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Oh, what a year it’s been. With 2020 quickly approaching, we’ve rounded up the top Reform Movement stories of 2019, listed here in no particular order. From our family to yours, we wish you a very happy, healthy secular new year!
This was a trifecta year: In February, we kicked off 2019 with NFTY Convention in Dallas, TX, followed by the largest Consultation on Conscience in history in May. The year ended on a high note with the URJ Biennial, held in Chicago, IL, for the first time in three decades. All three events focused on furthering the vital, holy work to which our community is so dedicated.
Ready to advance the work of the Reform Movement in your congregation and community? Before the year ends, say “I’m in” and commit to expanding participation of the next generation; participating in the Reform Movement's 2020 Civic Engagement Campaign; becoming an agent of change in your congregation; voting Reform in the World Zionist Congress elections; or addressing equity, inclusion, and anti-racism in your congregation.
This summer, Rabbi Hara Person became the first female chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), which represents 21,000 Reform rabbis around the world. In the fall, Ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus of the Religious Action Center (RAC), took the helm of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), while Dr. Andrew Rehfeld was installed as the tenth president in the 144-year history of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
The Reform Movement’s lay leadership saw changes as well. Susan Kalson took on the role of chair of the Commission on Social Action (CSA), succeeding outgoing Chair Liz Dunst; Daryl Messinger ended her four-year term as chair of the URJ North American Board, passing the torch to incoming chair Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman.
In February, ReformJudaism.org launched Wholly Jewish, a storytelling podcast inspired by our commitment to embracing our differences and showcasing the beauty of Jewish diversity.
The inaugural season was hosted by April Baskin, the URJ’s former vice president of audacious hospitality, who spoke with fellows from the URJ JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. In 15 episodes, they share their experiences, insights, frustrations, and triumphs, showcasing how their complex identities help to create and enrich our vibrant Jewish community.
Stay tuned: The next season is coming soon!
Throughout 2019, the U.S. government’s cruel immigration policies have caused untold suffering to immigrants and refugees: families separated along the southern border, children detained in dangerous detention facilities; threats of mass deportation raids across the country. All of these actions offend our morals and values as Reform Jews.
This year, we launched the Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus Initiative Immigrant and Refugee Justice Action Center, a new initiative that seeks to galvanize action around the current crisis of immigrants and refugees held in detention and at risk of deportation.
In July, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs joined other faith leaders and activists in El Paso, TX, for “Moral Monday at the Borderlands,” hosted by Rev. William Barber and Repairers of the Breach, while in August, the Reform Movement joined a Jewish community protest in Washington, D.C. calling for just and compassionate immigration policies. The topic was a focus of the Consultation on Conscience and the URJ Biennial, and it remains a focal point of our Movement’s ongoing advocacy efforts.
In February, we said goodbye to Albert Vorspan, former senior vice president of the URJ and director emeritus of the CSA, whom Rabbi David Saperstein called “one of the g’dolei hador, ‘great ones’ of Jewish social justice work.” Two days later, we lost the Honorable Judge David Davidson, former chair of the CSA, a person of profound kindness and generosity.
March saw the passing of Rabbi Larry Raphael, formerly a dean of HUC-JIR, senior rabbi at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, CA, and director of the URJ’s Department of Adult Jewish Growth. And in August, we mourned the passing of Rabbi Peter Knobel, longtime rabbi of Beth Emet -The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL, and former president of CCAR.
Of course, these individuals are just a few of many whose deaths this year changed us forever. May all their memories be for a blessing.
With antisemitism on the rise, 2019 presented yet another difficult year for the Jewish people – and the leaders of the Reform Movement continued to speak out in opposition to and condemnation of acts of antisemitism around the world.
All throughout the year, we put out press releases from both the URJ and the RAC about individual antisemitic acts, and Rabbis Rick Jacobs and Jonah Pesner tweeted prolifically in response to ongoing news of antisemitism. Early in the year, we adopted an updated policy resolution condemning all forms of antisemitism and called for passage of the Never Again Education Act, which would combat anti-Semitism and enhance Holocaust education.
In November, Rabbi Hara Person of the CCAR published an op-ed in TIME titled, “My Mom Warned Me About Anti-Semitism. I Didn’t Fully Understand Until Last Year’s Synagogue Shooting.” While we certainly wish there were no need to do so, we expect our work – and our vocal opposition to all forms of antisemitism – to continue in the new year.
The 2017 Tubbs Fire ravaged the campgrounds at our beloved URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA. Camp has continued for the past two summers in a temporary location known as Newman by the Bay, but 2019 saw exciting steps forward for the Newman community at its Santa Rosa site.
Over the summer, campers had the opportunity to return to the fire-damaged camp site for a day-long outdoor excursion. In November, Newman broke ground on its 6 Points Community Center, estimated to be open to the community for limited retreats and events in early 2021.
Equality and justice have long been at the core of all of the RAC’s work core – and nowhere is this truer than its U.S.-based state projects, where local congregations have come together to achieve substantial victories in 2019.
From joining forces with interfaith partners to help shut down Homestead immigrant child detention center in Florida, to helping pass the “Driver’s Licenses for All” bill through the successful Green Light New York Coalition, the work of our RAC state initiatives – driven by Reform congregations and communities – has led to real, tangible policy changes this year.
The relaunch of the RAC’s Brit Olam will continue that work on the local, state, provincial, and federal levels.
At the URJ Biennial this December, voting delegates approved three proposed resolutions, which now become adopted policy of the Reform Movement. Among them was the Resolution on the Study and Development of Reparations for Slavery and Systemic Racism in the U.S., put forth by the Commission on Social Action; read Rabbi Jonah Pesner’s important op-ed on this topic in the Chicago Tribune.
Biennial delegates also adopted a Resolution on Supporting Those Affected by the Opioid Crisis from the CSA and Resolution on Private Prisons, submitted by five Chicago-area congregations.
In the fall, we named the nine individuals selected to participate in the URJ JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Leadership Cohort, a nine-month program dedicated to promoting and incorporating DEI principles in Reform Jewish congregations across North America.
This cohort was created out of a need to equip Reform communities with the tools necessary to embrace and implement DEI-related practices so that all who enter them may experience a sense of belonging.