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SAN DIEGO (JTA) — The Union for Reform Judaism awarded one of its highest honors to an Orthodox rabbi, the late David Hartman, at the opening plenary of the union’s biennial conference in San Diego.
On Wednesday evening, the union’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, presented the Alexander M. Schindler World Jewry Award posthumously to Hartman’s son, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and, like his father, an Orthodox-ordained rabbi.
In accepting the prize on behalf of his father, Hartman hailed the persistence of Zionist sentiment among Reform Jews despite Israel’s treatment of Reform Judaism, saying: “The truth is you should have walked away from Israel a long time ago.”
“How much insult, how much alienation, how much lack of respect should a person take before they say enough and walk away?” Hartman said. “Your love for Israel is measured in the fact that you’re willing to fight for it.”
In presenting the Schindler award, Jacobs credited David Hartman with inspiring him to become a Reform rabbi.
“David taught us to question traditional beliefs,” Jacobs said.
Nearly 5,000 people are attending the Reform biennial, the first since Jacobs took over the helm of the movement a year and a half ago.
The Wednesday evening presentation included a video message from Vice President Joe Biden, who said he had been asked by President Obama to give a shout-out to Reform’s youth movement, NFTY, the National Federation of Temple Youth.
The late Rabbi David Hartman, z”l, was honored posthumously tonight at the URJ Biennial Convention in San Diego, CA., by receiving the Reform Movement’s highest honor, the Alexander M. Schindler Award for Service to World Jewry.
Named for Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, the second president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from 1973-1996, this award honors an individual who has shown a passion, leadership and commitment to World Jewry. Rabbi Schindler was a remarkably compassionate humanitarian, devoted to social justice and religious action, always seeking to better the human condition, to gain rights for the disenfranchised, and sustenance for the destitute and the downtrodden. A true Ohev Yisrael, lover of Israel, Schindler prodded the Reform Movement to participate fully in the Zionist world and was a prime mover in the creation of ARZA and ARZA Canada.
Rabbi Hartman, the founder and spiritual leader of the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute, was a leading thinker among philosophers of contemporary Judaism and an internationally renowned Jewish author. He passed away this year on Feb. 10, 2013. He was honored by the URJ for his dedication to the Jewish people and to religious pluralism.
URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs says,
I would not be a rabbi if I had not studied with Rabbi David Hartman. Back in 1975, I walked into a class he was teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Learning with David was as if someone turned on the lights in a dark room. He shattered forever my narrow conception of traditional Judaism.
His brand of Judaism was fearless, always evolving, brutally honest, defying all labels and yet profoundly authentic. Each day I try to live and teach the Torah that I learned from Rabbi Hartman, a Torah that is desperately needed in the fractured Jewish communities where we live, especially in Israel. Our Jewish communities must expand the circle of our concern to include both the Jews with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. This was David’s Torah of pluralism, which he taught with passion and persuasiveness. May we have even a fraction of his insight and backbone as we help shape a more compelling Judaism for the next generations.”
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Director of the Engaging Israel Project, accepted the Schindler award on his father’s behalf, saying,
My father had a deep and profound love for the Reform Movement, in particular for Reform Rabbis. The mission of his life was to create a Judaism of excellence – a Judaism always open to rethinking itself. For my father, pluralism was not only a moral imperative but an intellectual one. For only a Judaism open and respectful of different voices, would be a Judaism capable of maximizing its intellectual potential. What captured his heart and indeed his soul was the intellectual and spiritual courage, openness, and hunger that he experienced in the Reform Movement of the last few decades. A movement willing to both learn from its past and be critical of its past as it reexplored and reconnected with Torah in new ways. On behalf of my father, I want to thank you for this profound honor, which would have moved him very deeply.
After accepting the award, Rabbi Hartman and Rabbi Jacobs announced a new partnership between the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)- an Israel Engagement Initiative for Reform congregations across North America. In 2014, the URJ will select 30 congregations to participate in the first stage of this initiative, which will be based on the SHI iEngage curriculum.
Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, President of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, said,
The goal of this joint initiative with the URJ is to support and enhance Israel engagement work throughout the Reform Movement by creating a new narrative regarding the significance of Israel in Jewish life.
Probing beyond the political controversies of the day, the iEngage curriculum helps to reframe the relationship between the State of Israel and Jews worldwide. We are pleased and honored to partner with the URJ to help bring a quintessentially Jewish values-based vocabulary with which to articulate why Israel can and should be fundamental to their Jewish identities and lives.
The Israel Engagement Initiative will enable participants to bring a more sophisticated discourse and enriched content into their communities, allowing them to experiment with new concepts, language, and skills for revolutionizing personal and institutional engagement with Israel.
Participants will have access to resources and experts from SHI and the URJ through a series of webinars, consultations and regional gatherings, where they will network with one another, sharing best principles, experiences, and ideas.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs said,
There is a great opportunity for congregations to create a positive and ethical communal discourse on Israel and to expand the presence of Israel into new areas of communal life, such as early childhood engagement, youth engagement, social justice initiatives, adult learning, and so on. This initiative invites the participation of professional and lay leaders to work together and expand the conversation about Israel across the Reform Movement and beyond.
For more information about the Israel engagement initiative, please contact URJ’s Director for Israel Engagement Rabbi Yehudit Werchow.
Union for Reform Judaism and Shalom Hartman Institute of North America Launch Israel Engagement Initiative for Congregations
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Welcome to the 72nd URJ Biennial Convention, the biggest Biennial to date!
There’s a lot going on. We hope that you’ll check out the grand opening of the Kikar Biennial and the Exhibit Hall, attend an intensive, and come to the opening plenary. And if music is your thing, stop by the Books and Music stage to catch seven different musical acts today alone and catch late night performances at the Convention Center or the Omni.
Join the conversation! Send your questions for Rabbi Jacobs to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to email@example.com.
Social Justice Short Guide to Biennial
Download our handy PDF with a summary of all social-justice and advocacy-related programming and opportunities at Biennial, from learning sessions to music performances to our partnerships with organizations like Nothing But Nets and Gift of Life.
Couldn’t make it out to San Diego? Watch the livestream feeds!
You can still participate by watching live stream webcasts of the plenary sessions on our website or on JLTV on your local cable provider.
Biennial Press Coverage
- Do you roll on Shabbos? It’s up to you, say Reform Jews (Ha’aretz)
- URJ Biennial: Will This Be The Year Of Inclusion? (The Jewish Week Blog)
- Reform Biennial promises to be inspiring event (Cleveland Jewish News)
- The Israeli Reformation: How Non-Orthodox Judaism is Taking Root in Israel (Ha’aretz)
- Fostering Inclusion and Accessibility at the 2013 Biennial (RJ Blog)
- Meet, Pray, Learn. (San Diego Jewish Journal)
Tips & Tricks: Navigating Biennial
- The Biennial App/Website is where the most updated room assignments, handouts for sessions, exhibit hall map, shuttle map, list of entertainers, and much more.
- Registration open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.: Everyone must have a badge access Biennial sessions and areas. Stop by registration to get your credentials and please keep them on and visible throughout the Biennial.
by Rabbi Joshua Weinberg
“Rabbi Tarfon and some elders were reclining in an upper chamber in the house of Nitza in Lod when this question came up: Which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon spoke up and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva spoke up and said: Study is greater. The others then spoke up and said: Study is greater because it leads to action.”
– BT Kiddushin 40b
“So who was Eisendrath anyway? And why was this program named for him?” I inquired. Having arrived in Israel as a student on the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) 20 years ago, my search for answers was in full swing. Casually walking into his office, I approached Rabbi Hank Skirball. He quickly began to pepper me with stories, and his point was clear. “The funny thing,” he reminisced, “is that Eisendrath was no great Zionist at all. We [Rabbi Sam Cooke and I] named the program after him in order to get him to come to Israel!” Now, over five decades and thousands of students later, EIE has become one of the central producers of Reform Zionists, and we owe much of that to Rabbi Skirball.
Being a Zionist then meant insisting on coming to Israel, as Hank did in 1952, at the risk of losing his spot as a student at the Hebrew Union College. It was that spirit that led him to go on to create and direct numerous Reform Israel programs, to represent the Reform movement as Chair of the Department of Education and Culture at the World Zionist Organization, and to help create two Reform kibbutzim in the Negev.
Skirball, together with a few other activists, including Rabbi Sam Cooke, Rabbi Alan Levine, Rabbi Dick Hirsch, and notably the late Rabbi Stephen Schafer, who passed away this past November 24th, set a Zionist agenda for the Reform movement.
“If I listened to everyone who told us that this was a bad idea, none of this would be here. Being a Zionist is all about not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
Today we have the privilege of honoring Rabbi Skirball at ARZA’s biennial reception for all that he has contributed to Israel and to the Jewish people. I am but one student who was influenced and mentored by Hank over several decades and who was privileged to see Israel through his teaching. Hank never misses an opportunity to remind us: “Lo Alecha Hamlacha Ligmor, V’lo Atah Ben Horein L’hibateyl Mimena –It is not your responsibility to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21) Commentating on this well-known adage, Hank teaches that: “Everyone has to try and live in such a way that he and she makes the world a little bit better because he or she was here.” We know that Hank has made the world better for us, and as Zionists we must take his Torah and turn it into action.
Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).
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by Rachel Roth
[Editor's Note: The following post was presented as a drash at an executive meeting of the American Conference of Cantors on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.]
One of the most interesting statistics that I found in the Pew Study is the somewhat low rate of importance of being part of a community as being essential to Jewish Identity. Only 25% of Reform Jews—29% of all Jews—said that being a part of a community is essential to their identity as a Jew. Yet, when I watched the video on the URJ Biennial website, the message to the lay leadership of the Movement is clear: Come to San Diego and be a part of the community that is “the URJ.”
What does that mean?
Martin Buber tells us (in the book The Martin Buber Reader—Essential Writings) that, “The world yearns to become a community…World and humankind are predisposed by creation alone to become a community.” He goes on to say “When people really engage with each other, experience each other and respond to this experience with their own lives, when people have a ‘living middle’ at their center, then community can arise among them.”
Yet, of the Jews surveyed in the Pew Study, only one quarter of them believe that being a part of a community is an important part of their life as a Jew. So, is there a disconnect? Is it important to be a part of a community to be a Jew? Clearly, those of us sitting in this room believe it is important. So, how do we reach the 75% who don’t believe that they need to be a part of a community to be Jewish? They are already proud—the survey told us that 96% of Reform Jews and 94% of Jews overall are proud of their Judaism. How do we, the leaders of the largest Movement in North America, convey to those who are proud but not part of a community that the community still needs them?
Buber’s words seem to be at the center of the lack of community we see today. When people engage, they feel a part of the community and they want to continue. But when they don’t engage—and when they don’t feel a need for engagement—community is no longer important to their identity.
So, what do we do about it? How do we cause the community to arise?
This is something the URJ board and leadership struggled with for this Biennial. When the decision was made to open the Biennial to non-URJ congregational members, it was not without controversy or discussion. It is the dues of the congregations represented around this room that create the financial ability for the URJ to put this together. But, Rabbi Rick Jacobs has a vision. “We have opened the Biennial as a symbol of where we are as the Reform Movement,” he told JTA in an interview. “Openness is our practice. It is not just a technique, a thing to do. It is who we are. It is theology. It is commitment.”
In these few short days, the overarching goal is to create a community that the attendees — those lay leaders of our own congregations – will take with them so they can in turn teach others and engage others in what it means to be a part of a larger community. We hope they bring the “living middle” of the music, the worship, the workshops, the speakers, and the camaraderie back to their friends and families and not just the members of your congregations.
In this room are the leaders of the largest movement of Jews in North America — but not necessarily the most engaged. This week, we have an opportunity to make strides in the direction of engaging the greater community.
Basketball great, Michael Jordan said, “Earn your leadership every day.” As I think about the reason that we have come together this week in San Diego, I can’t help but think about the leadership opportunities we each can earn as we walk the halls, greet people, learn in the classrooms and pray in the worship services of this Biennial gathering. You’ve heard it said many times when we gather together as the American Conference of Cantors that we should “wrap ourselves in the flag of the ACC.” This time, I would ask you to take it one step further and wrap yourself in the flag of Judaism. Not even Reform Judaism. Just Judaism.
Model that behavior of being a committed and engaged leader for your board presidents and Sisterhood members who are here to celebrate together. Model the spirit of collaboration and engagement as we walk the halls and greet each other and make new friends. Let us create that “living middle” that seeks to engage Jews of every generation to be a part of our community.
Rachel Roth is the managing Executive Director of the American Conference of Cantors. This post originally appeared on the ACC’s website.
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