The UPJ Biennial is all about focussing on the “progress” in Progressive Judaism. We’ll be asking how we can keep progressing with the times, while maintaining a grip on the traditional values that have always undergirded our movement and given it authenticity. Another key word is “transformation”: How can we transform our movement from being the most inspirational and creative movement in Judaism in the 20th century to becoming the most visionary and responsive Jewish movement for the 21st century?
To help us progress and transform in ways that are important to us, all the while expressing the values which are the beating heart of our movement, we are bringing to our region one of the most dynamic and insightful Jewish scholars of our age, a world-renowned figure, Rabbi Dr Lawrence A. Hoffman from the Hebrew Union College in New York.
Larry Hoffman has revolutionised Jewish thinking in two areas: worship and liturgy, what he calls “the art of public prayer”; and synagogue transformation, creating synagogues that are relevant and meaningful for the 21st century. In addition, he has written a unique spiritual travel guide for Israel, which can enable us in the UPJ to redefine our relationship to the land, people and state of Israel.
These three themes — reimagining our practice of prayer, transforming our synagogues and redefining our relationship to Israel –- provide us with both the structure for our Conference and also the signposts to help us make progress in our Progressive Judaism over the years between this Biennial and the next in 2020. With the help of Rabbi Hoffman we aim to use these three themes to come up with a strategic framework for the Progressive movement that will carry us forward into the future. This is our dream for both congregations working on the local level, and the UPJ as our umbrella movement that unites us into a single powerful Progressive presence in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Our hope is that the umbrella movement and the local communities will be able to work together to achieve goals in liturgical reform, synagogue transformation and Israel awareness that will bring pride and a sense of accomplishment to all of us.
There is no-one better equipped to guide us on this journey than Rabbi Larry Hoffman. He has created some outstanding programs in the contemporary Jewish world, truly visionary, “big picture” projects such as Synagogue 2000/3000, which has inspired synagogue transformation in Jewish communities in America and around the world; and the magnificent 10-volume My People’s Prayerbook edition of the siddur, which brings together scholars from every branch and denomination of Jewish life to instil the ancient words of our prayers with new life and meaning. Larry thinks big, and that is what our movement needs. Even our smallest communities can punch well above their weight with proper motivation and vision. These are what we hope to create at our 2018 Biennial Conference.
We intend to do this by listening to Larry’s compelling analyses of where we’ve been and where we hope to go in terms of public worship, synagogue life and Israel consciousness, and then apply our own understanding of the Australian, New Zealand and Asian contexts to flesh out an action program for our regional movement. There are many specific questions that fall under these three major themes. We’ll have opportunities in break-out groups and workshops to consider some of these questions and contribute to our common vision in tackling them. We’ll also have the chance to listen to expert opinion on our relationship to Israel, and on Jewish demography – the Gen17 report on Jewish life in Australia and its analogues in New Zealand and Asia.
Alongside our Conference keynote talks, workshops and panels, we’ll be holding the activities that the UPJ Biennials are famous for: opening night cocktail party with top-notch guest speakers (watch this space!), creative and uplisting Shacharit and Shabbat services, great dinners and after-dinner entertainments, Netzer-led havdalah, opportunities for regional forums and special interest groups to meet, Saturday night “Ted Talks” (new to this Conference, a chance for you to share your thoughts from a soap-box on a subject close to your heart!), and much more. There will even be a shuk selling all sorts of Judaica from books to art works. This Conference is not all “serious work”; like all our conferences, it will be filled with fun, laughter and camaraderie as well.
If you want to have a real say about the kind of “progress” we hope to make in Progressive Judaism over the years to come, then we’ll see you at the Biennial Conference in November!