timeless mystique of a night at the movies to residents who do not have time during the workweek to indulge in such charming distractions.

Indeed, Beit Shmuel is one of the few Jerusalem-based cultural centers to be open on Shabbat. 

Grounded in and guided by such Progressive values as pluralism and inclusion, Beit Shmuel has long offered a variety of weekend activities, including 'Children Create Shabbat', Friday evening performances, walking tours and much more.

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Remembering a Musical Icon: HUC Jerusalem and WUPJ Hold Debbie Friedman Tribute Concert 

On Saturday night, January 31, 2015, the Jerusalem campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and World Union for Progressive Judaism honored one of the most influential voices in American Jewish music in the last century, Debbie Friedman, Z"L.

Just as Shabbat Shira was coming to an end and with the sun setting over Jerusalem, 300 people came together to remember the acclaimed singer, songwriter, poet and teacher.

For Debbie: Performers deliver a loving tribute to a giant of Jewish music.

72 students from the NFTY EIE High School in Israel program were in attendance, along with the 35 students of the HUC-JIR Year in Israel program - many of whom participated in the concert. 

The rest of the crowd was comprised of former students, former campers, and some of Debbie's former counselors. 

This memorable evening by Vice President of International Development for the WUPJ Rabbi Joel Oseran, who spoke eloquently about the lasting impact of Friedman's music:

"There isn't a congregation in our world movement that doesn't use Debbie's melodies and renditions of prayers. She captured our hearts and souls regardless of where we live or what language we speak or whatever liturgical traditions we grew up with. Debbie's exceptional talent was her ability to translate the power of Judaism's message into the language of music and prayer, a language that knows no borders, a language that each of us here has learned in our unique way."

Next, Cantor Tamar Havilio and Cantor Evan Kent conducted the night's musical performance, introducing new arrangements of some of Friedman's most beloved tunes. 

The evening concluded with a rousing sing-a-long and a memorable Havdalah. 

Listen to highlights from a previous HUC Jerusalem-WUPJ

Debbie Friedman Memorial Concert.

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Peoplehood in Action

Singapore Community Unites to Support and Strengthen French Jews

In order to demonstrate their solidarity with the Jews of France in the aftermath of the terrible attacks of January 2015 ,members of the United Hebrew Congregation Singapore (UHC) raised approximately $2200 USD for the MJLF Surmelin Synagogue in Paris. Both the UHC and MJLF are affiliated with the World Union of Progressive Judaism.
One People: UHC members including President 
Stefanie Green (third from left) and Rabbi Nathan Alfred (right).

These funds were raised in order to support the additional security costs now being faced by MJLF Surmelin, as by many other Liberal synagogues in Europe. It is hoped that further communities will follow the UHC's lead and decide to help other vulnerable Progressive, Liberal and Reform congregations across France and Belgium.

UHC President Stefanie Green explains: "Although we are many miles away from the recent incidents in Paris, it has shaken us all to the core. We are a community made up of many nationalities and are naturally in solidarity with all Jews globally. The United Hebrew Congregation Singapore is reaching out to MJLF community to let them know we are here, half way across the world, supporting them with our donations, thoughts and continued solidarity.”

Newly installed spiritual leader of UCH, Rabbi Nathan Alfred, added "We may be far away, but our members come from around the world, and we are with the Parisian Jewish community in thought and in deed. As Jews, we are responsible for one another, from Asia to Europe, in Israel and throughout the world."

For further details about this initiative, 
contact UHC President Stefanie Green.

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News Bits

ARZENU Annual Meeting Will Discuss Potential Ramifications of WZO Elections

From February 15 to February 17, ARZENU will be meeting in Israel to address many of the most pertinent issues in the Progressive Zionist world. In addition, participants will have the opportunity to visit innovative Progressive communities around the country.

The ongoing elections to the World Zionist Congress (WZO) and their importance to Israel's Progressive Jewish communities will also be an important topic of discussion.

American Jews began voting in the WZO elections on January 13. Ballots close on April 30. 

The election of some 145 delegates and 300 alternates from the United States is crucial to the Israel Reform Movement since funding and the appointment of representatives to key positions at influential institutions will be determined by the results. 

ARZENU leads the largest faction at the WZO Congress and has important connections with Israeli political parties. 

According to ARZENU Chair Rabbi Larry Englander, "While in Israel, we will certainly address the importance of the WZO elections. In addition, we will study recent developments, both within Israel and in the Diaspora that are forcing us to answer this question: 'what does it mean to be a Progressive Jewish Zionist in the 21st century?' While here, we will also visit dynamic Israeli Progressive congregations, such as a new community in Gadera." 

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Berlin Bound: LJG Netherlands Netzer Explores City's Jewish History and Connects with Local Community                                                                                            

By Yuval Ben-Horin, Netherlands Youth Leader/Shaliach Jewish Agency

"From January 29 to February 1, 21 members of the liberal community in the Netherlands, ages 18-23 years old, spent a weekend learning about the Jewish history of Berlin and connecting with one another.

I, along with Hadassah Schrijver, were the trip's leaders.

During our time in the German capital, we visited the city's Jewish museum and then embarked on a three-hour tour of Berlin's Jewish landmarks.
All aboard! LJG embarks on a magical tour of Jewish Berlin.

We also had the opportunity to meet some young Jewish Berliners, who invited us to a festive Shabbat dinner. It was an amazing evening: 50 people from the Netherlands and Berlin, sharing and learning about each other. I was moved by how each person expressed a unique and compelling connection to Judaism and the Jewish community.

On Saturday, we had a service in the morning about Tu B'Shvat, followed by Havdalah. On our last evening, we were enthralled by the view of the entire city that standing on top of a TV tower afforded us!

The trip was very successful. The students enjoyed their time and the group definitely bonded."

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The WUPJ Family Welcomes…

Orit Shoshani, Netzer Olami's Education and International Relations Coordinator

We are pleased to welcome Orit Shoshani, who joins WUPJ as Netzer Olami's Education and International Relations Coordinator. 
Orit, 26, is a Jerusalem native who earned a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Hebrew University. 
Welcome to WUPJ: Orit Shoshani joins Netzer Olami as an Education and International Relations Coordinator.

Orit's love affair with the Progressive movement began in the summer of 2010, when she worked as an emissary at the URJ Eisner Camp in Massachusetts, USA. A year later, Orit worked as a counselor for NFTY in Israel. For the last three years, Orit worked as a youth coordinator with Jerusalem's Kol Haneshama congregation. This position afforded her the opportunity to work with the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism's (IMPJ) youth movement, Noar Telem.  

Orit is proud of her ongoing connection to the Progressive movement, stating, "I believe that youth-related activities and outreach to communities around the world are crucial as these young people represent the future of the movement and the perpetuation of its values."

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A Thousand Words

Happy New Year Trees: Tu b'Shvat in Israel
In bloom: Tu B'Shvat is in the air and on the trees in Jerusalem. 
This lovely photo was taken by the WUPJ's own Shira Kestenbaum. 

Tu B'Shvat or the "New Year of the Trees" was observed on the 15th (tu) of the Hebrew month of Sh'vat. Scholars believe that originally Tu B'Shvat was an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring. In the 17th century, Kabbalists created a ritual for Tu B'Shvat that is similar to a Passover Seder. Today, many Jews hold a modern version of the Tu B'Shvat Seder each year. The holiday also has become a tree-planting festival in Israel, in which Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees in honor or in memory of loved ones and friends.

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Upcoming Events

February 5-15, 2015 - Beutel Seminar, Israel

March 22-25, 2015 - Pursue Justice: Seminar for Legal Professionals, Israel

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

May 28-June 7, 2015
 - The Israel Study Kallah, Israel

July 2-12, 2015 - 
Bergman Seminar for Jewish Educators, Israel

October 7-22, 2015
 - Israel - Poland Mission, Israel & Poland

November 4–8, 2015
 – Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) 73rd Biennial Conference, Orlando, Florida

April 15-17, 2016 - European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ), Biennial Conference, London, UK

May 27-28, 2016
 - Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) Conference, Israel

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