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Rabbi Elected to Argentinian Congress: Rabbi Sergio Bergman, who was ordained through both the Reform and Conservative movements, was elected last Fall to Argentina’s lower house of parliament, making him the only rabbi to serve as a member of parliament outside of Israel.

A social activist, community leader, and educational innovator, Rabbi Bergman founded Fundación Judaica, a network of Jewish schools and educational projects; created the Arlene Fern school, which integrates children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms; and networks needy Argentinians with food and employment sources. After winning a PRO party’s seat for municipal legislature in 2011, he employed unorthodox methods to reduce tensions in the city, for example, organizing a day of meditation for legislative employees. He also installed a popcorn machine in his office, joking that “the struggles and also some projects are funnier than some movies.” He always appears in public in his trademark colorful kippah.

Miriam Vasserman, chair of the WUPJ-Latin American region, notes that “This election is not only in recognition of who Congressman Rabbi Sergio Bregman is; it is also a turning point in the democracy of Argentina.” 


First School of Jewish Theology: In 1836, Reform pioneer Rabbi Abraham Geiger called on the German government to establish a Jewish divinity school as evidence for the completion of Jewish emancipation in the nation.

That milestone was finally reached 177 years later, when the first department of Jewish theology was established in a state university.

On November 19, 2013, the University of Potsdam, working with the Progressive and Conservative Jewish Movements and financed by about $1 million annually by both the German federal and Brandenburg state governments, launched the School of Jewish Theology. Its BA and MA programs in Jewish Theology are components of gaining ordination at both the liberal Abraham Geiger College and the conservative Zacharias Frankel College, both co-institutes of the university.

“Jewish theology will finally become a regular academic subject in Germany, putting us on a par with Christian denominations and with Islam,” says Rabbi Professor Dr. Walter Homolka, rector of the Abraham Geiger College at Potsdam University. 


Beit Din in Barcelona: Last June, the beit din (rabbinical court) of the European Union for Progressive Judaism welcomed to the Jewish people 20 converts from all over Spain who were educated in Jewish history, thought, and practice mostly via Skype. On Friday night they received their certificates of conversion, and, on Saturday morning, their first aliyot, in the medieval synagogue in the heart of former Jewish Barcelona.

“About half the group said they were annusim, descendants of Jews converted to Catholicism back in the 15th century,” says beit din co-chair Rabbi Dr. Andrew Goldstein. “They shared accounts of grandmothers lighting candles on Friday night behind closed shutters, of never mixing meat and milk, and of never eating bread at Easter—practices that had once been explained to them as ‘old family customs,’ but they now share as evidence of their Jewish family origins.”

Rabbi Goldstein explains that “Several candidates spoke of anti-Semitism in Spain and of experiencing opposition to their conversion. All had prepared to face these problems, the expense, and, in some cases, the time to travel hundreds of kilometres to Barcelona to achieve their goal of joining a religion that gave them comfort and a feeling of belonging.”

This was the third annual beit din in Barcelona. Thirty people converted in the first two beit din, bringing the total number of recent converts to 50, and a fourth beit din will take place in Summer 2014. 


Historic Dedication: Last September, Congregation Hatikva in Kiev, Progressive Judaism’s flagship center in the Ukraine, joined with an international delegation of World Union for Progressive Judaism leaders to dedicate the synagogue’s new center. The congregation, which also runs two kindergartens, had been working out of very inadequate rental facilities for 22 years until three World Union families furnished the funds to purchase a new property; the “right” property was found within the historic Jewish neighborhood of Podol; and renovations made to accommodate a 150-seat sanctuary, spacious activity rooms, library, Netzer youth center, administrative offices, and a kitchenette.

“Perhaps the most significant feeling shared by all present at the dedication was tikva (hope),” says Judy Smith in the WUPJ e-newsletter Connections. “In the context of the death and destruction of more than 70% of Ukrainian Jewry during the Shoah, it is nothing short of a miracle that Jewish life continues to flourish in the Ukraine.”