Issue # 97 – December 2015 / Kislêv - Tevet 5776.
 Good vibrations in the largest Jewish Reform conference in North America
Can you imagine five thousand people praying together at a Shabbat service? A conference room with 540 rabbis, 120 chazanim (liturgical cantors), a volunteer choir with 120 members, 250 congregation presidents, educators and congregation members? That was the URJ Biennial 2015, of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), on November 4 to 8, in Orlando, Florida (USA).

Audience at URJ Biennial (Photos: David Braun)

(L-R) Joe Biden and Rick Jacobs

Celebrities, such as the Vice President of the USA, Joe Biden, who honored his personal friend, Rabbi David Saperstein, attended the conference. See the speech in the following video.

The well-known actor Michael Douglas revealed that as a result of his son's desire to have his Bar Mitzvah at a Reform synagogue in New York, which accepts patrilineality, he reencountered Judaism at a place that was receptive and welcoming to his whole family.

(L-R) Michael Douglas and Rick Jacobs

Charles Bronfman

At the opening, the President of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, encouraged the practice of "audacious hospitality", the support for Israel and the Reform causes. He also paid homage to Charles Bronfman, philanthropist and co-founder of the Birthright/Taglit program, created in 1999 and that this year reached the mark of 500,000 young people from almost 65 countries who had the opportunity of experiencing Jewish culture in Israel.

The URJ (North American) and WUPJ (worldwide) movements have always had strong ties and that are reinforced today by the direction of Carole Sterling and Rabbi Daniel Freelander, Chair and President of the WUPJ; and by Daryl Messinger and Rabbi Rock Jacobs, Chair and President of the URJ.

Daryl Messinger

During the URJ conference, the WUPJ organized a gala dinner in honor of Rabbis Lennard Thal and Daniel Freelander, who received the International Humanitarian Award.

Daniel Freelander

Jantar de Gala

Lenny Thal

Testimonial about the URJ Biennial 2015

Participating in a URJ – Union for Reform Judaism conference is something that every Jew should do at least once in their lifetime. I have had the opportunity, throughout these 15 years in which I have been active in the Reform Movement in Latin America and as part of the worldwide board of the WUPJ, to participate and organize various conferences and events. However, the URJ Biennial is something unique and unprecedented. I came back home with renewed strength, full of ideas and projects to carry out. Every time I feel proud to be part of a movement that is consistent with the Jewish life, I lead in my home and in every place I attend. An inclusive, welcoming, modern and active Judaism.

Miriam Vasserman
Vice Chair WUPJ / Vice Chair WUPJ Latin America

As the Biennial was occurring, I experienced a mix of emotions and sensations that, finally, I was able to understand, synthesize and express: it is simply one of safety. It is weird, but I have never felt that so deeply in Israel, which, after all, is our guarantee of survival as a people, religion and identity. Maybe that is exactly why the Biennial is held in the Diaspora, I do not know. It is grandiose. However, it is also deep, because it offers religiosity, knowledge, faith and happiness to share. It is impossible to not feel the contagious strength of the American Reform Judaism, in such a way that, in addition to deepening our religiosity and our identity, it gives one the pleasant sensation that, even being outside Israel, we are not alone. On the contrary, we have many brothers, we are safe.

Hélio Zylberstajn
WUPJ-LA volunteer

It was a magnificent and memorable event. Impeccably organized. From the choice of hotel, with its perfect convention center, including customer service, logistics, dining and rigorous respect for the schedule to the technical aspects of audiovisual, films, mega screen, audio without interference and Internet in all of the rooms. That without mentioning the assemblies and sessions during three days with the highest-level speakers and moderators, with democratic and honest debates, not leaving the critiques aside. One of the high points was the involvement with the young adults, focused on education, knowledge, teachings, civil rights, challenges, innovation and leadership training. The campuses for young people all over the United States are fabulous and gigantic. The experience of participating was wonderful and unforgettable.

Erika Wolff
WUPJ-LA volunteer

Photo gallery

Watch and listen to some of the sessions of the URJ Biennial here.

See more of the event here.

Watch all of the videos here.

A blessing for the State of Israel,
by the activist Anat Hoffman.

 WRJ 2015 Assembly – Brasil and Argentina present
The Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) held its assembly during the URJ Biennial 2015, in Orlando, Florida, USA.

It was a unique experience for members of the organization affiliated with the WRJ all over the world, reinforcing the role of women in the Progressive/Reform movements.

The Fundación Judaica, from Argentina, was represented by its President, Patricia Holzman, and by the Communications Secretary, Miriam Olchansky. "The WRJ Assembly, held together with the URJ Biennial, was a unique experience as a model for Progressive Jewish women. The Fundación Judaica participated in this meeting, presenting not only the projects and activities we conduct, but also the structure and operation of our network of institutions. We came back home with new experiences and knowledge to share in our own communities and organizations."

Present from Brazil at the meeting were Ruth Bohm and Dora Lucia Brenner, from the Congregação Israelita Paulista (CIP). According to them, "for the first time, the SHIRAT MIRIAM GROUP officially participated in the WRJ conference. We were warmly welcomed. We had the opportunity to expose a little of our reality that totally differs from the American reality and, through that, made great contacts and received the support to develop a differentiated activity in our congregation as well as in communities in Latin America. It is very important to be a part of such an active group, with such an strong presence in the congregations".

Photo gallery.

 Leaders of the Argentinean community will have positions in the government of the newly
 elected President Mauricio Macri
The recently elected Argentinean President, Mauricio Macri, who takes office on December 10th, announced Congressman Sergio Bergman, Rabbi and President of the Fundación Judaica and the Fundación Argentina Ciudadana, as Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. It is important to remember that the new minister is actively involved in the Reform Movement, having participated in the Connections Rio 2015 conference, organized by the WUPJ and hosted by the ARI-RJ.

Also part of the new cabinet, in the office of Human Rights will be Claudio Avruj, present Undersecretary of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires and Ex-President of the Holocaust Museum.

(L-R) Claudio Avruj and Sergio Bergman
 Winds of Reform, coming from the south.

Rabbi Bergman and Rabbi Bursztein introducing the Project
to local volunteers.

Members of WUPJ---LA board in Judaica Foundation offices
in Buenos Aires, establishing the Project guidelines.

Rabbi Bergman, Patricia Holzman, Raul Gottlieb and
Miriam Vasserman discussing the Mechina Project

This is the time. Not 50, not 20, not even 10 years ago, but now. For many years, Latin American Jewry developed strong, vibrant Zionist and highly educated Jewish communities. However, even though the liberal and reform Judaism were present since the beginning, it wasn´t until a few years ago that Reform Judaism started to grow in this continent. Moreover, what´s the key to a successful growth? The training of local Jews as Reform Rabbis. In the words of Rabbi Sergio Bergman, leader of Judaica Foundation in Argentina, member of the National Congress, member of the CCAR and graduated Rabbi from HUC Jerusalem:

"It´s a matter of medium to long term thinking. Nothing started when we arrived. Many leaders before us started the way of the liberal Judaism in Latin America. Many generations after us should have the opportunity to live their Judaism and to continue our task. It is our duty to them, as we are just another link in this chain of generations, to reinforce our communities, to deepen our bonds with Israel and, last but not least, to keep our Jewish roots alive. Actually, the fact of having local rabbis is not just a matter of having excellent professionals to lead our communities, but rather to ensure the continuity of Latin American Jewry with its own personal idiosyncrasy".

Raul Gottlieb, President of WUPJ-Latin America says:

"There´s no doubt that our communities need their own rabbis. At this point, we are not able to have a local Reform Rabbinical Seminar, but starting with a Mechina, we can prepare our candidates to finish their rabbinical studies at HUC Jerusalem. We are committed to achieve this goal but we know that we are not able to do this by ourselves. We are part of a bigger family and though, we need WUPJ´s support in this stage".

Patricia Holzman, President of Judaica Foundation in Buenos Aires, added:

"We´ve been working hard to build the infrastructure needed to be where we are now. We are ready to launch at the beginnings of 2016 (March). So far, we received full support from WUPJ and HUC. Our volunteers and professionals are committed to the success of this project and we are sure that with our first group of students, we´ll be giving new impulse to Reform Judaism in our region. Things are changing and our Movement needs to step up to strengthen and answer to the needs of these communities. With the help and support of WUPJ as a global family, this Rabbinical Mechina for Latin American Reform Jews can –and will!- become a reality."

 Conib and the WUPJ support review of ancient Torah scrolls in Pernambuco

12th century Torah, considered the oldest in the world. Photo: University of Bologna.

The Centro Israelita de Pernambuco was visited by scribe Rachel Reichhardt, who was there to revise the ancient 15 Torah Sifrei because there was a doubt as to whether they were still kosher. The initiative was sponsored by the WUPJ-LA and the Confederação Israelita do Brasil (Conib).

Rachel is accredited as soferet stam (scribe) by the Latin American Rabbinical Seminar in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During her visit to the CIP, she celebrated a Shacharit Shabbat, being the first time in Recife that a woman conducted the religious services.

Rachel Reichhardt with Ida Katz
 Global Day of Jewish Learning / Dia Mundial de Estudos Judaicos 24X24
For the third consecutive time, Rabbi Uri Lam, from the Congregação Israelita Mineira (CIM), directed the only session in Portuguese of the 24 live sessions transmitted worldwide in the sixth edition of the Global Day of Jewish Learning. For the past two years, Rabi Uri has directed the classes together with the religious leader of the SIBRA, Guershon Kwasniewski, who participated live, via Internet, from Porto Alegre. The meeting room at the CIM was filled to capacity and the audience via the Internet was amongst the highest. The topic of the Global Day was "Love: Devotion, Desire and Deception". The topic of the lecture was "Loving God and Loving Ourselves".

 Thanks! 20 Years of Family and Community at the Arlene Fern Community School

The Escuela Comunitaria Arlene Fern reached its 20th anniversary and celebrated with all responsible for this story : Family, Teachers, Directors and Students. All together participated in a recreational marathon and relived some of the milestones of the school since its foundation.

The event was held at the North Park, Buenos Aires and had a beautiful sukkah prepared by many volunteer hands and decorated with a list of the wishes that the school's families wrote down for this 20th anniversary.

At the end, a bunch of balloons was released symbolizing the wishes of seeing, in the following years, the School, the Temple and the Community united at the Centro Comunitario Judaica Belgrano with its construction work already initiated.

 A generation goes, and another one comes, but the earth remains forever. Ecclesiastes 1:4
On November 5, 62 million m3 of toxic mud were spilled into the Rio Doce (Doce River) in Maringá, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The numbers give only a small notion of this tragedy: 17 dead, 18 missing, all of the fish in the river died (some species are extinct), thousands of animals are trapped under the mud, seven towns were devastated and over 800,000 people are without water. According to some specialists, it might take over a century to recover from the environmental devastation caused by the accident.

On this December 6, a month after the tragedy in Mariana, we will light the first candle of Hanukkah, when we remember when the Jews re-dedicated the Temple. May we, as we light our candles and sing our songs, think that many still cannot re-dedicate their lives because their homes are under the mud and that the environmental devastation will impact the lives of millions for many more years to come.

"Judaism teaches that we have a sacred obligation to the Creator, to Creation, and to future generations to safeguard and protect Earth's ecosystems. Before the Flood, Noah and his family protected at least two of every animal species, enabling all creatures to make safe passage from one era of human history to the next. After the Flood, God said to Noah: 'Behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, of the birds, of the cattle, and of every wild animal of the earth with you' (Genesis 9:9).... Our heritage calls on us to serve as protectors and defenders of God's magnificent creations, ensuring safe passage of all creatures from one era to the next by protecting their habitats. It is our duty--as people of faith, and citizens of our nation, our world, and our biosphere--to safeguard and weave together the patchwork of remnant forests as best we can….." [CCAR, "Protecting Ancient Forest Ecosystems," March 2000]

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