This Should Be a Word: “Congfirmation”



Every week I look for the “That Should Be a Word” column in The One-Page Magazine in the Sunday New York Times. The column, if you can call it that, has an amazing knack for coining a good neologism – a new word or phrase. The humor, smarts, and creativity of the words inspired me to create my own neologism – “congfirmation” (pronounced cong-fir-may-shun).

Let me explain.

I recently had the honor and pleasure to witness my youngest child affirm his faith as part of the confirmation process at our synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid of Bloomfield, N.J. After a year of study with our rabbi, each of the 14 students shared why Judaism was important to them and then publicly affirmed their faith in front of the entire congregation. I started to wonder: “Why, if they are affirming their faith, do we not call the process ‘affirmation’ instead of ‘confirmation’?” Then I asked myself the differences between the two. Read more…

The Evolution of the NFTY Chordster



By Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur

In 1982, a rabbi placed a guitar in my arms, taught me four basic chords, and inspired by Hillel’s famous quote, declared, “With these four chords you can play any Jewish song. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Indeed, in the 1980s, NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, continued to develop and deepen our connection to Judaism through creating and singing new Jewish songs. We learned, we taught, and we sang with enthusiasm and tremendous passion.

Song sessions were about creating sacred community. In the early 80s, microphones were frowned upon by those who felt that the use of electronic equipment would affect the relationship between leader and participant, turning the session into a performance-oriented event. Without the electronic boost, song leaders had to work a bit harder, but the result was the creation of sweet three-part harmonies and a strong emphasis on collective singing. Read more…

Celebrating NFTY’s Diamond Jubilee



Taking the words of the prophet Joel as the refrain of her 1981 classic song “And The Youth Shall See Visions,” Debbie Friedman captured the role of young people in our Movement:

And the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions, And our hopes shall rise up to the sky.

For 75 years, the Reform Youth Movement has inspired our young to boldly revitalize Jewish life with their creativity and commitment. Too often adults expect youth to be just like them, but the job of youth is not to be the caretaker of the status quo. We do not need them to download our agendas into their spiritual hard drives, but rather to help us see the Jewish future through their visions.

This past February I was privileged to join 35 of our stellar NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) leaders at the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) convention in Dallas. Many people wondered what were we doing there — “Isn’t BBYO the rival of NFTY?” But our remarkable youth leaders did the math: Together, NFTY and BBYO reach only 3.5% of North American Jewish teens. To engage more of their peers, they decided to move beyond rivalry to partnership. Read more…

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Open Letter to President-Elect Reuven Rivlin



[Editor's Note: This letter from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform, Judaism, to Reuven Rivlin, Israel's president-elect, originally ran in Haaretz.]

Dear President-elect Rivlin,

I want to offer my warm congratulations to you upon your election as the 10th president of Israel. What a tremendous opportunity you have to serve our beloved Jewish State at this critical time! In your acceptance speech, you immediately signaled that you are resigning from the Likud party to become the president of all Israelis: “Jews, Arabs, Druze, rich, poor, those who are more observant and those who are less.” I was very pleased to read these words which herald a new breadth and depth to your leadership.

I would be less than candid, however, if I did not admit to some concern about your ability and willingness to work with the largest denomination in North American Jewish life, the Reform Movement, and our Israeli counterpart, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. In 1989, you visited Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in New Jersey. In an interview after your visit you told a reporter from Yedioth Aharonot about your experience, where you disparaged, with stunning insensitivity, the dominant religiosity of North American Jewry, our Reform Movement. Read more…

Chazak Chazak V’nitchazeik



By Andrew Keene and Debbie Rabinovich

Our tradition teaches us to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week and make it holy. We mark this separation and transition into the regular week withHavdalah. On some weeks, we take the opportunity to savor the transition time and prolong the Havdalah experience. In NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, this Shabbat is one that we will savor for a few extra moments as we install the newly elected NFTY North American Board. The installation will occur at the Union for Reform Judaism Kutz Camp, the home of NFTY and Inspired Engagement.

The NFTY Board installation ceremony is the actualization of the concept of hanhagah l’dorot, Generational Leadership. Past and present NFTY leaders partake in witnessing and installing the newly charged North American leadership in a tradition that transcends generations of NFTY leadership. Read more…

The Walkman Generation – NFTY in the ‘80s



By Rabbi Roxanne J. Schneider Shapiro

More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath; the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people. – Ahad Ha’am

When I reflect on NFTY in the ‘80s, I would revise Ha’am’s quote to:

More than Reform Jewish teenagers have kept NFTY; NFTY has kept Reform Jewish teenagers.

I cannot speak for all who were involved in NFTY in the ‘80s, but for me, NFTY was a holy sanctuary – it was what I would refer to as a beit midrash (house of study), beit t’filah (house of prayer), and a beit k’neset (house of meeting), all in one.

Teens in the ‘80s were learning about Judaism ‘on the go.’ We were the “Walkman generation.” Finally, we could take music with us. This represented more than just music on the go ― for us it was the beginning of portable Judaism. I practiced for my bat mitzvah service with a cassette tape in my Walkman. I could play my tapes of NFTY I, II, III, IV, V, and my MoVFTY mix tapes over and over in the car, on a walk, and at NFTY events. Our music and our experiences were not limited to places where a music box could be plugged in; rather, they were everywhere. We were learning that Judaism was not limited to our homes and synagogues―it could be taken with us. Read more…

Annual Meetings: Taking Stock of Where We Are



by Rabbi Laurence Elis Milder, Ph.D.

Congregations need times for self-reflection. No congregation should coast, go on auto-pilot, or think of its mission as the doing of business-as-usual.

At least once a year, we need to take stock. What have we accomplished? What are the challenges we face? What are the possibilities? Perhaps most important of all, what are our dreams?

For individuals, this kind of reflection takes place during the High Holidays. But congregations have a different cycle. We look at ourselves at our annual meeting.

People have a tendency to disparage meetings, but I don’t take that path. Meetings bring us together for a shared purpose. They are a tribute to our spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. They appeal to our “better angels.”

Read more…

A Formula for Engaging Jewish Teenagers



Working with teenagers is simply heartwarming. We experienced this yet again at our recent Havdala Under the Stars, Congregation Or Ami’s year-end gathering of our Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) youth program.

Picture this: a large group of teens, 7th to 12th grades, sitting around a campfire, singing songs, playing games, and grouping and regrouping in ever changing configurations of young people. Bucking trends in Jewish life – where so many teens drop out soon after b’nai mitzvah – these teens showed up smiling. (Thanks to the URJ’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, we rethought our entire youth program.)

Rabbi Julie Weisz, the energetic visionary behind Congregation Or Ami’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, invited the teens to reflect upon what made their Triple T time so meaningful. The responses were heartwarming: Read more…

WUPJ Statement on Fatal Shootings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels



The World Union For Progressive Judaism issued the following statement on Sunday in response to the recent shootings in Brussels.

The World Union For Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and our 1.8 million members around the world express our deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the victims, including two Israelis and a French woman, murdered on Shabbat, May 24, outside the Brussels Jewish Museum.

This ghastly attack raises serious concerns about the rise anti-Semitism in Belgium as well as the safety of Jewish communities across the continent.

The WUPJ calls on all people of goodwill to help fight against racism and hatred that once again have resulted in an act of terrorism where innocent people have lost their lives and others severely injured. Read more…

Camp Jenny: Impacting Lives Year After Year



By Richard Rosenthal

Partaking in annual traditions are what highlight family values to me. For example, watching the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade together, using the same afikoman cover year after year, and preparing a special meal for Rosh HaShanah are some special traditions that come to mind. Along that continuum, there is a tradition that blossomed over 25 years ago at URJ Camp Coleman in the North Georgia Mountains called Camp Jenny. This tradition happens every year, when camp organizers come together with 125 NFTYites to share their values, and to offer their love, leadership, and guidance to approximately 150 under-privileged children who engage in camp activities over Memorial Day weekend. Read more…

“Spirited” Singing of the Seventies



By  Merri Lovinger Arian

I can still hear the exuberant voices, clapping hands, and stomping feet! I can see bodies swaying, sometimes setting the dining room light fixtures into motion! It was what many NFTYites described as “spirited singing,” unlike any they had experienced before. We all knew how precious those moments were. But looking back, I realize that when campers described those song sessions as “spirited,” they meant something much more profound than ‘exciting’ or ‘rowdy.’ Rather, they were remembering a truly spiritual, transcendent experience. The music allowed us to transcend where we were, fed our sense of community, and touched us to the core. Our Jewish identities were sparked by those experiences. Read more…

Colleagues, friends and family gather to remember Rabbi David J. Forman



By Terry Hendin

Some 65 people ranging in age from a few months to 95 years old gathered in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood on Monday, May 19, 2014 at the Kehilat HaDror Community Garden.  The Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood was the home to our colleague, mentor, teacher and friend, the late Rabbi David J. Forman. Rabbi Forman was the long time Director of NFTY in Israel programs who passed away in May, 2010.  A human rights activist, author, lecturer and gifted teacher, David’s memory is cherished not only by his loving extended family, including his wife Judy and daughters Tamar, Liat, Shira and Orly, but also by a devoted group of former classmates, colleagues and friends.

Forman Fund May 19, 2014 Activity Day

Rabbi Shaul Feinberg, Terry Hendin, and Rabbi Stuart Gellar join together for work in the garden.

The occasion was the 3rd Annual Activity Day organized by the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund based in Jerusalem.  The multi-generation friendly project included work at the garden, clearing the ground to lay a path, pruning trees, weeding, planting flowers and creating mosaic markers naming the various species growing in the garden. Rabbi Ezzie Ende, a former NFTY in Israel group leader and educator who now serves Kehilat HaDror lead us in a brief study related to the counting of the Omer, tying this in to the history of the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood and Rabbi Forman’s deep commitment to human rights, tolerance, democratic and Jewish values, youth and the nurturing of pluralistic communities. Some of those present briefly spoke about social justice projects they are involved in.  This was very much in the spirit of Rabbi Forman who always was involved in social justice and human rights initiatives.

Throughout the year, this area is used by the school and general community and particularly by members of Kiryat Hayovel’s fledgling Reform congregation, Kehilat HaDror which began as an offshoot of the veteran congregation, Kehilat Kol HaNeshama.  Kabbalat Shabbat, holiday services and activities take place here during mild weather.  Summertime movie nights, children’s birthday parties and hands on environmental education all occur in this charming ‘pocket’ garden in a neighborhood whose population is for the most part invested in preserving a balanced well-integrated pluralistic community.

Four generations of the Forman-Haberman family were present and 3 generations of Rabbi Forman’s friends and colleagues many of whom had been or continue to be professionally affiliated with NFTY and NFTY in Israel.

Courtesy of the family of Rabbi David Forman

Courtesy of the family of Rabbi David Forman

The Rabbi David J. Forman Fund was established to perpetuate the legacy of David’s Jewish social activism, leadership in Jewish education, promotion of justice as a rabbinical vision, and the need to work indefatigably and without illusion for peace, justice, and human rights.  The Fund is devoted to activities that demonstrate a passion for the Zionist enterprise, helping to build a more just Israeli society, and the enhancement of Jewish Peoplehood.   The annual Activity Day, Human Rights Awards and Scholarships are some of the areas sponsored by the fund. For more information about the Rabbi David J. Forman Fund email: rabbiformanfund@gmail.com

Top 5 Highlights of the URJ Board Leadership Mission to Israel



Earlier this month, I joined URJ president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Director of Israel Engagement Rabbi Yehudit Werchow, and nearly 50 URJ leaders for an incredible four days in Israel on the URJ Board Leadership Mission. It was a working visit, and it’s difficult to boil down such an intense trip into five highlights moments, but here goes:

  1. Spending Shabbat in Israel is always meaningful, but on this trip, we could truly feel the impact of the Reform Movement. Friday night we attended services at IMPJ communities across the country, and during a Shabbat lunch with HUC-JIR students. Meeting dynamic, indigenous leaders we experience the strength of the Reform Movement in Israel – and could see it is growing stronger.
  1. Throughout the trip, Israeli leaders affirmed the importance of Reform Judaism. It was clear through our meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit that the Reform Movement is taken seriously and greatly respected in the halls of government in Israel.

Read more…

10 Years of Ten Minutes of Torah

The state of Israel in America (Part 1 of 3)



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

My heart is in the East
by Yehuda HaLevy (Toledo, Spain  1085 – 1140)
My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West;
How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia?
It would be easy for me to leave all the bounty of Spain –
As it is precious for me to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

In 1815, Mordecai Manuel Noah was removed from his position as American Ambassador to Tunis by then Secretary of State James Monroe, citing Noah’s religion as “an obstacle to the exercise of [his] Consular function.” In 1825, with little support from even his fellow Jews, and as a precursor to modern Zionism, Noah tried to found a Jewish “refuge” or sovereign entity at Grand Island in the Niagara River. It was to be called “Ararat,” after Mount Ararat, the Biblical resting place of Noah’s Ark (all narcissism aside). He purchased land for $4.38 per acre to be used as a refuge for Jews of all nations. A cornerstone was placed there, which read, “Ararat, a City of Refuge for the Jews, founded by Mordecai M. Noah in the Month of Tishri, 5586 (September, 1825) and in the Fiftieth Year of American Independence.” Read more…