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What a year it’s been. With 2018 fast-approaching, we’ve rounded up the top 18 Reform Movement stories of 2017, listed below in somewhat chronological order. Looking for even more major Jewish moments? Check out ReformJudaism.org's list, too, and let us know what you’d add. Oh… and happy New Year!
More than 1,000 Jewish teens gathered in Chicago in February (brrr!) for NFTY Convention, and in April, the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience sold out, demonstrating our community’s deep desire to come together around meaningful social justice work during tumultuous political times. Long before the registration deadline hit, the URJ Biennial 2017 also sold out, making this year’s convention the largest in Biennial history, with nearly 6,000 attendees.
In 2016, the URJ announced the launch of the JewV’Nation fellowship, a program supporting Jewish leaders through professional development, networking opportunities, and the chance to work on creative outreach projects with URJ support. In early 2017, the URJ introduced the first cohort’s members, who conceived of and completed their projects this year – and then announced the first Jews of Color cohort of the JewV’Nation fellowship. Applications are still open.
In March, the URJ launched a new online Introduction to Judaism class on ReformJudaism.org, filling a significant need in the North American community for individuals who want to explore liberal Judaism but have no in-person opportunities to study. The online class was created in response to the many inquiries from potential students who reside in areas where the URJ’s in-person Introduction to Judaism classes are not offered or where communities could not sustain a course on their own.
In March, Rabbi Jacobs led a delegation of about 30 Reform Jewish leaders to Israel, where the group met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority. Upon their return, Rabbi Jacobs and Board Chair Daryl Messinger wrote poignantly about the power and impact of their visit.
In March came the exciting announcement that Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus of the RAC, would rejoin the Reform Movement’s staff as senior advisor for policy and strategy for both the RAC and the URJ. Coming off a stint as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi Saperstein said of his return to Jewish communal work, “I relish the opportunity to rededicate my efforts to the entire Reform Jewish Movement and to the RAC.”
In August, Hurricane Harvey blew through the Houston area, and the Reform Movement mobilized to help. The staff of URJ Greene Family Camp opened Hurricane Harvey Houston Day Camp, in partnership with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston and Congregation Emanu El in Houston, to provide local children the opportunity to have fun while giving their parents the time to deal with the aftermath of the storm. Greene Family Camp also opened to house displaced storm victims seeking shelter.
The Brit Olam – A Covenant with Our World launched in April at the 2017 Consultation of Conscience, where RAC staff hoped 100 Reform synagogues would sign on to publicly reaffirm their commitment to meaningful social justice work, grounded in our sacred and enduring Jewish values. By the time the URJ Biennial rolled around in December, 140 congregations had signed on – and counting!
This year was a milestone one for many programs that work to strengthen congregations. The Tent, a collaborative workspace for Reform Movement leaders, hit its 10,000-member mark, and now even more ideas and conversations can be shared with as many leaders as possible. Over 115 congregations took part in a Community of Practice, and new online expert learning opportunities for teachers in the Early Childhood Education and Young Family cohorts were launched. The Scheidt Seminar for presidents and presidents-elect went from being offered once a year to twice – nearly doubling the number of leaders who have the opportunity to learn from their peers, outside experts, and the URJ senior team. And, last but certainly not least, the URJ launched a new project for congregations experimenting with evaluation and assessment tools, allowing them to better imagine new paths forward for the future.
In the fall, the California wildfires swept through URJ Camp Newman, badly damaging the camp’s physical structure. The Reform Movement, including Camp Newman’s many alumni, was devastated by the news, but they rallied together to raise funds and prove the community is #NewmanStrong. Within weeks of the fire, camp staff announced the incredible news that URJ Camp Newman will open in summer 2018, this time as Newman by the Bay, hosted by California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo, CA.
On the heels of the popular weekly podcast “On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah” comes “Stories We Tell,” which was recommended listening by The Guardian. The podcast builds on Judaism’s rich tradition of storytelling and of passing down stories from one generation to the next, sharing a short story each week. New episodes are released each Thursday on iTunes and wherever you get your podcast fix.
On a Shabbat in mid-August, white supremacists marched in a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel, Charlottesville’s Reform congregation, wrote a powerful essay about it for ReformJudaism.org that was picked up by The Washington Post, Business Insider, and other prominent publications.
In August came the launch of J•License, a non-profit music-licensing agency serving the international Jewish community. J•License gives Jewish organizations the chance to legally and easily license their use of copyrighted material including music and lyrics, and it encourages composers and authors of Jewish music to continue producing new works by compensating them fairly for use of their work.
From hurricanes to wildfires, natural disasters devastated portions of the United States in 2017, including Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and California. The URJ team was ready to help. Reform relief efforts included fundraising for hurricane-impacted areas, organizing to send much-needed water filters to Puerto Rico’s hard-hit communities, sending gift cards to communities in need, local synagogues partnering to support one another in California, and more.
CCAR Press, the publishing arm of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, published a record 11 books this year, including Honoring Tradition: Embracing Modernity (published in collaboration with the URJ). One of these books, The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate, won the Jewish Book Award in Women’s Studies.
Reform synagogue Temple Emanu El in New York City hosted a triple wedding in November for three Israeli couples who could not or would not marry in their home country, given the State of Israel’s wedding policies as they relate to non-Orthodox Jews. The event was covered by the New York Times.
Tuned in to the ongoing societal conversations about sexual assault and sexual harassment, the Central Conference of American Rabbis in November announced the formation of the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate, saying, “The specific outcome of the task force will be shaped in the course of that process, but the overall goal is to create tools and protocols that will help lead to a culture change within the Reform Movement.”
HUC-JIR ordained the "Class of the 100th Israeli Reform Rabbi” in November, a class that included four talented, passionate new rabbis who are committed to furthering Reform Judaism in the State of Israel. Dismayingly, the celebration of this historic moment was marred by violence when a group celebrating at the Kotel – including prominent Reform leaders – was forcibly prevented from bringing a Torah to the Wall.
This year was a big one for the social justice arm of the Reform Movement, including the launch of its Urgency of Now Initiative, which brings Reform congregations together around common issues. The three current campaigns are immigrant justice, criminal justice, and transgender rights. The RAC also expanded its state-level efforts: Reform CA worked to pass the “California Values Act,” and Reform OH held its first lobby day at the State House, attended by more than 70 people from across the state in support of criminal justice reform.