Blog

Reform Movement Mourns the Death of Ariel Sharon

January 11, 2014
On the occasion of the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, released the following statement: "Today, we mourn the death of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an iconic leader whose love for Israel and the Jewish people infused his entire illustrious career. He was a visionary, larger than life, with the courage to constantly assess his stated positions, always with an eye toward pragmatism and concern for his beloved Israel.

The Music of Yizkor

January 9, 2014
By Cantor Penny Kessler Eighteen years ago, when I first led Yizkor on Yom Kippur at my current synagogue, I admit to having been startled by an exodus from the pews. Our congregation recites Yizkor immediately after the Torah service, before the scrolls are returned to the ark and right before musaf (a supplemental service added by some Jews on holidays). I had always understood yizkor as – unlike the individuality of yahrzeit (the yearly anniversary of a death) or sh’loshim (the month-long mourning period following burial) – a communal experience. With its acknowledgment of the deaths of parents, siblings, other relatives, friends and our Peoples’ martyrs, Yizkor was something all Jews could share, especially during the overwhelming 25 hours of Yom Kippur. And yet people left. When gently questioned, most of those who left (some returning following Yizkor, some going home even though the service would continue with musaf in my relatively “traditional” shul) told me – and here I paraphrase – “my parents are alive and – well, you know … kinnehura.” (“Kinnehura” is a Yiddish term said to ward off the evil eye, or bad luck.) That other loved ones were memorialized within the Yizkor service, not just immediate relatives, specifically parents, didn’t make a difference; there was something about the spiritual power that caused people to exit.

This Ain’t Your Father’s Reform Judaism

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein
January 8, 2014

One Friday night in December, I prayed at a Baptist-style, tent-revival, amen/hallelujah, neo-Hasidic Jewish service. Yes, that was Shabbat at the URJ Biennial, and although I was prepared for the spirit of it, based on my years in youth group, I wasn’t quite prepared for the spirituality of it. I grew up in the Reform Movement, through URJ Eisner Camp, URJ Kutz Camp, and NFTY, but something shifted in me while in university, and I felt myself move slowly away. Maybe it was going to Brandeis and meeting all those deeply committed Conservative and Orthodox students, while my Reform friends drifted away and stopped coming to services, stopped celebrating Shabbat. Maybe it was the year in Israel where I studied in yeshiva and went to the Western Wall regularly and davened in traditional circles.

Planting a Seed

January 8, 2014

By Joshua Weinberg

And when you come into the Land, and have planted all manner of food bearing trees… (Lev. 19:23) The Holy one Blessed be he said to the people Israel: Even though you have found [the land] full of plenty, you shall not say: We shall sit and not plant, rather proceed with caution in your planting… For as you have entered and found the fruits of others’ labor, you so shall plant for your children. (Midrash Tanhuma)

If you’re like me, then you may remember that pivotal moment of Jewish education when you received your very own Jewish National Fund (JNF) certificate for a tree planted in Israel. Whether it was for a birth, birthday, bar/bat mitzvah, or in memory of a loved one, a tree was planted in Israel to mark the occasion. The message was clear: with every passing milestone we want to connect Jews to the Land of Israel and to the Zionist enterprise. All of us who were the fortunate recipients of such trees knew in the recesses of our mind that somewhere in that strip of land, in some forest, was our tree, our little piece of Israel. As the certificates read, the JNF wished us the following: “We wish you the fortune of seeing it grow with much pleasure and ease.”

It Takes a Village (and a Little URJ Help) to Build a Congregational Website

January 7, 2014
With people doing so much of their shopping online these days – for everything from clothing to electronics to groceries to books, and just about everything else – it’s become evident to my synagogue’s board that temple shopping begins online, too. Prospective members no longer wait to drop in unannounced at Shabbat services or attend open houses. People no longer want to waste their time with a temple that doesn’t provide what they’re looking for. They want to know right off the bat: Does the synagogue have a nursery school? When are Hebrew School classes? Are there activities for the parents and grandparents? Until recently, my synagogue had a very plain website, with our basic information laid out in simple language alongside a photo collage, a music video, and… not much else. The information was there, but it was uninviting. When our temple president began the process of creating a new website, it all sounded so simple. We sought a volunteer who would create a professional, easy-to-navigate website that would attract new members and be a useful tool to give our current membership up-to-date information about temple activities and services, as well as to showcase who we are and what we are about.

A New Era of NFTY

January 7, 2014
By Andrew Keene An unidentified scholar teaches us, "Blessed is the generation in which the old listen to the young, and doubly blessed is the generation in which the young listen to the old." For 75 years, NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth, continues to serve as the link between the past, present, and future of Reform Judaism. NFTY traces its roots to 1939, when it was established by the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (now Women of Reform Judaism) as a collegiate organization for Reform Jewish teens. Since 1939, NFTY, a movement anchored in synagogue-based youth groups, has evolved to meet the needs of Reform Jewish young adults across North America.

Reform Rabbis in Israel Receive State Salaries for First Time

January 3, 2014
In response to the Israeli government's fulfillment of its court-ordered obligation to pay the salaries of four non-Orthodox communal rabbis, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement: 
Tuesday's announcement that four non-Orthodox communal rabbis have received state-paid salaries represents a major step forward for religious pluralism in Israel.  Although we continue to believe that the goal of full and equal recognition of non-Orthodox Jewry and their rabbis must be fulfilled as soon as possible, we welcome the long-overdue state compensation for Rabbis Miri Gold of the Gezer Regional Council, Stacey Blank of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, Gadi Raviv of the Misgav Regional Council, and Benji Gruber of Hevel Eliot Regional Council.  While the state continues to fund religious services, including rabbis' salaries, this funding must be provided on an equal basis for all denominations.

Reform Jewish Movement Applauds Implementation of State-Paid Salaries for Reform Rabbis in Israel

January 2, 2014
In response to the Israeli government's fulfillment of its court-ordered obligation to pay the salaries of four non-Orthodox communal rabbis, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Tuesday's announcement that four non-Orthodox communal rabbis have received state-paid salaries represents a major step forward for religious pluralism in Israel.  Although we continue to believe that the goal of full and equal recognition of non-Orthodox Jewry and their rabbis must be fulfilled as soon as possible, we welcome the long-overdue state compensation for Rabbis Miri Gold of the Gezer Regional Council, Stacey Blank of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, Gadi Raviv of the Misgav Regional Council, and Benji Gruber of Hevel Eliot Regional Council.  While the state continues to fund religious services, including rabbis' salaries, this funding must be provided on an equal basis for all denominations.

Reform Movement Allocates $125k for Typhoon Haiyan Relief Efforts

January 2, 2014

On November 7-8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, made landfall in the Philippines. The storm came on the heels of an October earthquake that had affected more than 3 million people and disrupted life for more than 14 million Filipinos (nearly 15% of the total population). According to UNICEF, nearly half of the 3.9 million people who were displaced were children. In the wake of the storm, the Union for Reform Judaism, its congregations, and their members rallied to support the storm’s victims. As with all disasters, the Reform Movement works to quickly identify recovery experts and groups that are fulfilling the direst needs in line with our values and beliefs. Our grant funding seeks to address short-, medium-, and long-term rebuilding in a responsible and sustainable manner.