July 30 2015 // 14 Av 5775
By Rabbi Steve Burnstein, Director of WUPJ's Anita Saltz International Education Center
"What a blessing to spend 10 days with Jewish educators from World Union communities in Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, India, Poland, Spain, and the United States who joined together in Israel to participate in the Bergman Seminar for Reform Jewish Educators. The seminar began on the balcony of the Beit Shmuel/Mercaz Shimshon international headquarters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, overlooking the ancient walls of Jerusalem. We sang “By the River of Babylon,” with participants from nine different countries – celebrating our ingathering in our ancestral homeland and coming together to gain new knowledge, friends, experiences and skills.
Social Ecology 101: 2015 Bergman Seminar participants at
the Ecological Greenhouse in Kibbutz Ein-Shemer.
(Photo: Bety Dimant).
Participants then met with Rabbi Joel Oseran, WUPJ Vice-President for International Development, and discussed the challenges and successes of their communities as representative of the seven regions of the WUPJ.
Israel as Classroom: 2015 Bergman Seminar participants
take a quick break to smile for the camera!
One of the highlights of the seminar was a workshop with the Galilee Arab-Jewish Youth Circus. It was inspiring to meet these talented young people – and for participants to try walking a tightrope, juggling and other circus skills. Participants also met staff and campers at the Ramle Open House Arab-Jewish summer camp. Both the camp and the circus gave us hope that peace is possible.
Another peak moment of the program was our encounter with dramatic educator, Helen Gottstein. On the streets of Jaffa, we met Helen in character as an Orthodox Jewish resident of Judea-Samaria. She provoked and challenged participants with her fact-filled discourse about her life, family and political opinions. She then revealed herself as an actress and educator as she transformed into a Palestinian resident of Israel – complete with hijab.
Graffiti as News: The Bergman Seminar provided unique
insights into some of the current social issues being
debated and discussed in Israel.
The Bergman Seminar for Progressive Jewish Educators is sponsored by the Bergman brothers, Stanley, a longtime supporter of Progressive Jewish causes, and Leslie, President of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ)."
Read Rabbi Burnstein's complete 2015 Bergman Seminar report here.
By Dr Alex Kagan, Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism's Department for the Former Soviet Union.
"After the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, the Reform Jewish community began to established deep roots in this part of the world. A quarter of a century later, Judaism is flourishing in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic States.
Today, more than 1,000 youth attend Jewish summer camps in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), and more than 50 community workers have been trained to assist rabbis to expand Jewish community programs, services, and educational offerings. Buildings in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Minsk, and Kiev have become major Jewish cultural centers, serving as strong bases for Jewish activities across the region.
As the congregations in the FSU have grown and the members have become more knowledgeable, so has their need for locally trained rabbis. Today, only six Russian-speaking rabbis serve Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus – a number that is woefully inadequate.
Making Jewish History: The Machon is located in the same
city as the famous Moscow Choral Synagogue.
Enter the new Moscow Rabbinic Leadership Institute (Machon), a high-level academic rabbinic training program geared toward the needs of the next generation of Jews who are seeking to affirm their Jewish identity and commitments within the larger Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian societies.
While Reform rabbinic seminaries currently exist in the United States, Israel, United Kingdom, Germany and Holland, the new Machon initiative will be the first to serve the FSU directly.
Importantly, the Machon program will be run in partnership with Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, Germany, and Moscow State University for the Humanities, which will help guarantee quality and ensure a top caliber Jewish education.
Founders: (l to r) Dr Alex Kagan, Rabbi Professor Walter Homolka,
Dr Anne-Margarete Brenker and Professor Leonid Katzis
of the Moscow University of Humanities.
Having additional rabbinic leadership in the FSU will establish Reform Judaism as a strong and vibrant modern religious alternative in the region. This gem of a program will also conceivably introduce many thousands of Jews to their Jewish heritage, history, culture, and religion.
The Rabbinic Leadership Institute will welcome its first class in September 2015.
Guided by Reform Judaism's brand of Judaism, the Moscow Rabbinic Leadership Institute is primed to catalyze the next great Jewish renaissance."
On Thursday July 23, 100 Israelis from across the religious spectrum took part in a Jewish studies class at President Reuven Rivlin's official residence in Jerusalem led by Reform, Orthodox and Conservative rabbis.
The gathering was a positive sign that Rivlin is seeking to diffuse tensions with non-Orthodox streams in Israel following a couple of highly publicized confrontations.
Come Together: Religious leaders with Israeli President
Reuven Rivlin (C) (Photo: Mark Neiman/GPO).
Rabbi Meir Azari of the Reform movement’s Beit Daniel Centers in Tel Aviv/Jaffa was one of the prominent teachers invited to lead short text study presentations. Rabbi Azari has served as the head rabbi at Beit Daniel, one of the busiest synagogues in the Tel Aviv area, since its establishment in 1991. Other rabbis who presented at the roundtable included Rabbi Haya Roen Becker of the Masorti Movement’s Ramot Zion congregation in Jerusalem; Rabbi Benny Lau, Rabbi of the Orthodox Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem, and Dr Motti Zeira, head of the Kibbutz movement Oranim Midrasha.
At the roundtable, President Rivlin opened the session by saying, “One could disagree with the positions and opinions of members of the Reform or Conservative movements, one could not deny their dedication, or the clear voice with which they speak in support of the State of Israel, here and around the world.”
Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency Chairman, addressed the gathering as well, reminding everyone that Jewish unity has never been easy to achieve, even among the many organizations that led the struggle for Soviet Jewry.
Among the leaders of the Reform movement invited to the president’s residence was Rabbi Joel Oseran, WUPJ Vice President for International Development.
According to Rabbi Oseran, “This was clearly a historic movement in Israel’s history when leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism were given equal official representation with their Orthodox colleagues at Beit Hanasi. Notwithstanding the last minute cancelation of Rabbi Uri Sharki, who succumbed to Orthodox political pressure not to teach at the event, President Rivlin succeeded in creating a symbolic moment of religious pluralism which may hopefully lead to more such occasions in the future. First steps are always the most difficult.”
The event, devoted to the topic of Jewish unity, was meant to coincide with the traditional nine days of mourning that precede the fast of Tisha B’Av.
Data on the number of Reform Jews in Israel is difficult to come by, but think tanks estimate that fewer than 4% of Israelis consider themselves Reform. Orthodox control of the state rabbinate renders Reform Judaism politically marginal, as Reform marriages and conversions go unrecognized by the state.
However, these numbers belie the Israeli Reform movement's growing reputation in Israel and abroad for litigating against gender segregation in the public sphere and for religious pluralism, with several cases reaching the Israeli Supreme Court each year. In one of its most significant triumphs, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) won an eight-year court battle in 2012 to get the government to pay the salaries of four non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel, creating a hairline crack in the Orthodox monopoly.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), says that an authentic Israeli Reform movement is taking root.
Religious Trailblazer: IMPJ Executive Director Rabbi
Gilad Kariv (Photo: Naomi Zeveloff).
Kariv rejects the notion that there isn’t a market for Reform Judaism in Israel. In the early days of the state, Zionism was the organizing principle for young secular Israelis. According to Kariv, Israelis are looking for meaning elsewhere. Returning from post-army trips to India, they are intrigued by spirituality and want to discover their own, outside of Orthodox strictures.
In addition, he points to a 2013 Israel Democracy Institute study showing that a quarter of Reform-identified Israelis come from African or Asian backgrounds, meaning Mizrahi Jews.
According to the survey, another 13% of Reform Israelis are from the former Soviet Union. Though the hundreds of thousands of FSU immigrants who came to Israel in the 1990s were considered Jewish enough to attain Israeli citizenship, most of them must convert to be registered as Jews with the state.
Reform conversion doesn’t alter their status, but each year hundreds undergo it anyway as a way to solidify their personal Jewish identity.
“I am telling you among the secular community, the word ‘Reform’ is not a negative word,” notes Kariv.
Read the complete article as it appears in the Forward here. Learn more about the current state of the Reform Movement in Israel here.
On July 25, participants in a non-Orthodox Tisha B’Av service discovered themselves locked into their synagogue in the city of Modi'in when they tried to leave on Saturday night, with various traps set around the premises for them.
Mourning Jerusalem: Reading from the Book of Lamentations
during Tisha B'Av service in Jerusalem (Photo: AFP).
Members of four non-Orthodox congregations had convened, as they do every year on the eve of the fast of Tisha B’Av, at Yedid Nefesh, a Conservative congregation in Modi’in, for the traditional megillah reading services. Among the group of about 40 participants were members of the two Conservative congregations in greater Modi’in, one Reform and one non-affiliated egalitarian-congregation.
According to Allon Herman, a member of Yedid Nefesh, when a female congregant tried to open the door at the end of a group discussion, it did not budge. “When I finally managed to open it, I noticed that someone had assembled four flowerpots in front of it to block it. Somebody had also tied a piece of rope at neck height across the frame of the door. Another piece of rope was tied across the stairwell in a separate part of the building.”
Members of the congregation filed a complaint on July 26 with police.
Allon said, “What is clear is that this was a pre-meditated act. People don’t just walk around with rope on them.”
On July 24, it was reported that the city of Jerusalem had approved funding for an array of non-Orthodox Jewish educational institutions, fracturing the traditional Orthodox monopoly on state religious funding.
The Religious Home of Every Jew: Jerusalem's Old City.
The move marks the latest in a series of governmental funding decisions that have included liberal streams of Judaism for the first time. Back in May 2013, Naftali Bennett, the Religious Services Minister from the Jewish Home party, announced that the ministry would enable non-Orthodox rabbis appointed by their local communities to receive state funding. In June 2014, Yair Lapid, Finance Minister from the Yesh Atid party, called for Israel to officially recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, and to fund their institutions equally.
Read the complete article as it appears in the Tablet Magazine here.
On August 29, Beit Shmuel/Mercaz Shimshon, the worldwide headquarters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, will lead a highly anticipated tour of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem that will include visits to places that are usually closed to the public.
First Christians: Armenian priests inside Jerusalem's
Old City (Photo: Ori Orchoff).
The Jews and Armenians have much in common. In antiquity, both peoples ruled over glorious kingdoms that were destroyed, leading to many centuries of suffering and longing for a return to national independence.
In the 20th century, Jews and Armenians experienced the horrors of holocaust. The Jewish Shoah and the Armenian Genocide are a tragic common thread uniting the Jewish People with the first Christian nation on earth.
Today, both Israel and Armenia are connected by geopolitical realities: two small countries surrounded by enemy states.
The Beit Shmuel tour of the Armenian Quarter will take participants to rarely seen attractions such as the Bird Mosaic, a chapel located under the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Armenian monastery complex, and the Tomb of the Armenian Patriarchs.
Due to heightened demand, Beit Shmuel has created a second tour date: more information available here. August 31 is the deadline to register for the highly anticipated Southern Jewish Civil Rights Experience. The World Union for Progressive Judaism, in cooperation with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) is proud to present this special mission. Jews played a significant role in the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and many of our Reform Jewish communities joined in the struggle for freedom and equal rights. In a special trip, originally developed for World Union of Progressive Judaism representatives to the 2015 URJ Biennial, this post-biennial tour is open to those who register for the Biennial and would like to join with Reform Jewish friends from Europe, Australasia, Israel, Latin America, the FSU and South Africa.
You will visit Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia to tour significant historical sites of the Civil Rights struggle and meet with current and past leaders of the Reform movement, and Civil Rights leaders who were involved in this critical work. You will hear from those whose lives were impacted by the fight for equal rights and celebrate 50 years since the March on Selma. Register early as there is a limited number of places available.
"Google tells me Israel is over 7,000 miles from California. A 15-hour plane flight. A distant world with different customs, tensions, and better iced coffee.
But at camp, Israel is often just a handshake or a hug away. Every summer, our mischlachat make the trek from their homes throughout Israel to Santa Rosa. These Israeli staff members fill roles all over camp and are an essential part of our camp operation.
Shabbat, Israeli Style: URJ's Camp Newman, summer 2015.
They dot the landscape, working at the tower, the upper field, the pool and everywhere in between. They are with kids every day, and provide faces and bodies, a real life, tangible connection to the homeland we so often reference.
“The mishlachat are a sacred part of our camp community,” says Ruben Arquilivech, Camp Newman's Executive Director. “They bring Israel to Camp Newman through their stories, their passion for their country, and their lives. They build relationships with staff and campers, helping to deepen our Jewish community and connection to our Holy Land,” Arquilivech adds.
This link shines brightest when the mischlachat lead Shabbat. For a single night every summer, our Israeli staff lend some of their unique perspective to the holiest evening of the week. They plan and lead the service as a group, through singing, prayer interpretation, and public speaking. The bimah is theirs, along with the eyes and ears of the entire camp."
Read the complete piece as it appears on the URJ's Camp Newman website here. Over Shabbat Pinchas, July 10-11, history was made in Rome, Italy when Max Coen became the first Bar Mitzvah of the World Union's community in Rome, Beit Hillel. Max is the grandson of Franca, Beit Hillel's President and Giorgio Coen. Max is the son of Nancy Walters and Riccardo Coen. Rabbi Joel Oseran, WUPJ Vice President, International Development, who figured prominently in the establishment of Beit Hillel, was invited by the Coen family to officiate at the ceremony.
First Family: (l to r) Riccardo Coen, Bar Mitzvah Max Coen,
Nancy Walters and little brother Sam.
According to Rabbi Oseran, “Max Coen’s Bar Mitzvah is another important milestone occasion in the growth of Beit Hillel congregation. We look forward to many more B’nai Mitzvah celebrations in the congregation which is the first and only liberal Jewish community in Rome.”
In March 2014, Beit Hillel was established. The European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) welcomed Beit Hillel as an official member of the organization in early 2015.
On Monday July 20, Caroline Zebrak and her family celebrated her Bat Mitzvah at the Liberal Jewish Congregation in Amsterdam. The Bat Mitzvah ceremony was part of a family visit to the Netherlands that included stops at such Jewish historical sites as the Anne Frank House.
In Anne Frank's Footsteps: Bat Mitzvah Caroline Zebrak (c)
and Rabbi Menno ten Brink (r).
Anne Frank was a member of the Liberal Jewish Congregation before the outbreak of World War II. Anne's father, Otto Frank, remained a member of the community after the war.
In a moving ceremony inside the synagogue's sanctuary, Caroline took part in the service and read beautifully from the Torah. Rabbi Menno ten Brink spoke about the importance of the continuity of Jewish life, of which Caroline, the same age as Anne Frank was when she died, was the example.
Rabbi ten Brink also stressed the growth and development of the Amsterdam Liberal Jewish Community.
On July 10, Rabbi Professor Walter Homolka PhD, PhD DHL, Rector of the WUPJ-affiliated Abraham Geiger College, graduated from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David with a second PhD, having written a study on the relevance of recent Jewish Jesus research in a post-colonial context.
Doctor Doctor: Rabbi Professor Walter Homolka.
Rabbi Homolka's thesis was that Jews studied Jesus as a historical figure from the 19th century on as a means to gain civil equality in a society dominated by Christianity.
According to Rabbi Homolka, "My work is about of Jewish persistence and equality during this period. Pioneers such as Abraham Geiger and Leo Baeck fought to be a part of the intellectual dialogue in the Christian-dominated societies of their times. When their voices were not heard, they made sure to develop sounder arguments."
Rabbi Homolka's first PhD is from King’s College London, earned in 1992.
The leadership and staff of the World Union offer their sincerest condolences to the family of Theodore Bikel, who died on July 21 at age 91.
Best known for starring as Tevye, the poor Jewish milkman, in the Broadway hit musical "Fiddler on the Roof," Bikel received the World Union’s first Maggid Award, at the CONNECTIONS 2005 International Convention in Moscow.
The award was created to recognize prominent members of the arts whose work embodies the core Jewish values of the WUPJ. It commemorates the maggid, the itinerant preacher and skilled storyteller of European tradition, who played a central role in strengthening Jewish identity and providing meaning to Jewish life throughout the ages.
A lifelong fighter, as a youngster in Vienna after the 1938 Anschluss, he returned home bloodied from schoolyard brawls with anti-Semitic classmates, as he recounted in “Theo: An Autobiography.”
As an adult Bikel’s social consciousness led him to embrace many worthy causes, including the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
Theodore Bikel was a longtime supporter of the WUPJ-affiliated Beit Warszawa, Poland’s first post-war Progressive congregation, as well as other Jewish organizations in Poland.
At Beit Warszawa, Bikel appeared in concerts where he would perform in Yiddish to captivated audiences.
May Theodore Bikel's memory and good works be for a blessing and may his entire family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion.
Rabbi Steve Burnstein, Director of the WUPJ's Anita Saltz International Education Center, recently spoke with Rabbi Noa Sattath on a wide range of issues related to Jewish values and justice in Israel.
State of the State: Rabbi Noa Sattath provides a detailed
update on Israel's ongoing struggle for equality.
Rabbi Sattath's Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) is the legal advocacy and social justice arm of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ).
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November 5, 2015 - International Humanitarian Award Dinner Honouring Rabbi Lenny Thal & Installation of Rabbi Daniel Freelander, URJ Biennial Conference, Orlando, Florida