Issue # 56 – February 2012 / Shevat - Adar 5772

 Tu B'Shvat message – "The New Year of the trees"

Rabbi Leonardo Alanati from the CIM – Congregação Israelita Mineira (Israeli Congregation of Minas Gerais), wrote the text below for the celebration of Tu B'Shvat on February 8th.

We need more Judaism
outside four walls

The majority of Jews do not know that there are Berachot that we fulfill when we come in contact with certain events in nature. There is a blessing for when we see a large mountain, another one for when we see the trees blooming for the first time in spring and even one appropriate for people from Minas Gerais or from people from Rio de Janeiro who are living in exile that they must say when they see the ocean again.

We know by heart the Berachot for bread and wine. We know the prayers used in synagogue well. However, we ignore the prayers that are said when we see the wonders of nature

What is the most common place to pray outdoors nowadays? The cemetery. We have gotten to such an absurd situation that we only have direct contact with the earth and nature at funerals!

We are an urban people. Judaism prospers in the big cities and languishes in small towns in the interior or in the country. However, we cannot lose the religious ties that come through nature. Enough of Judaism within four walls! We need more Judaism outdoors!

On Tuesday night we will be able to see the full moon that precedes spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This was an important moment for various agricultural peoples in antiquity. In Judaism, this full moon, the fifteenth day of the month of Shvat, became known as Tu B'Shvat, the new year of the trees.

The date should take us not only to planting, but also to community strolls with study, prayers and meditation exercises in nature. We need to include in our calendars a Kabbalat Shabbat outside the synagogue, outdoors. A Shabaton outside the city or at a Camp site are other unique opportunities to promote this spirituality tied to nature.

I hope that our prayers outside four walls help us to reconnect with the Creator and His creation.

 Convention brings together representatives from 16 countries

The 13th Convention of the Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL), held at the end of January in Guadalajara, Mexico, brought together over 150 people from 16 countries, including 20 rabbis, other religious and lay leaders, professionals and volunteers from various organizations from the region and also from Argentina, Brazil, United States and Israel.

The UJCL is formed by the various Progressive, Liberal and Conservative Jewish institutions within a region that extends from Colombia in South America, to Mexico in North America, including Central America and the Caribbean. Besides the WUPJ, other entities participated such as the Joint Distribution Committee, the Latin American Jewish Congress, the B'nai B'rith and the Masorti Olami.

With the intention of instigating the public to reflect, the subjects of the main lectures were presented in a question format: "Do small communities have a future?"; "What to do regarding mixed marriages?"; "What is the sense of interreligious dialogue?"; "How do we reconnect with our roots?"; "Is there a Latin American Judaism?"; and "Pluralism in Israel: Myth or reality?".

The WUPJ group was headed by its president, Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, and its vice president, Rabbi Joel Oseran. Also present were the representatives of the Yad B'Yad Task Force, who contributed with projects from the WUPJ in Latin America, Jerry Tanenbaum (chair), Stephen Breslauer and Stephen Olson.

The WUPJ youth group was represented by the Rabbi Josh Lober and by the Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, from the United States; and by Yuval Nemirovsky, from the Netzer Olami/TaMar movement in Israel.

Present from the WUPJ-LA were the president Miriam Vasserman; the vice president Raul Gottlieb; and the executive secretary, Berta Zylberstajn; as well as Rabbi Dario Bialer and vice president Teresa Roth from the ARI-RJ; Rabbi Guido Cohen and Uriel Romano from the AIP in Buenos Aires; and the volunteers Erika Wolff and Hélio Zylberstajn.

The 14th Convention of the UJCL will take place in 2014, in Costa Rica, organized by the B'nei Israel Congregation.

 A decade dedicated to training Jewish leaders

Participants of the 10th Beutel Leadership Seminar with Rabbi Steve
Bernstein, Director of the Saltz IEC and Prof. Paul Liptz, Education
Director at the Saltz IEC

The 10th Beutel Leadership Seminar, promoted by the WUPJ's "Anita Saltz International Education Center", was held in January in Israel with eighteen participants – recommended by their communities – from Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, India, Israel, Poland, Singapore, South Africa and the United States. Rabbi Steve Bernstein, director of the educational center, describes the seminar as an "intensive 10 day program in which participants immerse in an experience of concentrated in-depth study and discussion sessions on a broad range of issues critical to the future of Israel and the Jewish people".

According to Maria Antonieta Cohen, known as Tilah, from the CIM – Israeli Congregation of Minas Gerais, who was the participant representing the region, "there was a concern in linking, connecting all of the discussions to the reality in Israel, including visits to various locations. We saw a thriving reality, a diversified and multi-cultural country that faces challenges and tries to solve them. It was a great and instigating learning process". Tilah is the elected president of the CIM and was also at the WUPJ Connections 2011 Conference in San Francisco.

 Exchange of experiences

The WUPJ-LA considers it fundamental to have an exchange of experiences among the communities around the world whenever possible. Thus, we would like to highlight the visit of Morah Miriam Gerber, coordinator of the Lafer School of the Congregação Israelita Paulista (CIP) in São Paulo to the school maintained by the Central Synagogue in New York, where she met with the principal Arielle Garelleke.

The meeting was promoted by the WUPJ, through Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, Vice President-Philanthropy of the WUPJ, in New York City. The trip was also a part of the Morah Miriam's project in search of materials and possible projects that the CIP can conduct with other congregations affiliated to the WUPJ. Morah Miriam has also participated in the Bergman Seminar in Israel.

 WUPJ in the social networks

The WUPJ recently created a new Page on Facebook. To follow the news about Progressive Judaism throughout the world, just go and enjoy the page at

 Save the date

World Union for Progressive Judaism - Latin America