Between the 3rd and 6th of May this year, representatives of the Reform Jewish communities, present in more than 50 countries, gathered in Jerusalem to participate in Connections, the global conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) – the organization that connects Reform, Progressive, Liberal and Reconstructionist Jewish communities around the world. The event had a strong presence from the Latin American region, with youth, rabbinic and community leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Held for more than 30 years, this year’s Connections is the WUPJ’s first in-person international meeting since 2017. The conference, in addition to providing this great meeting of regions, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel and the 50th anniversary of the change from the WUPJ international headquarters to Beit Shmuel, in Jerusalem. The event embraced the “Unconference” model – a space for peer-to-peer learning, collaboration and creativity, with a focus on bringing event participants together to exchange ideas and share a vision in action as progressive Jews today.
Rabbi Sergio Bergman, member of our region and new President of the WUPJ, communicated the new vision of functioning and internal reformulation of the relations between the WUPJ and its affiliated communities. The WUPJ, previously seen as an umbrella of communities, becomes a league of cooperation between affiliates, where different communities can be in an environment of collaboration, cooperation and creativity. In addition, the effective inclusion of youth as an active leader in our regions.
Rabbi Guershon Kwasniewski, from SIBRA (Porto Alegre, Brazil) is the newest UJR-AmLat representative within the WUPJ and envisions new possibilities and connections with the reform world for the strengthening of our region. “I was invited to be part of the new Board of the WUPJ as a representative for Latin America, a challenge that honors me and I assume it accompanied by an incredible group of people motivated to serve the movement. I am grateful to UJR-AmLat and SIBRA for the support that made my participation possible.” says the Rabbi.
At the conference, our leaders were able to develop networks, new ideas and projects to strengthen the progressive Jewish experience in our region. Youth movements linked to reform congregations in Latin America were able to consolidate their relationship with Netzer, the Zionist youth movement of the WUPJ and Arzenu, the Zionist branch of the world reform movement. Netzer has a Brazilian leader: Beatriz Rubinsztain, from Avanhandava – a youth movement linked to the Congregação Israelita Paulista (São Paulo, Brazil).
Josh Nogueira, member of Netzer Costa Rica talks about the importance of this moment for the strengthening of Judaism in his small community.
“As a Jew from a small community and an active participant in training our Snif in Costa Rica, The Netzer Veida was an incredible opportunity. This gave us the opportunity to learn how to significantly strengthen our community and meet their specific needs. Additionally, it gave us the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people on how we can exchange solutions to common problems, forming valuable connections. Through this experience, I created beautiful memories and felt recharged and energized to apply everything I learned upon returning. As one of only three Latin American Snifim, the importance of giving space to diverse realities and experiences within Progressive Judaism was also emphasized. Working together, we were able to contribute to the construction and configuration of important decisions taken at Veida.”
In addition to Netzer, work was done on the internal strengthening of Tamar, a global platform to engage young progressive Jews – university students, young professionals and young families, aged between 18 and 35 years old – seeking to build and strengthen connections and progressive Jewish communities.
“Like the first stars that appear at dusk, little by little Latin American communities shine with each other; through lectures, activities and experiences, connecting them to each other, gradually forming a beautiful constellation. That’s the importance of Connections and Netzer/Tamar for communities like mine. It gives us a chance to embrace the starry night and endless sea of stars that is the Jewish people, it gives us a chance to see our own ability to shine and the similarities that connect us to one another.” says Adrian Dardon, member and youth leader of the Adat Israel community in Guatemala.
Rabbinic leaders and students from all over the world were able to deepen their studies and exchange experiences at Rabbinic Kallah, developing new skills and perfecting the execution of essential works in the current context of the reform movement in Latin America.
“It was a privilege and an opportunity to study with rabbis and chazanim from around the world, made the most of it. We listened and interacted with a journalist from Haaretz and a former Knesset member to understand the difficult Israeli reality. We delved into the processes of Gyur – conversion – from the religious to the legal, to better understand the criteria accepted by the Jewish Agency in relation to the conversions we carry out in the diaspora. We could share meals in a fraternal and friendly atmosphere. We created bonds and got to know people from different Batei Din – Rabbinic Courts – from the different regions where the WUPJ is present. We set the goal of exchanging ideas and joining forces, bringing the regions closer together” says Rabbi Guershon Kwasniewski.
The conference was also a moment for the leaders themselves to connect with their Judaism. At a Morning Prayer ceremony at the Kotel led by Rabbi Dr. Ruben Sternschein on Thursday, 04/05, community leaders Jorge Schwarz Crestani and Jerusa Cavalheiro were able to perform their B-mitzvah ceremonies. Two days later, they received a Sefer Torah for their congregation, the União Israelita do Vale da Região do Itajaí (UNIVRI, Balneário Camboriú, Brazil). Jorge tells a little about what it meant to have these experiences:
“Every moment carried with it a unique meaning, from the Bar Mitzvah to the Torah delivery, which arrives at UNIVRI through its partnership with the Community of Baltimore: a traditional community, reaching out to a young and emerging community, thanks to the commitment of the WUPJ and the UJR-AmLat, who created this bridge. Ledor Vador.
The convention reaffirmed my perception that Reform Judaism is a living and pulsating reality, it is the future of Judaism that is making itself present. I bring this Sefer Torah with love and affection to enlighten our small community, UNIVRI, União Israelita do Vale da Região do Itajaí. It is a joy that I share with all of you and I am moved every time I remember these steps. Everyone is welcome to meet our community and celebrate with us the arrival of the Sefer Torah.”
In addition to UNIVRI, six other congregations around the world received new Sifrei Torah: two in Australia, two in Europe, one in Israel and one in Brazil, the Neshama community, recently founded and led by Rabbi David Leo Eisencraft, who was also present on Connections.
For the first time, Connections’ participation was also an integral part of the traditional Beutel Seminar program, dedicated to people who demonstrate long-term leadership potential and who wish to receive tools to improve leadership skills and innovative practices for community organizations. For five days, progressive Jewish leaders from across the globe came together in Haifa to develop projects and collaborate on the shared development of their ideas.
The seminar was attended by five Latin Americans: three Argentines and two Brazilians. The Argentines Andrea Kaplan and Miriam Olchansky, from Fundación Judaica, tell about their experiences:
“Each participant presented a project that we discussed and deepened in groups and that we will continue to develop in each country/community. We acquired new knowledge and innovative tools to generate impact in our volunteer workspaces with a human group with whom we speak the same language, although not the same languages. We started each day with a Tefillah self-organized by the different participants in which we prayed, sang, danced, reflected, meditated and did Yoga exercises. Concepts such as innovation, cooperation, generosity, volunteering, commitment were the axes of each day.
Seminar coordinators Rabbi Shlomo Zagman and Rabbi Stacey Blank accompanied and supported us on this path so that together we can strengthen our community role. We thank them and everyone who made this path possible.”
Our growing presence reflects the strength that Progressive Judaism has been gaining within the Latin American Jewish community and the importance of being increasingly engaged in fostering the reformist Jewish experience in our region. We wish the leaders a good journey from this experience and that more and more people can join in the work for the strengthening of a meaningful, inclusive and progressive Judaism in our continent.