Supporting Each Other in Times of Crisis | A Message from our President, Rabbi David Saperstein

March 2020 | Adar 5780

Dear Friends,

As we are all acutely aware, the rapidly spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) has already touched each of us in very real ways. In our congregations across the world and in Israel, our lay and rabbinic leadership are facing significant challenges. Our hearts reach out to them and we will continue to be supportive to them in the varied ways they need.

I write today because four factors have converged to become an urgent challenge in the day-to-day operations of the World Union for Progressive Judaism:

  • the Israeli government quarantine requirements have led to the cancellation of every contract we have for the hotel, hostel, classrooms, and event space at Beit Shmuel, the WUPJ’s Jerusalem complex housing our international headquarters, over the next few months; groups that were there, have decided to leave;
  • the Israeli government has just enacted a ban on gatherings of more than ten people, forcing the closing of our theater; 
  • these combined factors have transformed an important source of income for us into a drain of over $100K/month even after drastic staff cuts and other savings; we have adequate reserve funds to cover the Beit Shmuel losses for a few months but not to cover a fall-off in funds for our core programs;
  • the downward spiral of the stock market has left so many of our supporters around the world totally uncertain of how much they will be able to give to the varied good causes they support, including the WUPJ; so even long-time donors are waiting before giving;
  • this past year we have mourned the passing of two of the WUPJ’s largest donors who have provided key support for decades.  

We are doing everything possible to avoid cutting our core mission, including financial support for rabbis and emerging congregations around the globe. Every staff person and every recipient of our support is making sacrifices – in our Jerusalem office, in our NY office, and in our congregations globally.

But because of Beit Shmuel, we are facing both a critical cash flow situation and the prospect of a vastly reduced overall budget this year, even if we draw down significant amounts of our reserve funds.

I am writing you to ask your help. The coming days will be critical to the World Union. We must continue our efforts to support the Reform Movement in Israel, in our international communities not yet strong enough to continue without our support, and to ensure that Reform Judaism does not lose ground where people need us most. We need your help to achieve that goalI know that you cannot be certain of how much you can afford to support your varied charitable recipients this year. There is, however, a vital lesson in last week’s Ki Tisa parashah’s opening description of the God-mandated census. (Putting aside the male bias) everyone is counted and everyone is counted on. Everyone is asked to give half a shekel, knowing that their half shekel will be made a whole shekel by what others would give. 

And the phrase for taking a census: “Ki tisa et rosh B’nei Yisrael” – literally means “when you lift up the heads of the children of Israel” reminds us that each individual’s face is lifted to be counted; each person plays his/her individual part of the whole. 

Give now, right at this crucial moment, the half shekel. Give part now of what you will hope to give before the year’s end. Whatever you can give now towards your (hoped for) overall gift this year will be doubly precious because of its timeliness and will be met by others rising to the challenge of maintaining the strength, the integrity, and the indispensable positive impact of the World Union’s rabbinic, congregational, and programmatic support.

Give Now


To you and your loved ones, my heartfelt wishes you all remain safe and healthy.

With my abiding appreciation,

Rabbi David Saperstein