Progressive Judaism in Israel is growing rapidly as Israelis all over the country are seeking a new kind of Judaism that provides spiritual fulfillment and incorporates modern realities. In Israel, however, where religious affiliation and daily realities are very different than in North America, building progressive Judaism requires a fresh and unique approach. In turn, this approach requires strong leadership. This project will help selected rabbinical students pay tuition at Hebrew Union College--Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem and, once they are ordained, start new Reform Jewish projects in Israel. The sponsorship will also pay these rabbis' salaries for two years, while they work to create innovative and self- sustaining programs.
Building Reform Synagogues in Israel
Progressive congregations are emerging and growing in cities throughout Israel. So many lack the most basic of congregational needs -- a place to meet and worship. Kehilat Yozma, whose name in Hebrew means "initiative" and is also an acronym for Yahadut Z'maneinu, Moreshet Ha'Am -- Judaism of Our Time, Heritage of Our People -- is a blossoming Reform community committed to providing a spiritually relevant, values-based community for today's Israelis. Yozma, which is led by Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon (Israel's first female rabbi), is located in Modi'in, a new and growing city in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where the Maccabees battled the Syrians for religious freedom more than 2,000 years ago. Kehilat Yozma is one of Israel's fastest-growing Progressive communities. Yozma has about 150 member families, but its diverse programs, including Shabbat and festival services, activity groups and programs for children, b'nei mitzvah courses, and life-cycle ceremonies, serve hundreds more.
Kehilat Mevasseret Zion is a growing Progressive congregation located just outside Jerusalem in the Judean Hills. Founded in 1993 by 6 families, the congregation has grown to more than 130 families and has evolved from meeting in private homes for prayer to holding services in the local junior high school.
The community, led by Rabbi Maya Leibovich, the first Israeli-born female rabbi, is committed to building a Progressive congregation with and for its children, educating unaffiliated Jews about Progressive Judaism, and advocating the official recognition of Progressive Judaism by the Israeli government. The congregation currently holds weekly Shabbat services and High Holy Days and festival services that are often attended by more than 700 people, runs a preschool for 40 children, provides weekly adult learning sessions, and celebrates more than 40 b'nei mitzvah ceremonies each year.
By raising funds for the construction of synagogue buildings for Kehilat Yozma and Kehilat Mevasseret Zion, you and your congregation can help provide spiritual homes for these communities that will support their existing programs and nurture the communities as they grow. In turn, your members will have a "home" in Israel where they will always be welcome as part of the community and where they can pray and experience Israeli Reform Judaism in a building they helped create.
Strengthening the Progressive Jewish Community in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe
In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the number of professionals and volunteers is not sufficient to serve growing congregations. Nonetheless, Progressive Jewish leaders in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have been working tirelessly to build and enrich modern Progressive Jewish life in their communities.
A review of Progressive Jewish activities in the last six months reveals the accomplishments of these leaders and the vibrancy of the communities. In June, forty-four young adults (ages 18--25) from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus traveled to Poland and the Czech Republic to learn about the Holocaust and the Jewish Diaspora. Also this summer, Warsaw's Beit Warszawa, the first Progressive community in Poland since World War II, which now has more than forty members and 350 supporters, became an associate member of the European Region of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In July, Kiev's Congregation Hatikva honored Jewish youngsters upon their "graduation" from kindergarten. In the same month, the Progressive Jewish community in Belarus held a group b'nei mitzvah celebration for forty children and their families.
As is apparent from these examples of Progressive Jewish living, the focus of the Reform community in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is on building leadership, and it is in this regard that you and your congregation can be most helpful. The current leaders of the community are committed and effective, but they need support. There are simply too few leaders for the growing number of Jews affiliating with Progressive congregations, and the resources available for training new leaders are limited.
This project will support leadership-training programs run by rabbis, cantors, and other Jewish community leaders from North America in the FSU and Eastern Europe. These training sessions will provide basic leadership and synagogue skills; educational, ritual, and worship resources; and ongoing support to new and established leaders of Progressive communities that are emerging throughout the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. To strengthen the future of these communities, you can also help sponsor teenagers from Eastern Europe to attend a summer leadership session at URJ Kutz Camp. The NFTY Leadership Camp experience will provide youth from these communities with an invaluable experience in living Judaism and the skills to build strong youth groups and initiatives at home.