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September 1, 2014 | 6th Elul 5774

President Obama, Top U.S., Israeli Officials to Address Largest Conference of American Jews

New Reform Jewish Movement Leader to Address 5,000+ at URJ Biennial

New York – The largest gathering of North American Jews this year will hear from President Barack Obama, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, House Republican leader Representative Eric Cantor and welcome a new leader of the Reform Movement at the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Biennial conference near Washington, DC, beginning December 14th.

With record-high registration numbers, Biennial organizers expect nearly 6,000  participants  from over 500 congregations, representing 48 states, four Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia to honor outgoing URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie and to hear from URJ president-elect Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the new top professional leader, during five days of meetings at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center at National Harbor.

Coverage is invited and registration is required for members of the media interested in obtaining press credentials for the URJ Biennial, including for President Obama’s speech. Please register here.

Reform Jewish lay leaders and professionals, youth, congregants, and clergy will turn out in the thousands to learn, pray, share ideas, and deliberate about the policies of the Reform Movement. A teen contingent of more than 200 and nearly 500 young adults in their 20s and 30s will attend.

Marking the vibrancy of the largest American Jewish denomination in North America, highlights for the 2011 Biennial will include votes on resolutions that will shape and inform the direction of the Reform Movement for the next two years, and the unveiling of the Campaign for Youth Engagement, a unique drive to engage and enlist young Jews in their synagogues and their communities toward a deeper Jewish experience, and the largest Shabbat dinner in the world.

In addition to President Obama and Defense Minister Barak, participants will hear from noted speakers including Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky, clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Wendy Mogel, professor and author E.J. Dionne, and former Counselor to President Bill Clinton and president of NoLimits.org Ann F. Lewis

The gathering will mark the first time that President-elect Rabbi Jacobs and incoming Chairman Steve Sacks address the larger Movement. The Biennial will also commemorate the retirement of outgoing URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who served the Union for the past 16 years, and for Chairman of the Board Peter Weidhorn. In addition, there will be celebrations honoring the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's 50th anniversary and a tribute to one of the Reform Movement's musical icons, Debbie Friedman (z"l), who died earlier this year.

Rabbis Yoffie and Jacobs will have an on the record meeting with interested media on Wednesday, December 14 from 3:30 – 4:30 PM. Please indicate on your press registration form if you are interested in attending.

The URJ will give special honors to Founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure Ambassador Nancy Brinker, honorary life President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and founding director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism Rabbi Richard Hirsch, and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, who were on opposite sides of the Bush/Gore ballot debate in 2000, but joined together in 2009 to argue against Proposition 8 in California.

Underscoring the Reform Movement’s engagement with song and culture as a way to experience Jewish life and study, the Biennial will also feature a performance by renowned Israeli singer/songwriter David Broza and some of the Reform Movement’s brightest young stars including Josh Nelson, Craig Taubman, Rick Recht, Peri Smilow, Dan Nicholas, Chana Rothman, Rabbi Joe Black, Julie Silver and the quartet SoulAviv. Visit the Biennial website for a list of all the entertainers.

Additionally, some of the leading analysts and scholars in Jewish life today will engage participants in lively discussions about core issues facing contemporary Jewish life including sociologists Leonard Saxe, of Brandeis University, and Steven M. Cohen, of HUC-JIR. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the RAC, and William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and television commentator, will debate whether liberal or conservative values offer the best path to achieving the goals of Jewish values and security. Leaders of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, (IMPJ), including the director, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who exemplifies young Israeli-born Reform rabbis today and Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center and a notable expert on civil rights and liberties, women’s rights and other issues of critical importance in Israel today will also address the group.

“The 2011 Biennial will showcase the vibrancy of the Reform Jewish movement that continues to buck the trend of religious denominations in North America by experiencing steady growth,” said Biennial Chair Carole Sterling of Toronto. “Our biennial is not just another conference. We learn, pray and wrestle together with the critical issues facing our world, our countries and our faith while building an even stronger community of Reform Jews.”

Despite tough economic times, thousands of participants will be traveling from far and wide because they feel the energy of the Reform Movement and want to be a part of it.”

“With the unveiling of the Campaign for Youth Engagement and the transition to a new president, the Reform Jewish community is moving into a new vibrant era that relies upon the strength of our past and the promise of our future. The Biennial represents the community behind this momentum,” said URJ Chairman of the Board Peter Weidhorn.

In addition to more than 150 learning sessions, program highlights include:

Wed. Dec. 14
8:15–10:15 P.M. Plenary
Potomac Ballroom
•           Speakers: Dr. Wendy Mogel and Natan Sharansky
•           Tribute to Debbie Friedman (z”l) and Presentation of Inaugural Debbie Friedman Award for Contributions to Jewish Music to Theodore Bikel

Thurs. Dec. 15

8:45–10:15 A.M. Plenary
Potomac Ballroom
•           Speaker: Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA)
•           Presentation of the Maurice N. Eisendrath Award to Ambassador Nancy Brinker and Rabbi Richard Hirsch

2:00–3:30 P.M. Forums


Campaign for Youth Engagement: Committing to the Jewish Future

Potomac Ballroom
Presenters: Rabbis Rick Jacobs, Jonah Pesner, and Eric Yoffie (URJ); Rabbi David Ellenson, President (HUC-JIR); Wayne Firestone, President (Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life); Forrest Yesnes, President (NFTY)

The People Demand Social Justice: A New Era in the Pursuit of Social Justice and Equal Rights in the Jewish State

National Harbor 2–3
Presenters: Anat Hoffman, Executive Director, Israel Religious Action Center, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Director, Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism

The Changing Landscape of Jewish Life and its Implications for Reform Judaism: Two Views

National Harbour 10–11
Presenters: Professor Steven M. Cohen, Ph.D and Professor Leonard Saxe

Liberalism, Conservatism: Which Better Furthers Jewish Values and Jewish Interests?
Woodrow Wilson Ballroom
Presenters: William Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard and television commentator, Rabbi David Saperstein, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

8:15–10:15 P.M. Plenary
Potomac Ballroom
•           Presentation of the Maurice N. Eisendrath “Bearer of Light” Award to David Boies and Ted Olson Focus on Future Leaders
•           Speaker: The Honorable Ehud Barak, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense
•           Resolutions Debate

Friday, December 16

12:45–3:00 P.M. Plenary
Potomac Ballroom
•           Chairman’s Address: Peter J. Weidhorn, Chairman, URJ Board of Trustees
•           Campaign for Youth Engagement Kickoff: Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of Presidential Transition, URJ
•           The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: Celebrating 50 Years of Social Justice Leadership
•           Keynote Address The Honorable Barack Obama President of the United States

6:15–7:15 P.M. Kabbalat Shabbat Service
Potomac Ballroom

7:45–9:45 P.M. Shabbat Dinner
Prince George’s Exhibit Halls

Saturday, December 17

10:00 A.M.–12:30 P.M. Shabbat Morning Services
Potomac Ballroom
Presidential Sermon: Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
9:00–10:30 P.M. HAVDALAH (End of Shabbat)
Potomac Ballroom
A Tribute to Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, featuring entertainment by David Broza and friends

Sunday, December 18

8:45–10:30 A.M. Closing Plenary and Address by Rabbi Jacobs
Potomac Ballroom
Remarks: Stephen Sacks, Chairman-elect, URJ Board of Trustees, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President-elect, URJ

Visit the URJ Biennial website for more information and a printable schedule.

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