Christian and Jewish Leaders Achieve Breakthrough, Resuming Dialogue and Engagement

The heads of Jewish and Christian organizations and denominations met in an unprecedented summit in New York City today to discuss strategies to strengthen and maintain relationships even in the face of significant disagreements. The gathering to discuss relationships and how we treat each other was the first to bring together these groups since a letter was sent on October 5, 2012 by Christian groups calling on Congress to investigate Israel's use of U.S. military aid. At today's meeting, participants made a commitment to developing an effective and ongoing national dialogue of Christian and Jewish leaders:

WRJ Grants Encourage Female Enrollment at URJ Sci-Tech Academy

As the enrollment level of boys surpasses that of girls for the inaugural summer at the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) has made a $5,000 grant from its YES (Youth, Education, & Special Projects) Fund to provide scholarships for female campers. The scholarships are meant to encourage and support the participation of girls in science and technology, which have traditionally been male-dominated fields. Each scholarship recipient will receive $500 toward registration at the camp this summer. To be considered for a scholarship, applicants must be enrolled at the camp between March 1 and April 30, entering grades 5-9 in Fall 2014, and belong to a URJ congregation.

SING OUT! The Beginnings of NFTY Music: A Look at the First Songs We Sang, Part Two

By Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin The music and the style of song leading as it has been popularized among Reform youth has moved the Jewish world. Music in NFTY and Reform camps, which began in 1951 in Wisconsin, seems to have been defined by the era in which it was sung, affected greatly by world events, politics, and technology. Camps were where adolescents gathered to form communities: mini-societies. Singing begins as a family activity, and this “family” atmosphere is created in the camp community. Repertoire at the West Coast’s Camp Saratoga, which was established in 1951 (and later became UAHC Camp Swig and then URJ Camp Newman), was chosen from American folk songs, some Hebrew, a little Yiddish, and hymns from the old Union Songster. The first songleader at Swig in 1955 was Cantor William Sharlin, an accomplished composer in his mid-30s, who had been to the Union Institute in Wisconsin the previous few summers. He was the first staff member with a professional music background, and was hired to take singing to the next level. Since Cantor Sharlin had come from the only other Union Institute, the repertoire of both was virtually the same. The songbook that Camp Saratoga used was from the Jewish Agency from the 1940s. No set curriculum was instituted, although most of the song sessions helped prepare for Shabbat. By the second summer Saratoga was in session, the natural phenomenon of “tradition” had come into play: what was sung the first summer was “how we’ve always done it.” The kavanah [spontaneity] of the first campers had become the keva [fixed] of the second summer. This circumstance has been both a blessing and a curse to the camping movement ever since.

60+ Reform Rabbis to Shave Their Heads in Support of Pediatric Cancer Research

During the 125th annual Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Convention, more than 60 Reform rabbis will shave their heads to raise awareness of and funding for pediatric cancer research. As the religious leadership of Reform Judaism, the CCAR Rabbis strive for justice and wholeness and health in the world in for all people. At the same time, through the CCAR, the rabbis support one another in their rabbinic and personal lives. Shave for the Brave has been a catalyst in uniting members of the rabbinic community who have lost children and brought the entire community together to support each other. The convention brings together members of the CCAR, the rabbinic leadership organization of Reform Judaism, with more than 2,000 Reform rabbis providing religious leadership in all walks of life. The connection between the Reform rabbinic community and pediatric cancer advocacy began with the story of Samuel “Superman Sam” Sommer (pictured here), the son of Reform rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer. Sam succumbed to leukemia in December 2013. The Sommers documented Sam's battle with cancer on their blog, Superman Sam.

URJ Continues Disaster Relief Funding

This week, the Union for Reform Judaism disbursed its second round of disaster relief funding to support rebuilding efforts following Typhoon Haiyan. To date, the URJ has released nearly $250,000 for the relief efforts, and we continue to partner with both North America and Philippines-based NGOs to support the most critical needs related to the recovery. Here is a summary of the March 2014 allocations:

"Every Day Feels Like International Women's Day"

Anat Hoffman
Every day feels like women's day at the Israel Religious Action Center.  Yes, this is because 20 of our 24 staff members are women and there seems to be a never-ending line to our bathroom.  But mainly because the work we do is intrinsically linked to the status of women in Israel.  IRAC's issues are women's issues. The only organization in Israel that empowers Haredi and Reform Jews alike, we have changed the social fabric of Israeli society since last year's International Women's Day.  What has happened to women's rights in these past 12 months?  Let us take stock of some of these accomplishments.

Community. Prayer. Holiness.

By Rose Snitz As people gather and voices come together in harmony, the holiness of the space begins to form. From Shabbat services in local communities to regional Havdalah services, to closing rituals during the North American Convention, there’s always an

What Is Audacious Hospitality?

The Jewish people is here today because those who came before us were audacious. By that I mean courageous, fearless, and bold. Genesis teaches us to practice audacious hospitality. On a blisteringly hot day, Abraham runs after three desert wanderers, insisting they come inside for nourishment. What makes his act so memorable is not waiting for the wanderers to knock on his door; instead, he goes out to meet them where they are and invites them in. Some months ago, I arrived early at one of our URJ congregations to speak on a Friday night. In the lobby, a woman wearing a nametag looked at me and barked, “What do you want?” I answered, “I want to be in a congregation filled with warmth and welcome.” She looked at me, her expression communicating, “Boy, do you have the wrong place!” Then she looked over her shoulder at the easel in the entryway, which held a picture of a guy who looked a lot like me. “Are you him?” she asked. I nodded “yes.” With suddenly discovered warmth, she said, “Well, why didn’t you say so?”