Reenvisioning Our Movement: Four Reform Think Tanks, cosponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, are engaging Reform Jews in assessing how American Jewry’s largest religious denomination will meet the challenges of the technological revolution, communal support in an era of financial uncertainty, and identifying with a movement at a time when anti-institutional and post-denominational thinking is
on the rise.
The first Think Tank, on November 21, engaged 30 Reform and professional lay leaders in weighing the impact of social media on religious life. Congregations were invited to stream the event (held at HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus), follow live blogs and Twitter feeds, and send comments and questions to guest speakers and attendees. The second Think Tank will be held April 10–11 in Cincinnati, the third on December 14–16 at the URJ Biennial in Maryland, and the fourth on March 18–21, 2012 at the CCAR Convention in Boston. Meanwhile, rabbis are taking the conversation to their congregations. To view a video of the initial social media discussion, send in comments, and/or participate in the upcoming three Think Tanks, visit urj.org/thinktank.
Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Through Music: To further Catholic-Jewish understanding and cooperation, 20 members of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) presented a concert of Jewish sacred music last November at the state church of Italy, the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, in Rome. Among those dignitaries enjoying the To God’s Ears program—featuring the world premier of Cantor Erik Contzius’ setting of Psalm 116 in Hebrew and Latin—were Ambassador Dr. Miguel Diaz, the United States ambassador to the Holy See; and Reverend Norbert Hoffman, the secretary of the Vatican’s commission on religious relations with the Jews. In the days preceding the concert, the cantors and accompanying lay leaders engaged in a series of meaningful conversations with seminarians and sisters from the North American Pontifical college—dialogue (along with the concert) that has been recorded in a documentary also entitled To God’s Ears.
To continue the interfaith discussion, the concert program will be performed in several communities throughout North America in conjunction with neighborhood Catholic churches or the Archdiocese. “By working together as a community, we will hopefully facilitate a natural dialogue between Reform Jewish congregations and Catholic churches which will carry over into other community-based programming,” says ACC vice president Cantor Claire Franco. To learn more about the program and/or how your community can participate, contact Rachel Roth, managing director of the American Conference of Cantors, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-781-7800.
Jewish Rock Radio: This past November, Rick Recht, a member and artist-in-residence of United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, launched Jewish Rock Radio —an internet radio station dedicated completely to Jewish rock musicians: today’s stars (such as David Broza and Matisyahu); up-and-coming artists; “Rockapella” (university rockers in Jewish a capella groups); and “Classic Spin” (from artists such as Craig Taubman and Kol B’Seder). The station also broadcasts interviews with Jewish youth about the novel ways they’re involved in Jewish life. To listen, visit jewishrockradio.com or download the free app on iPhone or Android devices.
Our Community Hero: Jay Feinberg, a member of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, has won first place in the Jewish Federations of North America’s Second Annual Jewish Community Hero Awards (www.jewishcommunityheroes.org)—which comes with a $25,000 JFNA grant.
Jay is the founder and executive director of Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, one of the nation’s top public bone marrow, blood stem cell, and umbilical cord blood registries. In 1991, he was diagnosed with leukemia and discovered firsthand the difficulty of finding a matching donor to save his life. A patient’s best chance of finding a genetic match lies with those of similar ethnic background, and unfortunately the worldwide registry was not representative of all ethnic groups, including Jews. After a four-year search, Jay finally found a match for himself—and then committed himself to helping others find theirs. Gift of Life works to increase the number and diversity of potential bone marrow donors—and, ultimately, to find a match for anyone.
Today, the organization has registered 170,000+ potential donors and facilitated 2,100+ bone marrow transplants, saving children and adults with leukemia, lymphoma, and other life-threatening diseases. The JFNA grant will enable Gift of Life to test and register about 500 new donors who might be a life-saving match. To learn more: giftoflife.org.
Reform Rabbis Tackle Food Ethics: The CCAR has published The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic, the first Reform book-length guide to Jewish dietary practices.
In encouraging Reform Jews to make consciously Jewish food choices—an issue raised by URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie at the 2009 Toronto Biennial—this book covers the historical Reform approach to kashrut, traditional kosher laws, a survey demonstrating increased kashrut observance in the Reform Movement, a congregational guide to developing communal dietary practices, and essays which expand the definition of kashrut to include ethical Jewish values. For info: ccarpress.org.
Unprecedented Ordination: Last November, Germany’s Reform rabbinical seminary, the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, ordained three new rabbis—among them Rabbi Alina Treiger, the first female rabbi since Regina Jonas, who was ordained in 1935 and later perished in Auschwitz. URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Daniel Freelander gave the charge to the ordinees. And German President Christian Wulff, wearing a yarmulke, stood on the bimah and told the crowd: “This...shows that the whole spectrum of Jewish life, from Orthodox to Liberal, has taken root in our country again with intensity. So we are all happy today.”
Playing Sports on Higher Ground: 6 Points Sports Academy, the URJ’s 13th camp, opened last summer at the American Hebrew Academy’s state-of-the-art athletic/camp facilities in Greensboro, North Carolina, offering 9- to 16-year-olds from 25 states and five countries two-week sessions of athletic instruction coupled with an immersive Jewish camping experience. More than 200 young people—75% of them boys—received intensive training and coaching in basketball, tennis, soccer, or baseball—and cross-trained in swimming, kayaking, sailing, rock climbing, and general fitness.
For info, including summer 2011 registration details: 6points.urjcamps.org.
Special Needs Summer Programs: The URJ has launched two brand new special needs camping programs. Israel in a Special Way, organized in conjunction with Summit Camp and Travel, integrates spiritual, adventure, and learning experiences for 16- to 19-year-old teens with ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, learning disabilities, and/or mild social or emotional difficulties. At the Union’s Eisner and Crane Lake Camps in Massachusetts, Camp Chazak offers camping and skill-building to kids in grades 5–8 with communication and social delays. The Union also provides camping programs for teens with autistism at Camp Kutz in Warwick, NY and Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA. For information and registration: urjcamps.org/programs/specialneeds.