2013, San Diego, CA -- The Union for Reform Judaisms 72nd Biennial
conference concluded yesterday in San Diego after five days of intensive learning,
praying and community-building. Over the course of
the Biennial, attendees engaged in important conversations about Israel
engagement, the challenges facing the advancement of women, worship
innovations, managing congregations, and much more.
In his keynote
address to the Biennial, URJ President Rabbi Jacobs discussed
the power of practicing audacious hospitality, inclusion and outreach; new
youth engagement initiatives; the importance of social justice; intensified
Israel-Diaspora relations; and perseverance of our efforts for religious
pluralism in Israel. He challenged
the nearly 5,000 Jewish leaders in attendance to look to the future with
confidence to build a more vibrant, richer Jewish life for our
people and communities. He implored the gathering to articulate an audacious vision of the way the world can become.
Rabbi Jacobs also
unveiled bold plans for youth engagement, beginning with outreach to families
with young children through a new, robust project with PJ Library, supported by
the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and several new endeavors to engage children
and teens including:
Integrating, expanding and deepening all youth
programs -- including 14 overnight camps, NFTY, and Israel initiatives -- into
year-round offerings with on-ramps for all teens, including those whose
families are not members of URJ congregations.
Expanding NFTY, the Reform youth movement, to
include 6th, 7th and 8th graders, partnering
with congregations to build a vital bridge to post-bnai mitzvah involvement.
Launching URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, the URJs
14th overnight camp, opening this summer outside Boston.
He added that an
essential piece of rebooting this system will be to attract, train, and retain
a new generation of well-educated, innovative youth professionals. Rabbi Jacobs
thanked the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Marcus Foundation, the Crown Family Philanthropies, for their partnership
and support in the URJs youth engagement efforts.
Rabbi Jacobs also
announced a new partnership between the URJ and Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Institutes of Religion (HUC-JIR). So much of our shared future is in forging
new leadership. We will be moving many of our New York-based URJ youth
professionals downtown to the first floor of HUCs Greenwich Village campus.
The visionaries of our new youth strategy are going to interface every day with
HUCs students, faculty, and administrators on all three North American
relations was a frequent topic of discussion throughout the Biennial. Rabbi Jacobs said:
We dont speak as supplicants but rather as partners, in this redemptive,
revitalizing project of the Jewish people.
The bonds that link Israel and the Diaspora are mutually strengthening,
and must grow even deeper. We will not stop and we will not be stopped.
The bonds between Israel and the Diaspora were underscored when Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the plenum this morning via
satellite from Jerusalem saying, "While
the Wall may be in Israel," he said, it belongs to all of you, it belongs
to you and to all the Jewish people, and I am committed to making sure that all
Jews feel at home in our holiest site.
Prime Minister Netanyahu applauded
Rabbi Jacobs for his role in advocating for equality at the Kotel, which he
about what Israel has always stood for and what it will always stand for, that
Israel is and must continue to be the homeland of the entire Jewish people.
That's the place where all Jews, including Reform Jews, experience nothing less
than audacious hospitality."
Earlier in the
week, Rabbi Jacobs expressed that the Kotel was only the beginning of the fight
for religious pluralism in Israel. The Kotel is symbolically important, he
said, but our appetite for pluralism and religious freedom extends way beyond
those ancient stones. The time is long overdue for equality to reign throughout
the State of Israel. Because of our deep
love for, and commitment to, the ideals of the Jewish State, we insist on
equality not just at the Western Wall, but also in rabbinical courts, under the
bridal canopy, at funerals, in conversions, in the founding and funding of our
congregations, he continued to applause.
also heard from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden through a video message. Vice
President Biden embraced the Reform Movements focus on important issues such
as immigration reform, gun control, and disability rights.
President Biden also underscored the Obama Administrations commitment to
Israel and stated, No U.S. president has done more for Israel than President
Obama. In a reference to President Obamas shout-out to NFTY during
his 2011 Biennial address, Biden opened the video saying that President Obama
asked specifically for NFTY.
week, delegates shared ideas with one another and heard from experts in a
variety of fields to think of bold, new ways to address the challenges and
opportunities facing the Reform Movement. Rabbi Jacobs encouraged the body to
be audacious in addressing the future of the Jewish people. I say to you at
this beginning of a new chapter of Jewish life: hazak hazak vnitchazek. Be strong, be strong, and let us all
strengthen each other. Look to the
future with confidence, for ours is an awesome agenda.
In the midst of the awesome and audacious Biennial
agenda, the 5,000 participants came together to celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish
Sabbath. Beginning Friday evening, the tenor of the Biennial changed to one of
renewal and sacred worship. A Friday night service and song session, brought
attendees to their feet in jubilant prayer, song and dance. The Saturday
morning service, led by Rabbi
Rick Jacobs and Rabbi/Cantor Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in New York
City, and featuring a commentary on the week's Torah portion from retiring
HUC-JIR President Rabbi David Ellenson, was more interactive than past
Biennials. Congregants were able to approach any of 13 platforms around the
plenary hall to read aliyot
(blessings over the Torah) and delegates stood in their seats to perform moving
prayer as instructed by dancer, choreographer and URJ Faculty Member Liz
was an incredible week, said Rabbi Jacobs. I hope the delegates and those who
participated at home by watching streaming videos or by interacting on social
media feel as invigorated by this conference as I do. I come away from this
Biennial feeling more certain than ever before that great things are in store
for our Movement
more information and to see video highlights and photos, visit the Biennial website.