A Statement by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie World Union for Progressive Judaism International Convention Washington, D.C. President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations March 15, 2001
The World Union for Progressive Judaism has gone through some difficult times. At times I thought that it would come apart. But it was kept together by a President of grace, dignity, and extraordinary resolve.
In the most difficult times he was a voice of calm and reason. When hard decisions had to be made, he made them. He signed on as a volunteer, but for long periods of times ended up doing the work of a professional -- and the hours and the effort he put in far exceeded what anyone could reasonably expect of him. And it goes without saying that he was as generous with his resources as he was with his time.
This was a moment in history when the World Union required inspired leadership, and you were blessed with just such a leader. We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Austin Beutel.
What is the mission of the World Union for Progressive Judaism? It is a mission that is subtle and complex.
In a movement with a history of sensitivity to universal and ethical concerns, it is we who are the proud proponents of a common Jewish community of faith and peoplehood. In a movement that once set itself apart from other Jews, it is we who are the passionate advocates of the principle of K'lal Yisrael - the belief that the Jewish people is indivisible, that we are linked by covenant and history, and implicated in each other's destiny and fate. And in a movement with strands of anti-Zionism and non-Zionism in its past, it is we who say that Israel is an indispensable part of our people's common destiny, and that without Israel Jewish life cannot be sustained.
This, then, is our mission: it is we who give voice, even more loudly and insistently than others in our movement, to our belief in the totality and interdependence of the Jewish people. And furthermore, unlike many others around the world with similar convictions, we believe that the concept of the Jews being one people is a religious idea, and not an ethnic or political one. It is an idea rooted in covenant, in Torah, and in religious commitment and faith. And we know that strengthening Jewish peoplehood means reviving the religious ideas on which these notions are based.
In short, we are ohavei Yisrael -- lovers of Israel, land and people. Lovers of Israel in the old-fashioned way, for better or worse, until death do us part. I am not suggesting that others in our movement do not share this love; they do. But for us, ahavat Yisrael is at the heart of our identity and is our very reason for being.
But --and this is the hard part - at the same time that we assert a shared sense of peoplehood and common destiny for Jews everywhere, we also recognize the exceedingly diverse and pluralistic nature of that people. In fact, we celebrate that diversity. In response to those who regret the existence of competing religious and secular ideologies, as if contentious debate were a destructive force leading to Jewish strife and disarray, we point out that Jews are the most variegated people on earth, and that religious and ideological differences define us and make us stronger. For every Shammai we need a Hillel, for every Litvak a Hasid, for every Orthodox Jew a Liberal Jew. Indeed, we are suspicious of calls for "unity" because we have hardly ever been truly united, and we cannot help but notice that those who call for unity always seem to be talking about uniting behind principles that are right-wing and Orthodox. The passionate particularism of our religious and ideological movements is precisely what keeps us vibrant and alive, and assures our survival. And we are committed to building and sustaining those Reform institutions that make this particularism possible.
I recognize the paradox here. We carry the flag of a single Jewish people, and, at the same time, we carry the flag of diversity and pluralism and of a proud liberal Judaism. This can be confusing to others, and even to ourselves. I recognize that it may not always be easy to walk this line. There will be times when we give priority to our liberal values and movement concerns, always arguing our case with civility and without rancor, even if others are not so constrained. And there will be times when we give priority to peoplehood concerns, especially at moments of emergency and crisis when all Jews must join together in coalition and common cause, and when differences must in fact be put aside. Nonetheless, carrying these two flags, simultaneously, is our primary task, and the reason for the World Union's existence. Those who would carry only one flag or the other do not understand the complexity and the dynamics of Jewish life today, and would condemn us to failure.
Having explained our mission as I understand it, I turn now to our achievements and challenges.
In the sessions yesterday evening and this morning, we discussed the achievements of our world movement. By any standard, they are impressive.
I was ordained a rabbi in 1974, slightly more than a quarter century ago. It is extraordinary to see how far we have come in that quarter century.
In 1974, the World Union had only recently moved its international headquarters to Jerusalem, and the full impact of the move was not yet apparent. The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism was tiny and utterly without influence; its spiritual leadership was provided by a handful of courageous Diaspora rabbis who had made aliyah but who enjoyed little institutional support. The Hebrew Union College had just made the welcome decision to require its American students to study in Israel for a year, but it had no training program for Israeli rabbis. On the political and legal front, there was no Reform voice of any consequence in Israel. The World Union office in New York was small, with minimal staff and resources, and the World Union presence in the rest of the Diaspora was similarly modest. Progressive Judaism had only the most peripheral connection to the worldwide Zionist movement. Reform Judaism in the Soviet Union did not exist at all.
And today? The Progressive movement in Israel has been utterly transformed. The Hebrew Union College has been revived and energized by its new Dean, Rabbi Michael Marmur, and it is now expanding its Israeli rabbinical program. The Israel Religious Action Center is the major player in the legal struggle for religious rights, and its director, Rabbi Uri Regev, is a household name in Israel. Schools and settlements have been built. True, we are far from being a grassroots force in Israel, but at least we can reasonably aspire to become one. And the development of large synagogue centers in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa is particularly important and encouraging. And of course the entire structure is anchored by the remarkable campus that has come into being in Jerusalem, due to the untiring efforts of Rabbi Richard Hirsch.
In New York, the World Union's one-person office has given way to a large and impressive organizational presence with an unwieldy name, ARZA-World Union North America, headed so effectively by Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch. In eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, a virtual miracle has occurred; prodded and assisted by Menachem Leibowitz and Rabbi Joel Oseran, Reform organizations and institutions have sprung up in community after community. And, of course, Reform Judaism is now a leading force in the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, organizations that we did not join in force until the late 1970's.
My summary is far from exhaustive, and for lack of time I have left out many achievements and names that deserve mentioning. Still, who can deny the awe-inspiring leap that we have made? In slightly more than 25 years, a period that is not even a blip on the timeline of the Jewish people, a movement once both universal and insular has embraced the Land of Israel and the entirety of the Jewish people with a love and enthusiasm that would have been difficult to contemplate a half century ago.
And so are we satisfied? Not even remotely so.
In fact, I would suggest that we are in a bit of a crisis right now. And the reason, perhaps, it that we have leapt ahead with such lightning speed that we have been unable to assimilate the unsettling effects of this dramatic turn.
Let me be clear: the direction in which we have moved, and in which the World Union has helped to move us, is a blessing in every respect. There is no reason to doubt the correctness of our cause. Nonetheless, even our movement, the most creative and dynamic and change-oriented movement in the Jewish world, has not found this transition to be an easy one. And this should not surprise us. It took 40 years before the Israelites could cast off the mentality of slaves. Human nature changes slowly, and God never intervenes to change it miraculously. The Torah, after all, did not legislate an ideal society, but presented the recently-liberated Israelites with a path of gradual education toward a series of hard-to-reach ideals. We too should not expect a smooth or easy path to an orientation that is so thoroughly rooted in a commitment to Zionism and peoplehood.
So let us take a look at how we are doing, and I suggest that we not be easy on ourselves. As some of you know, I am fond of quoting the saying by Rabbi Irving Greenberg: "I don't care what stream of Judaism you belong to, as long as you are ashamed of it." All groups and organizations in Jewish life, including most definitely our own, must recognize their failures and limitations, and must engage in ongoing internal stock-taking. In order to help us do that, I would like to offer nine challenges that I believe we now face as an international movement.
Challenge Number 1: We must put an end to the internal bickering that has threatened to tear us apart in recent years, and in particular in the last 24 months.
A seemingly endless number of fault lines have emerged in our small and vulnerable international movement: There is tension between the Americans and the Europeans. There is tension between the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Americans. There is tension between the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the World Union. There is tension between the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and its own educational establishment. There is tension between the ARZA elements and the World Union elements of ARZA-World Union North America. There is tension between the Israel Religious Action Center and ARZA-World Union North America. There is tension between the Israel Religious Action Center and the Israel Movement.
And I have no doubt whatever that I have left three or four major sources of conflict off the list.
As I have already stated, we Jews are a contentious people; some say that we survive solely in order that we may finish our arguments. There is no reason to expect that Reform Jews are any different; and every Reform organization, including my own, has its share of internal conflict. Still, one would need to be deaf, blind, and dumb not to recognize that the internal tensions in Reform ranks have recently escalated to a new and utterly unacceptable level of hostility and bitterness that seems at times to obscure our common purpose and sense of shared destiny.
I do not have the time to offer detailed proposals, and I am not at all sure that I have the wisdom to do so. I recognize that it does not help for me to tell you that "we must all get along." But it seems to me that Rabbis Dow Marmur and Ammiel Hirsch, working together, are beginning to show us the way. And I believe that a key to finding a solution is a much more involved and assertive lay leadership in every arm of our movement, and a financial system that is completely transparent; when we all know how much is being raised by each of our partners, what commitments are made and what commitments are kept, where the money is going, and when it is being transferred, then we are able to minimize possible sources of misunderstanding.
Our movement understands and applauds when we argue over religious principles and grand ideals. But if it perceives that we are engaged in petty quarrels and battling over matters of turf and personality, it will turn its attention elsewhere. It deserves better, and we are fully capable of giving it to them.
Challenge Number 2: We must create a World Union presence in Western Europe.
The Reform Jews of North America are not in need of validation, encouragement, or support services. Reform Judaism in North America is the largest of the synagogue movements; it is currently enjoying fast growth, and is experiencing a religious revival. The 5000 delegates who attend our Biennial are a reminder, if we need one, of our strength and dominance. In Western Europe, of course, the situation is very different. Liberal Jews are everywhere a small minority, and our synagogues see their ties to other World Union communities as an essential means of avoiding isolation and demoralization. I would argue that there are indications there too of a religious revival and a Reform renaissance, due to the power of our religious ideology and due also to the extremist trends of Orthodoxy, which sadly are as evident there as they are everywhere else in the world. Young Jews and intermarried Jews and others searching for a connection to the sacred increasingly recognize that only we can provide them with the answers they seek.
But in response to these encouraging trends, the World Union has little to offer our growing European movement. Solidarity, common values, and volunteer spirit are not enough. Basic services must be provided as well. It is not reasonable to expect that Europe can be served from Jerusalem or New York.
At a time of severe financial strain, my proposal is a modest one: I am suggesting that a single professional, preferably a rabbi, be engaged to serve the Reform congregations of Western Europe. I suspect that most of the resources required can be found in Europe. I would recommend that this be done even if sacrifices must be made elsewhere. I believe that the benefit to the congregations involved and to the World Union will be immediate and dramatic. Our movement was born in Europe, and the World Union itself came into being there. We must all aspire to see Europe become, once again, a major center of Reform Jewish life.
Challenge Number 3: We must make it clear to our movement and to ourselves that building a Reform movement in Israel is our first and foremost goal.
Ours is a world movement, and there are many centers of Jewish life that deserve our attention. For a very long time there has been a healthy discussion in our ranks between those who feel that Israel must be the center of our concern, and those who argue that Israel is taking a disproportionate share of our time and resources. The growth of our movement in the former Soviet Union has renewed this debate and given it heightened importance. Obviously, this is not an "either/or" debate, and in a few moments, I will offer my thoughts on what must be done in Eastern Europe.
Still, in a small movement with limited resources, it seems to me that we need to have a clear sense of priorities, and never more so than now. And I suggest that there can be no question what our priorities must be. For reasons at once theological, historical, sociological, and practical, we need to understand that in the absence of a strong Reform presence in Israel, all else that we do is for naught.
Again, I will not attempt to make an extended argument for this point, other than to say that Israel supplies Jewish identity with a content and a direction and an overarching unity. Nowhere else can serve this function because nowhere else has for so long and so universally exercised its hold on the Jewish soul. And very, very soon, Israel will be the largest Jewish community in the world.
If there is no Reform Judaism in the former Soviet Union, it will be a tragedy. But if there is no Reform Judaism in the Jewish state, it will be a disaster. As Dick Hirsch has frequently reminded us, if there is no Reform presence in the Jewish state, Reform Judaism will move to the margins of Jewish history.
Jewish life cannot be sustained without Israel at its core, and Reform Judaism will not be sustained if it cannot make for itself a place in Israel. If we believe this assertion to be true, then it has practical and budgetary consequences for our organization that we must not hesitate to draw.
Challenge Number 4: We must raise much more money for movement institutions in Israel and Eastern Europe, as well as other Reform communities in distress.
This challenge is hardly new and the point is hardly profound. In the last 20 years, I have participated in countless meetings devoted to this question. Each time we took note of the urgent need, each time we pledged to get serious about our fundraising efforts.
Why then do I raise it again? Because we never did get serious, and because we face at this moment a particularly difficult situation.
I need to say a word about fundraising in North America, the largest and richest Diaspora community. Our failure to raise large sums of money for our world movement is due in some measure to the peculiar fundraising structure that exists here. Fundraising for Israel and world Jewry in need is done through our Federation structure. Reform Jews have always participated in Federation fundraising. We have encouraged communal participation by movement leaders, and we are proud of their prominence in Federation/UJA ranks. (That structure has now been renamed, and operates under the United Jewish Communities banner.) However, unlike some other Diaspora communities, there was never a tradition of the American UJA giving funds to Reform or Conservative religious institutions, even when the great majority of UJA leadership came from Reform and Conservative ranks. In the middle 1980?s, in response to pressure on the UJA orchestrated by ARZA, the Jewish Agency began making grants to our programs and institutions in Israel. Over the last 15 years, the Federation/UJA world has allocated a total of between $20 and $30 million to our cause. The problem is that even after all these years, there is still strong resistance in community ranks to providing these funds to non-Orthodox religious institutions, and the recent restructuring of the Federation apparatus makes it possible, if not likely, that the allocations will soon be cut back or discontinued. If this happens, our Israeli movement will face a major crisis, and many of the advances that we have made so painstakingly will be wiped out.
What this means is that North American Reform Jewry, and all of Diaspora Reform Jewry, must mobilize to replace the funds that potentially will be lost.
In this regard, I would like to praise ARZA/World Union North America for its recent efforts. A new organization, it has frequently been criticized for spending too much on fundraising infrastructure, and for not showing immediate and dramatic results. But in fact, it is raising more money, and more important, it is going about fundraising in the proper way. It has recognized what we all know but are sometimes reluctant to admit: fundraising is very difficult, and only works when staff and resources are available to make it work. I believe that ARZA/World Union North America needs to be encouraged, and indeed I suspect that other Diaspora communities will only succeed by emulating its examples and putting professional fundraisers in place in Europe, Australia, and South America.
I would note, in passing, that ARZA/World Union North America has been less successful in grassroots educational efforts and in building a grassroots base for its fundraising work. In the world in which we live, we can take nothing for granted: yes, we must reach out to individuals of substance, but we must also educate our members in the drama of Israel and in the adventure of Reform Jewish life around the world.
Challenge Number 5: We must create the expectation that all Reform Jewish communities, including the communities in Israel and the former Soviet Union, will find the resources to maintain themselves financially.
I have just discussed our obligation as a world Reform movement to support Reform communities in need. We all know that under any conceivable scenario, our institutions in Israel and Eastern Europe will not survive in the near term without generous financial backing from North America, Western Europe, Australia, and South America. Still, I assert without contradiction that it is the obligation of each community in our international movement to develop a plan for assuming financial responsibility for its own needs, to pay a portion of those needs from the very beginning, and to implement the plan progressively over a reasonable and agreed-upon number of years.
I commend the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism that has moved in precisely this direction, and I hope that this pattern will continue in Israel and will be adopted elsewhere.
The need for such an approach, I believe, is self-evident. Communities that become totally dependent on the world Reform movement for their subsistence lose their self-respect and have no incentive to develop an indigenous volunteer leadership or to sacrifice internally for their own religious needs. After an appropriate start-up period, a synagogue or other institution that is not willing to offer at least partial support for its own up-keep has no right to expect such support from others. In the pre-Zionist period, the fervently religious community in Palestine was utterly dependent on a haluka system that left it incapable of independent action; the early Zionists rejected this model in favor of a rigorous self-reliance. We do not need or want a new haluka system anywhere in the Reform world.
Challenge Number 6: We must open a Reform seminary in Moscow, or elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, no later than two years from now.
The development of a major Reform community anywhere in the world has always followed the creation of a seminary to train Reform rabbis in that community. Volunteers, we know, play an essential role, and volunteer leadership is more essential now than ever. Nonetheless, we also know, and have always known, that the rabbinic voice provides the Reform synagogue with its inner pulse and power and lights our Jewish lives with the flame of faith. Our synagogues, after all, are Torah-based institutions, and Jewish life simply cannot be sustained or transmitted without teachers of Torah.
Isaac Mayer Wise understood that a progressive American Judaism would only be possible when there were locally-trained progressive rabbis, and he therefore founded the Hebrew Union College in 1873, with active lay support. Similarly, the decision of HUC to ordain Israeli rabbis remains the critical turning point in the development of Israeli progressive Judaism. If we intend to foster a meaningful Reform presence in the FSU, we cannot hope to do so by deploying teachers and para-rabbis, no matter how well intentioned. Neither can we depend on rabbis from abroad; the World Union, despite begging and pleading and offering every incentive imaginable, has simply been unable to find a sufficient number of rabbis who are both competent and willing to serve.
I am not an expert in matters of the FSU, and I understand that much is happening there that is worthwhile and encouraging. Nonetheless, I suggest that virtually everything that we do there will amount to nothing if we cannot find a regular and reliable source of rabbinic leadership - and this means a rabbinical seminary.
I know that the Leo Baeck College has been training Russian students in London, and I applaud this as an interim step. I also know that Hebrew Union College and Leo Baeck College are discussing the possibility of a program in Russia, and they have sent a mission to the Moscow to consider how a seminary might be created. I thank them for these efforts, and I urge them to move quickly. My fear is that with the best of motives we will dither and fall victim to bureaucratic inertia - that we will set up endless committees to study the situation and then decide to study it some more. Yes, this is an important initiative, and we want it to be done carefully and well. But let us be honest and straightforward about the urgent nature of the problem. We simply cannot afford to wait five years to set up a seminary, and then another five years for the first class to graduate. We must expedite this process, and if necessary, expedite the course of study as well. Let's remember: Isaac Mayer Wise began the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati with a handful of very young students and a few books. We must follow his example. We can make necessary corrections and adjustments as we go along.
Challenge Number 7: We must resist the temptation in Israel to be bought off and co-opted by Orthodox forces interested only in maintaining their own dominance.
I have already stated that the most important work of this movement is advancing the cause of Progressive Judaism in Israel, and I believe that in a generation, or two at most, liberal Judaism can become a major religious and spiritual force in the lives of many Israelis. But this will happen only if we do not permit the Orthodox establishment to co-opt us and at the same time relegate us to a subservient and dependent position. A substantial percentage of Israelis revile the Orthodox bureaucracy, which they associate with corrupt politics and religious extremism. Our appeal comes precisely from the fact that we are different, completely independent, and free to operate according to progressive religious values. Permit me to be perfectly blunt: if, out of a desire for a modicum of recognition and political acceptance, we become the lap dogs of the Orthodox bureaucracy, we will destroy our credibility, compromise our principles, and undermine our movement's future.
As many of you know, I believe that our association with the so-called Ne'eman conversion process has had precisely this result. While a detailed description of events is not possible here, the heart of the matter is this: we have agreed to participate in a process that is seen both in Israel and the Diaspora as "solving" the conversion crisis. Most Israelis believe this, including our allies in the Knesset, and in North America at least, most of our own members believe it. The only problem is that our participation gives us no role whatever in the actual conversion; we simply help to teach a course to potential converts that Orthodox and Conservative Jews also teach. For this minor role we are supposed to be thankful, but we have no say in the conversion itself, which is the responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate does not talk to us, or sit with us, or recognize us in any way. It can convert, or not convert, anyone it wants, for any reason. And it asserts that our role in the course has absolutely no impact one way or another on its decision to convert, or not convert, course graduates. How is this a victory for us? And, most important of all, what kind of a self-respecting religious movement participates in a process that gives others the right to convert while denying that right to itself, especially if the converting authority refuses to cooperate with us in any way?
Of course, if the Chief Rabbinate were interested in serious compromise and real cooperation, we would be interested too. The original Ne'eman recommendation proposed just such a plan, but the Chief Rabbinate rejected it, and has rejected all overtures since. Under the circumstances, it is my belief that we should avoid the taint of association with a discredited Rabbinate and with a conversion process that, for us, is more humiliation than achievement. I recognize that there is a political dimension to this, and that withdrawal from such a program must be done carefully and at an appropriate time. Nonetheless, I believe that there have been ample opportunities to execute a withdrawal, and both our religious principles and our interests suggest that we should do so.
I hasten to acknowledge that this is an Israeli matter that rests entirely in the hands of the Israeli rabbinate. They decide; we do not, just as we decide conversion practices in our own communities. Still, the purpose of this convention is to allow for the exchange of views and concerns among the different branches of our movement. And my view is that our acceptance of the invitation to participate in the conversion program is a dangerous precedent that, if carried further, would limit our ability to reach those most open to our message. Let us beware.
Challenge Number 8: We must foster a sense of shelichut - that is, mission and service - among our members and young people to the world Reform community
I disagree with Chabad about practically everything, but I envy the commitment of their young men and women who fan out across the world to save Jewish communities that are isolated or in need. This mesirut is admirable in every way; but it is rarer outside of Chabad and surely does not exist in our own ranks. Our commitment to peoplehood, about which I have spoken, does not translate into a willingness to serve Reform communities in places that are desperate for more teachers and rabbis.
As I indicated, we need a rabbinical seminary in Russia and more rabbis everywhere. Still, I would hope that we could also find a way to encourage members of our movement - rabbis and others - to serve for two years in Reform communities around the world. It would broaden their perspective, energize our movement, and give hope to struggling communities that feel alone and abandoned. I share the thinking of Rabbi Shim Maslin that the best way to do this would be for every Reform seminary in the world to require two years of service for its graduates, and for the rabbinical organizations to make membership contingent upon seeing this requirement fulfilled. I concede, however, that at this moment, there is no prospect of this happening.
As an alternative, perhaps we need to think of other forms of extended, person-to-person contact. We have attempted a variety of twinning projects in the past, but they have rarely been successful and they rarely extend beyond check-writing. At best, we have managed a few UJA-style missions, where Reform Jews are whisked in and out of the FSU or Israel. Perhaps we need to follow the model established by Temple Sholom in Succasunna, New Jersey, which has developed an intimate and intense relationship with a community in the Ukraine. Perhaps we need to encourage large congregations with more than one rabbi to lend a rabbi to the FSU for a period of at least six months.
The argument is often made that such projects are more trouble than they are worth, and that our focus should be exclusively on fundraising. But I believe that this is a mistake. If K'lal Yisrael remains an abstraction, or is reduced to check-writing, it will never capture the imagination of our members. It must have a tactile, personal, face-to-face dimension; otherwise, we can never hope to win the lasting allegiance of Reform Jews for our cause.
Challenge Number 9: We must see our participation in the World Zionist Organization in the proper perspective.
When we entered the WZO in the late 1970's, many of us had high hopes. We thought that the traditional Zionist parties really wanted to revive the organization. We thought that they were truly interested in a democratic, grassroots Zionist movement. We thought that they had concerns that extended beyond "who gets what department." Generally speaking, we were wrong. Organizational reform was not high on the agenda. Democracy was not high on the agenda. And we were seen by all concerned - the right, the left, the center - as intruders with claims on their delegates, rather than partners in Zionist renewal. The Zionist movement today is in terminal decline, with mostly unimpressive leadership who do not even believe themselves in a future for the WZO. What is left of the WZO, and it is not much, is totally controlled by the Jewish Agency and its fundraising elements.
Do not misunderstand. I am immensely grateful to those in our movement who have toiled in the WZO vineyard, representing our cause and our interests under difficult conditions. We were right to go in and we were right to stay, if only because it gives us access to the Jewish Agency table and that funding that we so critically need. If there are elections, we must be certain that we win.
But we must cast aside any illusions we once had. The WZO is - in most matters - irrelevant to the State of Israel and irrelevant to us. We should do what we need to do to maintain our standing, but we can no longer afford to spend our time and energy attempting to revive an organization that will not be revived and whose day has passed. That time should be spent in the challenging and exacting work of movement-building in Israel, the FSU, and throughout the world
These then are the challenges to our world movement as I perceive them. They are daunting challenges, to be sure, but not at all beyond our reach.
We Reform Jews, in our relatively brief history, have responded to every new set of challenges, to every crisis, with renewal. Heirs to one of the world's oldest faiths, we - more so than any other movement - have remained perennially young, creative, vibrant, and revolutionary.
And there is every reason for us to be filled with hope. I believe that at this moment, liberal Judaism - and liberal Judaism alone - can provide the bridge between the complexities of modern life and the sacred values of our tradition. I believe that Reform Jews at this moment are moved by a fervent desire for a single vision and a shared future. I believe that Reform Jews at this moment are ready to affirm the unity of the Jewish people across time and space.
So let us build on this desire and this affirmation.
And with creative ideas and fresh voices, I have no doubt that we can raise the sights and the morale of our movement and advance the cause of our homeland and our people.