Starting Up in Shanghai: In Spring 2012, 70 people in Shanghai, China joined together on the second night of Pesach to take part in the city’s first-ever liberal seder. Led by Cantor Diego Edelberg of the United Jewish Congregation in Hong Kong and assisted by Hebrew Union College Student Rabbi Megan Brudney, the seder brought together and inspired Progressive Jews in Shanghai—who have since gone on to form a Liberal Jewish community.
Synagogue to Storage Facility to Synagogue:
Jüdische Gemeinde Göttingen
For decades, a farmer in the German village of Bodenfelde stored his equipment in a small, half-timbered building hardly recognizable for what it was—a 175-year-old synagogue built in 1825. In 1937 the congregation had sold the synagogue to the farmer, and a year later, on Kristallnacht, the farmer defended his purchase against Nazi hooligans who wanted to torch it. Thus the building was spared the fate that befell hundreds of synagogues that night across Germany and Austria.
In 1990, a few hundred Jews from the Former Soviet Union settled in Göttingen, Germany. Its Jewish mayor, Artur Levi, a Holocaust survivor, and local educator Detlev Herbst, an expert on local Jewish history, supported the idea of moving the historic Bodenfelde synagogue to Gottingen, whose large synagogue had been destroyed 70 years earlier. Gottingen resident Brigitta Stammer oversaw the arranging of private donations—and arranged for the synagogue to be taken apart, wall-by-wall, stone-by-stone, piece-by-piece, moved 25 miles to the city, and reassembled.
The small synagogue was rededicated in November 2008. Today it is the house of prayer for some 160 members of the liberal Jüdische Gemeinde Göttingen.
1st Arab Students Group Hosted in Israel: In 2012, the Reform Movement’s Beit Shmuel (a cultural and educational mecca and housing complex that also serves as the WUPJ’s Jerusalem headquarters) hosted the first student group from the Arab world to visit and learn about Israel. Kivunim (“Directions”), a gap-year program in Israel based at Beit Shmuel, developed a relationship with Moadon Mimouna, a group of Moroccan Muslim students who study the history and culture of Moroccan Jews and Judaism in order to better understand their own culture and history. Kivunim’s Executive Director Peter Geffen led a two-week experience that included a visit to Ramallah and meetings with high-ranking Palestinian officials. Participants left Israel with a new appreciation of the Jewish people’s accomplishments in the state and a strong desire to return: one dreams of becoming Morocco’s first ambassador to Israel; others are reviewing scholarship opportunities for graduate studies.
Progressive Preschool: In the fall of 2011, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, in cooperation with the Jerusalem municipality, opened the Nitzanim preschool, Jerusalem’s only preschool program for children of refugees and foreign workers living in Israel. As a result, 20 pupils ages 3–6 from Eritrea, Sudan, the DRC (Congo), the Philippines, and Korea are improving their Hebrew language skills and being prepared for mainstream Israeli education on the HUC/Mercaz Shimshon-Beit Shmuel campus.
Training Progressive Para-Professionals: As there are no native Polish-speaking Progressive rabbis working in Poland yet, Beit Polska (the national association of Progressive Judaism in Poland) is running an intensive service-leader training program in Warsaw called Shatz (short for Sh’lichei Tzibur , which in Hebrew means “service leaders”) for native first-year and second-year students. Once the students achieve the required level of competency, they will lead Shabbat services at small, emerging Jewish communities throughout the country
Milan Offers Torah to Krakow:
Marching with gifted Torah
to Beit Krakow.
This past October, 10 members of Beth Shalom Progressive Congregation
in Milan, founded in 2002, presented a Torah scroll to the even younger Beit Krakow
congregation in Krakow. Starting at the Galicia Jewish Museum, the Torah was placed under a chuppah
and marched, amidst crowds singing and dancing, through Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, and to three synagogues before reaching the High Synagogue, where it was formally presented to Beit Krakow. Spain
Barcelona’s Beit Din: In June 2011, 30 people (24 adults and six children ages 4–12) were converted or “welcomed back” to Judaism at a Shabbat morning service in Barcelona. When the news got out that Rosina Levy of Bet Shalom of Barcelona would be presenting its candidates to the WUPJ European Region Beit Din (rabbinic court), other Jewish communities throughout Spain asked to send their own candidates too—some traveling hundreds of kilometers to the only Beit Din that would help them achieve their dream of becoming Jewish.
Having studied with local teachers for at least a year, the participants demonstrated proficiency in Jewish history, customs, religious festivals, and life-cycle events; the men also presented a certificate of circumcision, as required by Jewish law and in accordance with European custom. Looking ahead, many of the newly initiated adult Jews-by-choice are already planning for their bar/bat mitzvahs.
“This conversion program not only propelled Bet Shalom onto the front lines of Progressive Judaism in Spain,” says Dr. Rifat Sonsino, who served as officiating rabbi, “but is now a model for other small congregations, which have learned what can be accomplished with enthusiasm, dedication, and the support of the European Region of the WUPJ. This made me really proud.”
Reform Jew Is the UK Ambassador to Israel: Matthew Gould, who attends services at the Reform Movement’s West London Synagogue, became the UK’s ambassador to Israel in October 2010. He is the first Jew to hold the post.
First Trained Reform Cantor in Britain: When London’s Finchley Reform Synagogue (FRS) inducted Cantor Zöe Jacobs during Shabbat services on November 14, 2009, she became the first fully-trained cantor to serve a Reform congregation in Britain. Jacobs grew up at FRS and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.