SA Delegation at Connections 2009 in Israel

by Maskil on 12 May 2009

A delegation of 10 South Africans [including the writer] attended Connections 2009, held in Israel from 18 to 23 March 2009. The delegation was led by Steve Lurie, Chairperson of the SA Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) and organised by Reeva Forman, with assistance from the SA Zionist Federation (SAZF). It included key figures in Reform Judaism in SA, such as Rabbi Robert Jacobs, spiritual leader of Bet David congregation in Sandton.

Connections 2009 – the 34th (Biennial) International Convention of The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) – took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and was attended by over 600 delegates, representing the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements from more than 40 countries, serving 1,200 congregations with 1.7 million members worldwide. Delegates also celebrated the 30th anniversary of Netzer Olami, the WUPJ’s international Reform Zionist youth movement, now reportedly the world’s largest Jewish youth movement.

The packed agenda included addresses from prominent figures in Israeli and Jewish society. Newly elected mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat spoke at the opening ceremony, while Israeli President Shimon Peres’ address was the focus of the closing banquet. In between these highlights, delegates were treated to a profusion of keynote addresses, lively panel discussions, field trips, congregational visits and walking tours of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv. This was rounded out by innovative Shacharit morning worship and Shabbat evening and morning services with communities from the small but growing Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). An important part of such events is the formal and informal “networking” which takes place, facilitated in this case by the “Regional Shuk (Market)” and related activities.

The SA delegation was also privileged to visit key sites in Jerusalem under the expert guidance of Prof. Ophir Yarden, a lecturer at Brigham Young University. This intensive learning experience covered the Old City, the Western Wall and archaeological sites around the Temple Mount, as well as the various components of the Mt Herzl complex (including both Yad Vashem and the IDF military cemetery).

While Reform Judaism is relatively small in communities such as Israel and South Africa, Progressive Judaism can justifiably claim to be the largest Jewish religious denomination worldwide. WUPJ conventions such as Connections 2009 are the ideal opportunity for adherents of Progressive Judaism in SA to connect with like-minded individuals and communities throughout the world, thereby gaining a new perspective on the role and development of Progressive Judaism. It was also the ideal opportunity for the Progressive “family” to show solidarity with the people of Israel as a whole, as well as with Progressive congregations in Israel (which – unlike their Orthodox brethren – enjoy no official support), and new growth areas such as the Former-Soviet Union (FSU).

(This article was originally prepared for (but didn’t make the pages of) the SA Jewish Report.  On my return from Israel, I was hit by a “travel bug” and preparations for moving home, so I wasn’t able to follow up as to why the piece was never published.  Here it is anyway…)

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