Synagogue in Simferopol, Ukraine Needs Urgent Repairs

The following was sent on Thursday morning as an email on behalf of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The bottom of this post includes a link to donate to help Jewish communities in Ukraine during this time of crisis.

Dear World Union Family: In the past few weeks we’ve shared with you what has been happening in our communities in Ukraine. We’ve all seen the heartbreaking photos of one of our synagogues in Crimea covered with anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas. We are in close contact with our local leadership. We were happy to hear that students from the international Hillel organization held a “Good Deeds Week” and chose to paint over the graffiti as their good deed. However, we have now been informed that the Simferopol Synagogue building is in need of urgent repairs – the roof is leaking and may collapse at any moment.

The WUPJ has initiated an emergency campaign to support our communities throughout this crisis, and to provide urgently needed protection measures, supplies, equipment as well as assistance with the installation of security systems.

At this time, the most urgent short term needs are the physical state of the building in Simferopol, and tightening the security measures. We are asking for assistance now, since these steps must be put into action immediately.  Please do what you can so our family in Ukraine can return to the task facing an entire generation – rebuilding Jewish life, which was lost over the last century.

The media coverage for the situation has been extensive. The UK’s Jewish News reports that the “shul has been turned into a fortress” and there are concerns for the continuity of the congregation in Simferopol. Israel’s Ha’aretz reports that the community in Crimea is divided between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian Jews. Other media sources talk about the fears and worries that the people face there. Our local leadership have been interviewed on radio and TV stations – both local and international, such as NPR (radio) and Israel’s TV 10-News.The support from our global family has been heartwarming – through fundraising, emails and phone calls, and helping to raise public awareness. Alyth North Western Reform Synagogue (London) are in close contact with the Crimean Kerch community as we reported in WUPJnews #788. Zoya, the Jewish Community Administrator in Kerch said “Please, pass our words of gratitude to all our dear friends at Alyth who pray for us and who think about our community. Thank you so-so much for your kind and supporting words. God bless you.” The Leo Baeck College, London, published a brief press release, expressing “deep concern the events unfolding in Ukraine.”  Congregation Ner Tamid in Simferopol has also been in a twinning relationship with Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, in Evanston, IL and they will be sending recently raised emergency funds, along with funds that have been contributed from the Jewish Federation in Chicago. Reform congregations working with the Nashville Federation have also collected funds for upgrades to the security system. These are just a few of the many efforts being made across the globe to ease the suffering of communities in Ukraine.

As we begin to prepare for Shabbat and for the up-coming Purim festival, let us remember our fellow Reform Jews in Kiev, Crimea, and across the whole Ukraine, who are going through difficult times. We pray for their safety and for the return to peace for all citizens in the Ukraine.

To make a contribution, please visit WUPJ GIVING. If you’re using a credit card, please mark “Kiev Appeal” in the box that says, “Enter description.” Please call Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor with any questions or concerns: 212-452-6531 or

Blue Ridge Mountain High: The ECE-RJ Kallah

by Cathy Rolland

How fortunate I was to be among a dedicated group of early childhood professionals who gathered last weekend in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains for a dose of spiritual renewal and time together with respected colleagues with whom I could share ideas, resources, and challenges around our sacred work to engage young children and their families in the joys of Jewish life. How blessed I was to attend the 2014 Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism Kallah.

Our adventure began at Congregation Beth HaTephila, where Rabbi Batsheva Meiri and the Kitah Hey class of talented fifth graders led a truly inspiring and meaningful Kabbalat Shabbat service. The next day, we spent time devoted to intentional Jewish practice in North Carolina’s beautiful outdoors.  Led by Rabbi Mike Comins and Shira Kline in the spring-like air and sunshine of the Tar Heel State, I felt true kavannah (intention) in my worship, joy in my singing, and that indescribable ruach (spirit) that happens whenever Jews come together. Read more…

10 Years of Ten Minutes of Torah

Unto Zion We Shall Give Torah

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

“All the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spoke unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses, which Adonai had commanded to Israel. 2 And Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read therein before the broad place that was before the water gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the Law… 8 And they read in the book, in the Law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people: ‘This day is holy unto Adonai your God; mourn not, nor weep.’ For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.” (Nehemiah Ch. 8:1-3; 8-9) Read more…

The NFTY 50′s

By Eleanor Schwartz

Excerpted from “Ani V’atah” NFTY Newsletter, February 2005.

This decade was a Golden Era for NFTY; a time of innovation and creative energy, a search for and development of identity with an agenda for action within the congregation; the affirmation that teens and the Temple Youth Group (TYG) had come of age.

This actually started in the late 40s after the end of World War II, when Rabbi Samuel Cook became the NFTY Director. He had the vision that post-confirmation teens needed to “grow up Jewishly” in an environment of their choice, a program of their choice, and with responsibility for their actions. The then young adult NFTY Board shared this vision and in 1948 took action to change the age profile of NFTY to post-confirmation throughout school. Having banished themselves as NFTY members, many of these “retirees” became TYG or regional advisors and faculty members at NFTY events. Read more…

Tivnu: Building Justice

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Steve Eisenbach-Budner

Tivnu: Building Justice is a new organization based in Portland, Oregon. Tivnu is proud to partner with URJ’s Mitzvah Corps Portland this summer, and, this fall Tivnu is launching the first stateside Jewish gap year program.  Both our summer and gap year programs combine social advocacy, Jewish learning and living, and construction work and training with affordable-housing organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

We believe that it is important for Jews to engage in social justice work not just as individuals, but as representatives of the Jewish community in partnership with other communities. For us, creating meaningful social justice initiatives involves: Read more…

Stronger Together: The Story of a Community’s Regrowth

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Ivy Cohen

Five years ago, the three Reform Synagogues in the Metropolitan New Orleans Area, each with their own unique, rich and glorious histories faced a common problem: their youth groups had shrunk to an unsustainable size. Touro Synagogue, Congregation Gates of Prayer and Congregation Temple Sinai, which each had thriving youth programs at one point, were operating with less than ten members. The synagogues each had a volunteer advisor who worked diligently to recruit and publicize their events. However, they were unable to get critical participation numbers, and the investment was outweighing the returns. There were some teens actively participating, those who were the true foundation and heartbeat of the youth group that would show up to anything branded by their respective acronym. Despite the eager few, though, the reality of the situation was grave. The congregations could no longer justify operating independent youth groups. The synagogues each agreed that they wanted teens to have access to some kind of Jewish experience, ideally grounded in the Reform community. Although there were other options in New Orleans for a post b’nai mitzvah experience, the congregations wanted to ensure that their teens had access to a uniquely Reform Jewish experience. Read more…

It Won’t Work If Congregations and Educators…

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Ava Kurnow

  • only think about engaging post b’nai mitzvah students
  • don’t look at the whole picture of their community
  • don’t know what their short and long term goals are
  • don’t engage the stakeholders

Is there anything above that Jewish educators don’t already know?  Is there any congregation that doesn’t want to engage their members, including the youth?  Is the importance of building relationships within your community a new concept?

After you answer, “No”, think about what has changed and why we’re all looking for new ways to engage our youth. What will help you and why are we all writing and reading about what everyone else is doing? Read more…

Saperstein Condemns Anti-Semitism Against Ukrainian Jewry

In response to several anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine, the site of ongoing social upheaval, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement:

The events in Ukraine are deeply concerning for all who value human rights. We pray that the unrest will be resolved in a peaceful and democratic manner and without further loss of life. At the same time, we are also greatly troubled by several recent incidents of anti-Semitism that have shaken the Ukrainian Jewish community. The vandalism including swastikas and graffiti reading ‘Death to the Jews’ on the synagogue in Simferopol in the Crimea region this past Friday is unacceptable and serves as a bitter reminder that anti-Semitism continues to plague too many Jewish communities.  Read more…

URJ Kutz Camp – NFTY’s Physical Address

By Melissa Frey

When Hattie and Milton Kutz gifted $100,000 of their estate toward the creation of a Reform Movement leadership training summer program for teens, the impact of their vision likely could not have been imagined. Tens of thousands of people, both young and young at heart, including many of the most influential professional and volunteer leaders in our movement, are products of the URJ Kutz Camp. Forty-nine summers after opening the gates at 46 Bowen Road in Warwick, New York, Kutz has secured its place as the flagship center of inspired engagement. Each of these milestones and successes has happened because of and in partnership with NFTY.

Read more…

Remembering Mark Levy

Recently, I attended the funeral of Mark Levy, z”l, in Los Angeles and had the honor of celebrating his life. Mark and his wife, Peachy, have been deeply committed to the future of the Jewish people for decades. Through their incredible leadership, they have distinguished themselves as two of the Reform Movement’s most generous donors. Particularly devoted to camp and youth initiatives, the Levys provided scholarships that enabled thousands of students to attend the URJ’s west coast camps (camps Newman and Kalsman) and NFTY events, and they expanded the URJ’s camping network to include URJ Camp Kalsman, named for Peachy’s parents.

Last year Mark and Peachy, widely beloved for their tremendous warmth, menschlichkeit and generosity, were honored as lifetime members of NFTY. This video provides a glimpse of the warmth of the Levys and the love they receive from our young people. Indeed, our Movement is diminished by the loss of Mark. May his memory be for a blessing, and may Peachy and their family – and all of us – find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Reform Synagogue Attacked in Simferopol, Ukraine

The following was sent on Friday afternoon as an email on behalf of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The bottom of this post includes a link to donate to help Jewish communities in Ukraine during this time of crisis.

This morning, as our community members arrived at the synagogue center in Simferopol, they discovered Antisemitic slogans stating “Death to the Jews” painted all over the doors of the synagogue, as well as damage to windows and other parts of the building.

As the unrest in Ukraine unfolds, concerns for the safety and well being of our communities in the Ukraine is growing steadily, especially in the rural areas and Crimea. Read more…

URJ Camp Offers Incentive Program for Jewish Military Families

The URJ is proud to announce an innovative Camper Incentive Program for Jewish Military Families on Active Duty, open to Jewish families with at least one parent on Active Duty in the United States Armed Forces.

The program will be offered at the URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS, which has served more than 10,000 Jewish children since 1970. Incentives vary in amount from $250.00 to $3,000 per child, based on the military rank of the parent(s) and the child’s age. An individual incentive is available for each child enrolled for camp from participating families.

Says URJ’s Director of Camp and Israel Programs Paul Reichenbach, Read more…

NFTY-NAR Kallah: Can Dads be NFTYites, Too?!

Earlier this winter, my synagogue played host to NFTY-NAR’s Winter Kallah. Because we’re of the “go big or go home” belief, our cantor arranged for Jewish musician Dan Nichols to be our artist-in-residence the same weekend. Ever a consummate mensch, Dan participated the entire weekend in activities with NFTY, the religious school, and programs for our adult congregants.

Beginning Thursday evening, Dan rehearsed with our adult, teen, and youth choirs for our Friday night service. On Friday evening just before Shabbat, more than 130 teens and their NFTY-NAR advisors started to arrive by car, by minivan, and by bus. As months of tireless and careful planning came into play, the weekend began to take on a life of its own. There are not enough words to express the gratitude to these dedicated people who do so much for our youth beyond planning such kallot.

The weekend was, in a word, awesome. It began Friday night, with Dan leading our congregation in a musical Shabbat service. I have been going through some soul-searching recently, and Dan’s music, paired with the NFTYites’ reactions to it, gave me reason to take a step back and feel as though I might have found some of what I’d been looking for. Read more…

Jay Ruderman: Disability Issues are Issues of Social Justice

by Jay Ruderman

Wikipedia defines social justice as, “the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.” This definition can be broken down into three parts: realizing potential, in society, and where they live. For Jewish people with disabilities, each of these parts presents a challenge – and for the rest of us, they present an opportunity.

The full inclusion of people with disabilities in society is a matter of social justice, civil rights, and fairness. Every Jew counts, every Jew has something unique to offer our community, and every Jew is created in the image of God, no matter how they look or express themselves. Approximately 1,000,000 Jews in the United States have some form of disability. Look at that number again: 1,000,000 people, in our community alone. Our job must be to invite them in, not put up barriers to keep them out. Read more…