Rabbi Eric Yoffie Outlines Agenda for Reform Jews: Health Care, Muslim Dialogue and Increased Shabbat Observance
SAN DIEGO, Dec. 15, 2007Reform Jews at the largest Jewish convention in North America were urged to return to their homes and become community activists, advocating for universal health care in their state and opening dialogue with Muslims in their communities.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, also urged them to work to increase Shabbat observance in their homes and congregations, saying todays stressed-out, sleep-deprived families need a day when they stop running around long enough to see what God is doing. (See related release at www.urj.org/pr ) And he spoke of the need to build an unconditional, non-negotiable and utterly independent of any particular government or policy connection to Israel.
Rabbi Yoffies sermon at Shabbat morning worship here has come to be seen as a state of the Union speech for the Reform Movement, which is holding its Biennial convention in San Diego. Close to 6,000 people from synagogues across North America, as well as many Progressive Jews from as far away as Australia, come for five-days of learning, worship and renewal.
Yoffie, who was the first major Jewish leader to address a major Muslim group when he spoke to the convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) over the Labor Day weekend, announced a new partnership between the Union and ISNA and urged all Reform Jews to become knowledgeable about Islam. (See address given by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of ISNA, at the Union's Biennial).
As a as a once-persecuted minority in countries where anti-Semitism is still a force, we understand the plight of Muslims in North America today, he said. Yes, thank God, most American and Canadian Muslims are treated with dignity. But since 9/11, we do not lack for purveyors of hate who see Muslims as a fifth column and who engage in the ugliest form of stereotyping, casually ascribing to all the guilt of a tiny minority.
We live in a world in which religion is manipulated to justify the most horrific acts, a world in whichmake no mistakeIslamic extremists constitute a profound threat, he said. For some, this is a reason to flee from dialogue, but in fact the opposite is true. When we are killing each other in the name of God, sensible religious people have an obligation to do something about it. Our task is to find the voices of moderation and to reclaim from the fanatics the true essence of religious belief.
Yoffie reported that synagogues and mosques in eleven communities have already agreed to pilot a dialogue program developed jointly with ISNA, and more partnerships are being formed. (See list of communities) Further, he urged every congregation to begin an adult study program about Islam using a new Union curriculum.
Turning to the topic of universal health care, for which the Reform Movement has long advocated, Yoffie urged a new tactic: a state-by-state campaign. And he eschewed efforts to find a single plan, but, rather, look to the states for new and innovative ways to address the problem.
Now is the time, he said. Every uninsured family is a catastrophe waiting to happen, he said. The time has long since passed when our leaders should have done what every other advanced country has somehow managed to do: provide all its citizens with essential health care.
But we can no longer to Washington for answers, Yoffie said. In light of federal failures to address this issue, most states are considering plans to cover uninsured residents.
He noted California, Maryland and Vermont are already looking for solutions, and that the Reform congregations in Massachusetts had played a critical role in the passage of that states plan. Congregations in states from Vermont to Utah have already been identified to coordinate the state-by-state effort, and Yoffie invited other Jewish organizations to join the campaign. And he also said he hoped young Jews who are outside Jewish communal life may see in the campaign a reason to participate.
Our young people are very wise, he said. They dont understand how Jews can pray for the sick every day and then do nothing to get health care to those who need it. In the end, if the Judaism we offer our young does not speak to the great moral issues of the world and of their lives, it will fail to capture their imagination or their hearts.
The Biennial convention, the largest gathering of Jews in North America, brought close to 6,000 Reform Jews to San Diego. The five-day meeting concludes on Sunday.
The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. Union services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. Note to editors: All information about Rabbi Yoffies initiatives can be found online at www.urj.org/biennial or www.urj.org/yoffie.