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Emily Grotta
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Read the full text of Rabbi Yoffie's Biennial sermon


REFORM MOVEMENT LEADER CALLS FOR GRASSROOTS EFFORT TO EMBRACE ISRAEL AND WORLD JEWRY

REFORM JEWS TO PROMOTE RELIGIOUS LIFE IN EUROPE, FSU, ISRAEL ALSO CALLS FOR 10 MINUTES OF TORAH DAILY

(MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 8) -- Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the Reform Movement, today called for a renewed commitment to world Jewry as he asked synagogue leaders to build the Movement in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Israel.

Yoffie also called on Reform Jews to spend 10 minutes a day studying a Jewish text, adopt a curriculum to prepare students for college, and join with a church to institute serious interfaith dialogue.

"We have a problem," Yoffie told the 4,500 people gathered for the Reform Movement's Biennial convention. "American Jews have less and less feeling for peoplehood," he said. "What happens to Jews in Israel and elsewhere around the world does not seem to be in any way central to their lives."

But he railed against those who see Judaism as something strictly personal. "There is no such thing as Lone Ranger Judaism," Yoffie said. "Our people are an extended family, and our family is under siege."

"We know that ultimately our extended Jewish family is only as strong as its shared religious heritage. Therefore, our primary task is to support synagogues and to promote religious life wherever Jewish life is found," he said.

To promote religious life, Yoffie is asking every synagogue to choose one of three projects chosen by the Union, and to raise $18 a year from each member to accomplish them. The project will raise funds to:

  • Complete the construction of Reform synagogues in Modi'in and Mevasseret Zion
  • Provide scholarships to Israeli rabbinic students for their last two years and then pay them stipends for two years while they establish new Progressive synagogues.
  • Send teams of rabbis, cantors, and educators to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to train lay leaders who are establishing congregations in those areas.

"Over the next ten years this movement-wide, grassroots campaign will change the face of the Jewish world," Yoffie said.

Yoffie, who has called on Reform Jews to increase their Jewish literacy, revitalize their worship, and deepen religious school curriculum, called for every Reform Jew to spend 10 minutes a day studying a Jewish text that the Union will provide by e-mail.

"Who among us is so busy that he cannot spend 10 minutes a day in the study of a Jewish text," Yoffie. said. "If the answer is 'I can't find 10 minutes,' let me suggest that we need to take a good look at our priorities," he said.

Yoffie also urged congregations to implement a new curriculum "Packing for College: Where Does Judaism Fit?" designed to help students as through the application process as well as prepare them for the challenges they will face when they get to college. And he urged congregations to join with churches in their community for interreligious dialogue to promote interfaith understanding and combat anti-Semitism. Four denominations -- the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- have agreed to urge their members to cooperate. The Union has prepared a seven-session curriculum to guide the conversation.

Turning to the Mideast, Yoffie praised President Bush for his support of Israel and asked the Administration to stay involved in finding a way to make a two state solution a reality.

American Jews cannot and should not dictate what a final peace agreement should look like, Yoffie said, but he cautioned that there will be no final agreement if settlement growth does not stop, and he called on the Government of Israel to dismantle illegal outposts and freeze all other settlement activity.

Yoffie, who said the Movement has long supported a two-state solution, noted that the number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza doubled from 115,000 to 230,000 in just one decade. "If settlement growth continues, in a very short time the Jewish and Palestinian populations will be so intertwined that separation will be impossible," he said. "In fact, it is very nearly too late. With every passing day, a two-state solution becomes more difficult and a single-state solution more likely." And if that were to occur, very soon the Arabs will become a majority, and this will mean the end of Israel, he said.

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The Union for Reform Judaism is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. UAHC services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.

 
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