May 21 2015 / 3 Sivan 5775
The World Union for Progressive Judaism's 37th biennial convention, which was held in Rio de Janiero Brazil from May 13-16, lived up to the excitement surrounding the event. 300 delegates from over 20 countries and 90 cities made CONNECTIONS 2015 something special and unforgettable. Even before this international celebration of all things Progressive kicked off, a bit of history was made when Carole Sterling of Toronto, Canada, was elected the World Union for Progressive Judaism's Chair during a meeting of the WUPJ's International Assembly.
Then, CONNECTIONS 2015 officially began with a moving Opening Ceremony at the breathtaking Grande Templo Israelita. During the opening night festivities, outgoing Chair Mike Grabiner spoke about the early days of the WUPJ and about when, in the 1930s, the organization decided to send a Progressive rabbi to serve the Progressive Jews of Rio de Janiero. Notably, that rabbi and the community he came to serve were based in the Grand Templo Israelita!
Travelling Torah: ARI donates its Torah to Kehillat Shanghai
during the Opening Ceremony of CONNECTIONS 2015.
A busy Day 2 of the international convention began with a powerful Shacharit service and was highlighted by the keynote address of Rabbi Aaron Panken, PhD., President of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Rabbi Panken brought his inspiring vision to CONNECTIONS 2015 with a moving speech that focused the future of global Progressive Judaism, about what makes us uniquely equipped to engage global Jewry going into the future and of the crucial role Progressive Judaism can play in advancing Jewish life in Latin America.
Rio Sunrise: Shacharit service during CONNECTIONS 2015.
On Day 3, convention delegates explored Tikkun Olam, Rio style. Participants gained firsthand knowledge of the inspiring social action initiatives being implemented in the Vigario Geral favela. In addition, a busload of delegates together with TaMaR participants joined a class from the Eliezer Max School to visit a very unique Jewish Cemetery.
Tikkun Olam, Latin Style: Afro Reggae cultural group
puts on a show for Vigario Geral.
The eventful day concluded with when the ARI congregation hosted a musical Kabbalat Shabbat and embraced CONNECTIONS 2015 attendees with wonderful home hospitality.
The final day of the convention began with a stirring Shabbat morning service at ARI that was led by Rabbi Grisha Abramovich, Rabbi Elyse Frishman, Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson. WUPJ President Rabbi Daniel Freelander then delivered a thought provoking sermon.
Rio Soundtrack: Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson add their
internationally acclaimed voices to Shabbat morning services at ARI.
Next, convention goers departed from the Sofitel Rio de Janeiro Copacabana hotel and embarked on various tours of the city.
The evening brought a memorable Havdallah service on Copacabana Beach that was led by Netzer and TaMaR delegates in partnership with CIP Sao Paulo.
Where Memories are Made: Havdallah on Copacabana Beach.
Then, CONNECTIONS 2015 came to an official close, with a festive Gala Dinner that brought together attendees for the final time. WUPJ members around the
world who did not attend CONNECTIONS 2015 want to see what they missed! Share
your convention memories by sending your video clips and images to CONNECTIONS 2015. Thank you.
See you at CONNECTIONS 2017...in Jerusalem!
Rabbi Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, thanked outgoing WUPJ Chair Mike Grabiner and the outgoing members of the organizations' Executive Board: during CONNECTIONS 2015:
Dawning of a New Era: WUPJ President Rabbi Daniel Freelander.
"During Mike's four years as WUPJ Chair, the organization expanded and stabilized its operations, enhancing the lives of Jews around the world. We are grateful for Mike's firm, steady leadership during a period of unprecedented challenges and transitions. In addition, I would like to bid a fond farewell to the outgoing members of the WUPJ's Executive Board, an extraordinary group of passionate, committed Progressive, Reform and Liberal Jews, who have completed their terms of service. I thank each of them for their long-standing dedication and contributions to our cause.
Firm, Steady, Effective Tenure: Outgoing WUPJ Chair Mike
(left) with WUPJ President Rabbi Daniel
Freelander at CONNECTIONS 2015.
Finally, I would like to congratulate Dr. Phillip Bliss and Steve Bauman on their election as Honorary Board members. As WUPJ's Advocacy Committee Chair, Phillip has crafted and disseminated the organization's response to the increase in racism and anti-Semitism as well as attacks against the Reform movement in Israel. Steve, as Audit & Oversight Committee and Nominations Committee Chair, has both provided independent oversight of all WUPJ financial issues and streamlined the process of recommending qualified nominees for the WUPJ chair, officers and positions on the Executive Board.”
Dr. Phillip Bliss (center)Steve Bauman
In addition, both Mike Grabiner and Rabbi Freelander expressed their appreciation to outgoing Executive Board members Aaron Bloom (USA), Rabbi Danny Burkeman (USA), Joan Garson (Canada), Rabbi Walter Homolka (Germany), Steve Lurie (South Africa), Ian Samuel (Australia), Judy Smith (UK) and Lois Horn Zeidler (USA).
On May 17, several thousand young Israelis of Ethiopian heritage gathered together with their elders at the national cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl for a state ceremony in remembrance of the approximately 4,000 Jews from Ethiopia who died on perilous journeys to Israel between the late 1970s and early 1990s.
Days of Rage: Ethiopian Israelis have protested across
Israel in recent weeks.
This year in particular has been punctuated by the protests of community members over claims of general discrimination, racism and police brutality.
Alongside an unequivocal condemnation of violence, the IMPJ sympathized with the struggles of this large and important population within Israeli society.
The IMPJ called upon the Israeli government and authorities to act with great sensitivity, restraint and diligence so as to create a dialogue and calm tensions within the Ethiopian community. The IMPJ stood by the public leaders and activists who have been involved in the peaceful demonstrations.
For many years, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism has been working to assist Ethiopian Israeli citizens and residents. In matters relating to civic status; guarantees enshrined by the Right of Return and advancing family reunification, the Legal Action Center for Olim (LACO) of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has made significant progress on behalf of Israelis of Ethiopian heritage.
Celebrating Sigd: The IMPJ has been a driving force behind
educating the wider Israeli population about Ethiopian Jewish
culture, holidays and customs.
In addition, the IMPJ and its communities operate various educational, cultural and social empowerment projects, of which many Ethiopian Israelis take part.
Still, recent days’ events are compelling the Israeli Reform movement and other organizations in Israeli civil society to reexamine their strategies and develop ways to significantly increase the efforts on behalf of the country's Ethiopian community.
On May 12, approximately 250 high school students from the Leo Baeck Education Center and the Sisters of Nazareth School in Haifa came together at the city's Arab-Jewish Youth Parliament.
Held at the Leo Baeck Education Center, the Arab-Jewish Youth Parliament was the climax of an ongoing national project that creates a framework for dialogue and meetings between Jewish and Arab students. The program promotes mutual respect and tolerance by providing an opportunity for Arab and Jewish youth to meet each other on a regular basis throughout the school year. Meetings and workshops address topics such as leadership, diversity, identity, and culture in a mixed city.
Legislating Hope: Arab-Jewish Youth Parliament convenes
at the Leo Baeck Education Center.
In addition, the project trains and empowers Arab and Jewish high school students living in four of the country’s mixed Arab-Jewish cities to work together to improve their own lives and the lives of their communities.
“Languages” was the theme of the May 12 conference. Students were divided into groups consisting of an equal number of Jewish and Arab students that participated in several workshops. The sessions were led by both a Jewish and Arab facilitator and Youth Parliament student representatives and included topics such as multiculturalism, identity, sign language, body language, dance and theater. The event concluded with a lively song and dance in sign language, which included all of the participants.
Coexistence Conclave: Leo Baeck Education Center, Haifa.
Lelie Sharon, a Leo Baeck Youth Parliament member, commented, “The program is exciting and creates awareness and tolerance for other cultures.”
The Youth Parliament's goal is to promote equality, constructive engagement of Jews and Arabs, and to enlarge the circle of people exposed to the idea of cooperation and communication between Arabs and Jews. In addition to monthly local meetings, national seminars and meetings are held during the year in which all student groups, teachers, project staff and facilitators participate.
Dani Fesler, the Leo Baeck Education Center's General Manager, stated, “We are proud to be at the forefront of Israeli schools that promote better understanding and strive to break down barriers between Arab and Jewish youngsters.”
On May 14, Leo Baeck College, based in London, announced the new intake of students who will be joining the rabbinic program in September 2015.
Yaera Ratel, Elliott Karstadt, Anna Posner, Deborah Blausten and Frankie Stubbs will bring a rich variety of backgrounds to the class of 2015.
Yaera Ratel Elliott Karstadt
Anna Posner Deborah Blausten
In addition, Jessica Rosenfield was accepted and will join the program in 2016.
Anna Posner, an Etgar Councilor (Shnat Mechanechet) for the Netzer Olami Youth Movement in Israel, said that she is "very excited to be starting at Leo Baeck College this September and to be studying with such a great group of people. I look forward to continuing my work with the Progressive Jewish community. I cannot wait be a part of the great ways in which the movement and our communities develop, progress and work together over the next few years."
Leo Baeck College has a well-earned reputation for Progressive Jewish rabbinic and educational training. In addition, the college fosters the study of classical Jewish texts (Bible and rabbinic literature in the original languages), the study of Jewish liturgy, history, literature, theology, philosophy, education and culture - both religious and secular.
This esteemed institution is considered the beating heart of Progressive Judaism in the United Kingdom and Europe.
In the summer of 2014, three Israeli teens – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel – were kidnapped by terrorists on their way home from school. Jews from around the world came together to search, pray, and offer support. The building sense of Jewish unity displayed while the boys were held captive reached its peak when they were found and then buried together.
A year later, the boys’ families are urging the Jewish world to participate in a call for action for their first yarzheit. Joined by the Israeli Ministry of Education, dignitaries, and Jewish institutions around the world, this call invites Jews worldwide to honor the teens’ memory by committing one day – a day of unity – to restoring a sense of togetherness and hope among Am Yisrael (the Jewish people).
Unity Day will be held in every country on the 16th of Sivan 5775 – June 3, 2015. Progressive congregations worldwide are invited to participate in this important demonstration of Jewish unity.
Unity Day aims to remind us that regardless of our challenges, there will always be far more that unites us than divides us. With a wide range of programs being offered - from text-based study to social justice initiatives; community artistic projects to home-based discussion for families and even inter-community rallies – Unity Day will be one to remember.
“Unity Day provides the entire Jewish people – regardless of streams, ideologies, and politics – an opportunity to pause for a moment and remember that there is more that unites than divides us. In memory of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, I encourage all our institutions and members to take part in this worldwide day of Jewish unity and come together as one people.”
Learn more about Unity Day here.
The Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) is pleased to announce that registration is now open for the second annual Shir Chadash conference, to be held in Sydney, Australia from November 19-22, 2015.
Shir Chadash will feature skills and repertoire workshops, opportunities to take part in Shabbat services at local congregations, and a special Havdalah concert on Saturday night.
Rabbi Freelander singing at 2014 WUPJ-FSU Conference
Shabbat service in Belarus.
The big news of this year's conference is the confirmed attendance of WUPJ President Rabbi Daniel Freelander, who will be a very special guest presenter.
Rabbi Freelander's musical credentials are substantial. In the 1970s, he joined with his friend Cantor Jeff Klepper to form the duo Kol B'Seder that went on to compose and perform many songs that have gone on to become Reform movement standards around the world, including Lo Alecha, Tov L'hodot, Modeh Ani and Shalom Rav.
Desmond Sweke, Chairman of the Bet David Jewish Congregation in Sandton, had a very constructive meeting with Dr Taj Hargey from the Open Mosque on April 23.
Desmond and his wife Ashley then attended Friday services in the Mosque on April 24. The couple found that the egalitarian, pluralistic and other principles of the Open Mosque to be remarkably similar to those of Progressive Judaism.
One God, Different Houses of Worship:
Desmond Sweke (left) and Dr Taj Hargey
at the Open Mosque, Cape Town.
Bet David's pluralistic philosophy is regularly put to practice by way of several social action programs, including two feeding schemes; support for families whose belongings have been lost to fires and floods and the highly acclaimed Mitzvah School.
Representing the heart and soul of Sandton's Jewish community, Bet David's current membership stands at approximately 350 family units and includes several hundred children.
While the 48th anniversary Jerusalem's reunification was celebrated on May 17, questions about the status of the city's residents persist. Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and Chair of Women of the Wall, asks: "Who's actually benefited from the liberation?"
Below, is a classic YouTube clip in which Hoffman eloquently states the case for a rebirth of freedom at the Western Wall.
Freedom Now: View Anat Hoffman's Yom Yerushalayim
Sunday, 28 Iyar, marks Yom Yerushalayim, the day commemorating the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation during the 1967 Six Day War.
The leadership and staff of the World Union offer their sincerest condolences to the family of Frances A. Hess, whose sage wisdom guided the World Union for Progressive Judaism for decades.
A long-time leader in North America, Fran also worked tirelessly on behalf of international Reform Judaism.
Most recently, she served the Reform community as a member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism's North American Advisory Board and as a member of the Philanthropic Committee.
In addition to her devotion to the World Union, Fran gave of her time to Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, the Women of Reform Judaism and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion - where she served as Governor Emerita of the HUC-JIR Board of Governors.
May Frances A. Hess's memory and good works be for a blessing and may her entire family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion.
Lag B'Omer Braai: Bet Menorah children and
parents celebrate by BBQ!
The Omer is considered a time of mourning as we recall a plague that killed thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, a Talmudic scholar. However, the day the scourge ceased, Lag B'Omer, provides a one-day respite as the customs associated with grief are abandoned and replaced with ones of great joy, including wedding ceremonies and large bonfires.
Some equate the bonfires with the light of Torah and often serve as the focal point of the Lag B'Omer celebrations.
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