Friday, February 28, 2014

The Masorti World Through the Lens of Shabbat

It is late on the final Thursday in February, on the final week of my trip to Israel. As always, it was a whirlwind of meetings – both formal and serendipitous. As always, there was the magical sense of living in miraculous times, of being part of the greatest start-up nation initiative in the contemporary world. As always, there was the awareness of a tenuous existence, the presence of hostile neighbors, multiple opportunities for tikkun within the borders of our beloved homeland.

Though I met with lawmakers and newsmakers, heard reports of sobering situations and was briefed about breaking stories, what remains with me most of all are the personal conversations I had with people over the course of a single Shabbat.

These impacted me greatly and inform my agenda as I return back to New York.

So let me start by telling you about Jeremy. A British Jew, Jeremy is 23 years old, an alum of Noam UK and now a lay leader in Noam Olami (our worldwide Masorti teen movement).  Having attended our Centennial this past October in Baltimore, Jeremy told me that the gathering was "over the top" for him as he had never had an opportunity to be around so many other Masorti Jews, to be inspired by them and witness the learning and spiritual cross-pollination that was taking place. As a result of having been there, the Noam leadership decided they needed a structure to bring more value to their work and appointed Jeremy to be the first chair of Noam Olami in Europe.  

This represents a seismic sea change in our global fellowship…and kicked into motion a whole new way of operating. As Jeremy and his peers are learning from us, we, in turn, are learning from his organization? what it means to have more of a youth-run youth movement. To that end, our regional youth director from the New York area went to London recently to share our knowledge of organizational structure and to learn from Noam about creating more peer-led youth groups. We’re also looking to send two USYers to Noam’s camp in London this summer to further the relationship.  

And here’s a bonus: As a result of being at our convention Jeremy met Limmud founder Clive Lawton. When he returned to England, he was able to make Clive his mentor at the United Jewish Israel Appeal, completing the circle. This is a beautiful example of how United Synagogue’s influence in the international Jewish world is being felt.

Jeremy and I had a chance to connect at the Shabbaton hosted by Masorti Olami. Over the course of this event, I prayed, ate with, sang and connected with dozens of lay and professional leaders from around the Masorti World –  the UK, France, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Ukraine, Canada, Israel and the United States. What was especially exciting was engaging in visioning exercises toward creating a new strategic plan for Masorti Olami. As United Synagogue is the largest constituency of worldwide Masorti Judaism, people were overjoyed that we were there. It is important to our global family that we are engaged in their wellbeing. With our strength comes the responsibility of leadership as well as the opportunity to learn from others and their experiences.

We are indeed stronger when we broaden our lens and realize that our family extends beyond North America, hearing about the challenges, successes and experiences beyond our borders.
Remembering the Shabbaton, I also cannot stop thinking about Rabbi Reuven Stanlov and his wife, who are from Kiev. While I originally met them last June while on the JAFI mission to the Ukraine, the Shabbat we spent together provided me with an opportunity to get a first hand account of what's going on in their community during this time of great instability and to hear their needs.  

Topping the list is security for their institutions as anti-Semitism is rearing its head again, posing a very real threat. The Jewish Agency in response is providing $150,000 for the Kiev Jewish community. As it turns out, our Masorti kehilla Midreshet Yerushalayim is just a twenty-minute walk from the center of the violence.  Additional resources are being made available to facilitate quick Aliya to Israel too.

While considering how best to help our Kiev kehilla, I happened to speak with Hillary Gordon who works for Masorti Olami.  She told me that our kehillot in Canada had no way to make a tax-deductible contribution directly to Masorti Olami to help our Kiev kehilla. I sent an email to Rabbi Paul Drazen, our director of special projects, and four hours later we had set up the fund and mechanism to receive contributions on behalf of Masorti Olami not just in Canada but in the US, as well. As of this writing more than $7,000 has been raised specifically for it. These funds will be used to supplement security and to provide much needed resources for celebrating Purim.  

Just as we were able to serve as a clearinghouse for assistance rendered and needed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, United Synagogue is able to be a nerve-center to our worldwide kehillot during perilous times.

You can help by donating here. (Click on the “direct my gift to” radio button, and select Masorti Kehilla Support from the drop-down box 

In my next blog post, I will debrief on my meetings with the Conference of Presidents, my visit to Rawabi –  the first planned city developed in the Palestinian Authority, my meetings with JAFI and WZO and the new awareness I have for the issue of African Asylum, a pressing social issue that I confess I had not paid enough attention to before.

There is much information for me to share with you regarding Israel’s security, especially regarding Iran, the progress of our struggle to achieve religious pluralism in the Jewish homeland, ongoing discussions about 21st Century Jewish identity, and the prospects for peace.

For now, as I approach the first Shabbat following this Israel trip, I wish to hold onto the power of personal connections enabled by sitting next to my Conservative and Masorti brothers and sisters from far-flung places. I am aware -- more than ever -- of the truly awesome responsibility that United Synagogue has to convene a global conversation about the viability of our centrist, passionate stream of Judaism. I return home to the United States aware – more than ever – of the manifold gifts of being Jewish in North America.

May God spread a canopy of peace on us, on Israel and on the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom.

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