THE 2001-2002 YEAR IN REVIEW
A Message from Our Leaders
by Emily Grotta and Brian Levinson
Never before in our lives have the words of the G'ulah prayer been so poignant or rung so true. The events of September 11 changed our world and destroyed our innocence, but they also reminded us of the timeless lesson of Jewish history: the world is a threatening place where violence is rampant and serenity is rare.
And so, in a search for serenity, Americans turned to their houses of worship. It was in our synagogues that we Reform Jews sought answers and refuge. It was in our religious communities that we found the comfort that gives us strength, day in and day out. And it was in our spiritual homes that we found others willing to delve into the discomforting questions and disturbing facts about our relationships with our Islamic cousins that September 11 brought to the surface.
And so, from its very start, 5762 was shaped by our reaction to a world torn by violence. And our response has been telling: we are a people who do not cower in the face of adversity; we are a people who refuse to be shaped by fear.
In December, when the airline industry was reeling in the wake of those afraid to fly, some 6,000 people came to Boston for the Reform Biennial conventions--the largest gathering of Reform Jews in North American history. We celebrated and worshiped, we prayed and we studied, but, most of all, we gathered strength from one another.
And we remained committed to Israel under siege. In January, two groups of Reform Jews traveled to Israel: adults who went to study at the UAHC's second Israel Kallah and high school students in our Eisendrath International Exchange program, who are spending the semester in Israel. And we planned our next UAHC Leadership Mission to Israel--the second Reform Mission in fewer than twelve months--which will leave on June 9.
Here at home, while others stayed silent at the threats to civil liberties, we repeatedly spoke out about the need to ensure that our country's efforts to fight terrorism would not undermine the liberties that make America worth celebrating and protecting. And, mindful of our tradition and our teachings, we continued to search for ways to open avenues of understanding among the religions of the world.
In towns and cities across the continent, we coalesced around the traditions, values, and beliefs that distinguish the Reform community as we set about the task of building sacred communities built on a covenant of trust and mutual respect.
It is this ability to adapt to the ever-changing times that has made our Reform Movement the most vital, strongest, and fastest growing Jewish denomination in North America. Ken yehi ratson. May it always be so.
At the Boston Biennial--the largest gathering of Reform Jews in North American history--UAHC President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie challenged the assembly to work on improving religious schools in their local communities. "More money is spent on our religious schools than on any other synagogue program," he said. "Why is it that something as critical to our future is so widely perceived to be such a failure?"
Rabbi Yoffie went on to outline a bold new plan for congregational education. "In the Reform Movement alone, we have 120,000 children in religious school. They need our attention now; we do not have the luxury of waiting for others....I therefore propose to this Movement that we do as our Reform founders urged us to do in 1873: that we invest in our schools and make the transmission of Torah to our children our highest priority."
The call for a revolution was heard as delegates clamored for samples of the Chai Curriculum, the first Reform educational curriculum to be released in twenty-five years. Developed in cooperation with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the National Association of Temple Educators, the curriculum includes a new, individualized method of Hebrew learning, an emphasis on involving parents in their children's Jewish education, and online resources for new and experienced teachers.
To help congregations attract more twenty-and thirty-something Jews, the Biennial included its first-ever session for individuals involved in young adult programming. More than eighty people participated in Striking Sparks, Raising Ruach, celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat together, brainstorming on how to build welcoming Reform communities, and studying with leaders of today's Jewish world.
An in-depth, groundbreaking study--Outreach Families in the Sacred Common: Congregational Responses to Interfaith Issues--provided new insights on which Outreach approaches work effectively, which aspects warrant further attention, and how congregations can best promote Outreach to interfaith couples and those seeking Judaism. Conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, the study points the direction for the next phase of Outreach programming in our synagogues.
The Aleph-Bet of Marriage, a premarital counseling program announced by Rabbi Yoffie in 1999 and sponsored by the UAHC Department of Jewish Family Concerns, is designed to help couples explore their backgrounds, discuss their marital expectations, avoid some of the stumbling blocks that married couples often face, and share their experiences with other couples. The program, which was piloted in several locations this year, will soon be available in congregations throughout the Union.
Outreach Programs for New Families: In the Beginning...Having a Jewish Baby and Jewish Parenting Made Simple..., sponsored by the William and Lottie Daniel Department of Outreach, is a series of synagogue-based workshops that introduces new parents and parents-to-be to Jewish rituals and traditions. "The aim is to tell parents that Reform Jews value and seek their participation in Jewish life, and that Reform Judaism has something of inestimable worth for them," said Outreach Department director Dru Greenwood.
Learning for All
In February, the newly formed Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning™met for several days to refine Jewish education in the Reform Movement. Its strategic goal is to develop a comprehensive system of Jewish learning which encompasses formal and informal, youth and adult, as well as volunteer and professional Jewish education.
That very day, congregations received from the UAHC Department of Jewish Education A Day in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a resource to help educators and parents initiate a conversation with children about the attack. The Department of Religious Living issued Prayers and Readings for Worship and Interfaith Assemblies, a collection of prayers, psalms, and songs for use in prayer services; and the Ida and Howard Wilkoff Department of Synagogue Management released None Shall Make Them Afraid: Thinking About Congregational Security, a security checklist to assist synagogue leaders in enacting prudent, rational, cost-effective security decisions informed by Jewish values.
Reform Jews responded to the attacks with acts of unprecedented generosity. On September 13, 2001, the UAHC activated its Disaster Relief Fund for the victims of the tragedy. By October 11, more than $200,000 had been collected; by January 2002, the fund had disbursed a staggering $1.6 million. At the Biennial, the Union presented an Eisendrath "Bearer of Light" Award to the rescuers of September 11. Those who were in attendance will not soon forget the wave of emotion that coursed through the room as the firefighters of FDNY Battalion 8 rose to the stage to accept the honor.
The Worship Initiatives
Several new UAHC publications also focused on worship. The UAHC Press published The Art of Cantillation, Volume 2, which guides novice Hebrew readers through the process of chanting haftarah; as well as an updated, revised version of B'chol L'vavcha, the classic text that helps Reform Jews understand the function and power of prayer. Transcontinental Music Publications released The Complete Shireinu, a guide on how to play 350 Jewish melodies for camps, kallot, retreats, and conclaves; Kol Dodi, a collection of authentic Jewish wedding music; and R'fuah Sh'leimah: Songs of Jewish Healing, a resource for synagogues and individuals seeking peace, healing, and wholeness.
The Department of Synagogue Management released several new manuals focusing on the nuts and bolts of running a synagogue. A Good Tool: Computer Programs for Synagogue Management examines the efficacy of temple management software and how to obtain it; To Every Thing, There is a Season takes an in-depth look at congregational funeral and cemetery policies; and For the Sake of Heaven: Committees in Congregational Life guides congregations on how to maximize the effectiveness of their synagogue committees.
Meanwhile, the Synagogue Resource Loan Fund, administered by the Department of Small and New Congregations, provided grants to help bring representatives of small congregations to the Biennial and small loans to assist congregations facing significant capital expenditures. And the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released two new publications: A Guide to Synagogue Tzedakah Collectives, a manual that leads synagogues step by step through the process of collecting individual donations into one large congregation-wide tzedakah fund, and Lirdof Tzedek: A Guide to Synagogue Social Action, which provides guidelines for all aspects of synagogue social action, from organizing influential volunteer support to effecting change on the local, regional, and national levels.
The UAHC Web site was significantly overhauled to make the vast resources of the UAHC more easily accessible. Introduced at the Biennial, the new site replaced a text-heavy home page with an easily navigable, user-friendly interface that allows Web surfers to browse UAHC publications, releases, and directories with one click of the mouse.
Emphasizing the importance of adult visits to Israel during these difficult times, 160 of our Movement's leaders took part in a Reform Mission to Israel. In July and August, they met with members of the Knesset, leaders of the Israeli Reform Movement, students and faculty at HUC-JIR's Jerusalem campus, Israeli scholars and journalists; they also visited the besieged settlement of Efrat as well as several Reform communities. A second leadership mission will leave for Israel on June 9.
NFTY's Eisendrath Israel Exchange program--which sends Reform high-schoolers to study in Israel for a semester--continued strong in 2001-2002, with a full class in the fall and nineteen students in the spring semester. For the first time, students in the three-year Meitav Fellowship for Reform Leadership program for highly motivated and spiritually curious high-schoolers were part of EIE. And Reform college students visited Israel in December and January through the international birthright israel program.
The year 2001 also saw the growth of Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice, the UAHC's campaign to educate and mobilize American Jewry to support peace efforts and social justice projects in Israel. As part of the initiative, the UAHC published Expanding the Conversation, a four-part series examining "final status issues" between Israelis and Palestinians; expanded a listserv and a Seeking Peace website that drew thousands of hits; and released a preliminary synagogue resource guide, which recommends programming, books, films, and websites relating to peace in the Middle East.
People in the
Rabbi Daniel Freelander, UAHC director of program, was elected vice president. He will oversee the Union's education and youth programs while continuing to provide direction to the UAHC Press and Transcontinental Music Publications. Rabbi Elliott Kleinman, director of the UAHC Northeast Lakes Council, is moving to New York to take over Rabbi Freelander's responsibilities; as director of program, he will oversee the program departments as well as the program of the Biennial.
Rabbi Allan Smith, who served as Youth Division director for more than thirty years and oversaw theexpansion of the UAHC's camping program, will be retiring at the close of the summer season. Rabbi Andrew Davis, associate director of the Youth Division, and Paul Reichenbach, director of Israel programs, will be taking his place as co-directors. In addition, Edith Miller, assistant to the UAHC president for thirty years, will be retiring in June.
Elsewhere, Rabbi David Ellenson, a professor of Jewish Religious Thought at HUC-JIR, was named president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Rabbi Uri Regev, formerly executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, became the executive director of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Also this year, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism celebrated its fortieth anniversary and the American Conference of Cantors celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.
Editor's note: We will return to our regular "UAHC & You" format in the Fall 2002 edition.
Copyright © 2002, Union of American Hebrew Congregations