Issue # 104 - July 2016 / Sivan-Tamuz / 5776.

WUPJ-LA Regional Conference was a success!

The 5th Conference of the WUPJ-LA brought together over 200 people during the activities conducted in São Paulo on June 23rd to the 26th.

The WUPJ's president, Carole Sterling, emphasized that the event was important "to show that the objectives of the institutions in Latin America are in line with our activities throughout the world".

The WUPJ Latin America's president, Raul Cesar Gottlieb, presented important projects in the region, like a rabbinical training program in Buenos Aires and the translation into Portuguese of the Chumash – the Five Books of the Torah and part of the Book of Prophets – with Reform interpretations.

The WUPJ Latin America's vice-president, Miriam Vasserman, emphasized how important the volunteers were in helping to organize the Conference. According to her, there were over 30 people involved and "this partnership among volunteers and professionals is what makes the World Union be so large and relevant throughout the whole world. These people deserve a special thanks".

Opening included a tribute to the CIP and a debate on democracy

The WUPJ brought together community leaders and guests for the opening ceremony of the Conference, held at the Congregação Israelita Paulista. A cocktail party was offered in honor of the 80th anniversary of the institution.

Next, Floriano Pesaro, Secretary of Social Development of the State of São Paulo, who represented Governor Geraldo Alckmin, welcomed the participants.

Welcome greetings were also delivered by CIP's president, Sérgio Kulikovsky; WUPJ's president, Carole Sterling; and WUPJ-LA's president, Raul Cesar Gottlieb.

Rabbi Rubén Sternschein, of CIP, introduced the members of the debate entitled "The Continuity of Democracy as a Jewish value", with the Minister Rabbi Sergio Bergman, of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina; the WUPJ's vice-president,, Yaron Shavit; and journalist Mona Dorf served as the mediator.

With regards to Reform Judaism, Bergman defended that "we need to stop with the denominations, in Judaism and in life in general. We do not need to always say Reform Judaism. Judaism is Judaism. Our job is to create communities and leave the doors open to whoever wants come in. And these doors also serve the purpose of integrating us into the society around us. Making sure we do not mistake integration with assimilation".

Shavit spoke about the need to build a two-way street between the interests of Israel and of the Jewish communities spread throughout the world, which gains strength when the practices of Reform Judaism are inserted into contemporary society.

Dynamic Presentations

The second day of the WUPJ-LA Conference had a rich diversity of topics presented by the guest lecturers who had up to 13 minutes to make their presentations at the Unibes Cultural.

The Unibes' president, Célia Parnes, gave an important explanation about the activities and projects conducted by the institution, which honored the WUPJ-LA by proving the location for the event.

The first lecturer was the Confederação Israelita do Brasil (Conib)’s president, Fernando Lottenberg, who revealed behind-the-scene details of the talks between the Jewish community leaders and politicians for the approval of the new Brazilian anti-terrorism legislation, which will increase security for Brazil.

Rabbi Rubén Sternschein discussed what it means to be a Reform Jew and defended "halakhian democracy", which can "guarantee authenticity and autonomy"; "because we believe in human beings"; "because we believe that the system is human and, thus, fallible"; and "because it has always changed".

Andreas Heinecke, creator of the "Dialogues in the Dark" exhibit, currently showing at Unibes Cultural, presented the concept of empathy, which as experienced by the visitors of his intervention, ends up substituting prejudices and stereotypes regarding the visually impaired.

The President of the NGO "Prato Cheio" (Full Plate), Dafna Kann, called attention to the importance of fighting food waste in all stages of the process from production to consumption in family homes.

Gustavo Michanie, President of JAG (Judíos Argentinos Gays (Gay Argentinean Jews)), tied to the Fundación Judaica, brought the testimony of Romina Charur and Victoria Escobar, brides of the first marriage of people of the same gender celebrated in a synagogue in Latin America. "Our objective is for JAG to close its doors, because there will no longer be a need for a separate denomination", he said.

Federação Israelita do Estado de São Paulo (Fisesp)'s president, Bruno Laskovsky, spoke about the challenges of the Jewish community and emphasized the development of an app to attract young people.

Yaron Shavit, Vice President of the WUJP International, confessed that he was going to publicly discuss for the first time topics related to his experience in the Israeli army, speaking about the concern with the impact of military actions on civilians.

Rabbi Michel Schlesinger addressed the issue of equality of genders in Judaism and declared: "we have the capacity to make simple things become complicated".

The journalist Eurípedes Alcântara,who was Editorial Director at Veja magazine, clarified that the media are not unbiased from the moment that they choose which words they will use. "There is no one single truth. If we had the truth, the cover price of the magazine would not be only R$ 10", he joked.

Ivo Herzog, Director of the Instituto Vladimir Herzog, praised the need for plurality of ideas. "If everyone leaves here agreeing with me, I have failed. Debate is essential", he stated.

One of the creators of the "Vem pra rua" (Come to the streets) movement, Rogério Chequer, revealed that he only recognized the value of getting involved in political issues after the age of 46. "We need to show young people the strength of public mobilization and fighting for political reform", he concluded.

European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ)'s president, Miriam Kramer, shared that she had voted against the exit of the Great Britain from the European Union before boarding to São Paulo and was surprised with the results. "In the EUPJ nothing will change. We are going to continue our challenges. If for you, with two languages – Spanish and Portuguese – it is difficult, imagine for us who deal with more than ten languages".

Sally Gansievich, Director of the Escuela Comunitária Arlene Fern and Director of the Centro Comunitário Judaica Belgrano in Buenos Aires, and Edy Huberman, Executive Director of the Fundación Judaica, conducted a lively presentation on the passion for community service, making a comparison with cheering for soccer teams.

Educator Denis Plapler discussed the type of education that adults in contemporary society want to offer children.

If I only think of myself, who am I?

Also at Unibes Cultural, the journalist Mona Dorf mediated a debate between the Minister Rabbi Sergio Bergman and Rabbi Roberto Graetz, who has worked at congregations in Argentina and Brazil and is presently the President of the Yad B'Yad Task Force, a group that has been supporting the Jewish communities in the region for over a decade.

The conversation discussed the involvement of Jews in the everyday life of the countries in Latin America and in Israel, including discussing Bergman's work in the government of Mauricio Macri.

For both, the cultural differences between Brazil and Argentina may have determined the different positions of the Jewish communities within the political system of these two countries.

They also praised the boldness of Pope Francis as the head of the Vatican. "He is a statesman", stated Bergman.

Judaism and integration

The 5th Conference of the WUPJ-LA also had special moments of integration among the participants, especially during the religious services conducted at the CIP, particularly the Kabalat Shabbat and the Shacharit service on Saturday morning, which was followed by a lunch where the participants were able to participate in roundtable conversations.

Various topics were discussed in a relaxed manner, such as "Judaism and democracy: texts for educators"; "The meaning of life"; and "The plural essence of Judaism in life and death: what Olám haBá are we waiting for?"

Tikun Olam

A musical show and a Havdalah ceremony were a surprise offered by the participants of the 5th Conference of the WUPJ-LA to the residents of the Residencial Israelita Albert Einstein.

The President of the Volunteer Program, Telma Sobolh, praised the initiative. Rabbi Arnold Turchick, who conducts the religious services with the residents, emphasized the inclusion of women in Reform Judaism.

The party had the participation of the children's choir from Unibes and the musicians Alexandre Edelstein, Ana Karlik, Anabella Avrahami, David Leo Eisencraft, Felipe Grytz, Flavio Levi Moreira, Geórgia Besen, Marcio Besen and Tania Travassos.

Bergman presents challenges for young adults

At the closing of the 5th Conference of the WUPJ-LA, Minister Rabbi Sergio Bergman participated in a chat with young adults at the "A Hebraica" club.

"The best thing I can do as Minister of Environment of the Argentinean government is to be a rabbi. The technical issues can be resolved and taken care of by people who are very qualified. As a rabbi, I have to be a guide and a leader for this group with values and a clear path to follow", he explained when questioned about what he himself defines as "double ministry, the religious one and that of Minister of State".

Regarding the need to attract young people to Jewish institutions, Bergman believes that one needs to bet on the present, know the past and think of the future. "But the present is fundamental. If one stays only in the past, it is only nostalgia. If one thinks only of the future, there are only expectations. In Reform Judaism, we offer young adults the possibility of questioning. We do not have closed answers for everything. This is difficult for some people", he concluded.

Lashir Benefesh – Sing out loud!

The program prior to the 5th Conference of the WUPJ-LA included the Lashir Benefesh 2016, event that brings together professionals and enthusiastic of the Chazanut and of Jewish liturgical music. In this edition, the seminar had close to 20 participants and the special guest Rosalie Boxt, who works as Chazanit at a congregation with 520 families in Kensington, Maryland, close to Washington, D.C., USA.