Voices of WRJ: B’haalot’cha

by Diane Kaplan

B’haalot’cha means “when you bring up”. Well, the people of the Exodus brought up a lot! This week’s Torah portion, concerns the beginning of our journey from Mount Sinai toward the Promised Land. Much of the content, interpreted for modernity, could be the basis for Women of Reform Judaism’s by-laws, policies and procedures and the everyday workings of our individual sisterhoods.

The first unit of the parshah 8:1-9:14 describes the laws of sacrifice and offerings as well as the responsibilities of the Levites. “Thus you shall set the Levites apart from the Isrealites…the Levites shall be qualified for the service in the Tent of Meeting”. (8:14-8:15) Our WRJ leaders are not G-d appointed but they are chosen…elected by us to lead our organization. They sacrifice personal time to attend to the workings of their sisterhoods, women’s groups, districts and the Board of WRJ. They offer up their best. They are our most qualified and committed members. Read more…

A Kotel for all Jews

by Jacob Kraus

Late in January, the Israeli Government voted to approve a historic agreement to establish an egalitarian space at the Western Wall that would, for the first time in Israeli history, recognize the role of Reform and Conservative Judaism at the Kotel. Since then, though, the plan has seen fierce opposition and delays. Now, many of us are wondering: When will we see the improvements that were promised more than five months ago?

This is the exact question a delegation of American Jewish leaders posed to Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 1. URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steve Wernick and Jewish Federations of North America President Jerry Silverman led a delegation to Israel in order to press the government to fulfill its obligations under the agreement. Together, they expressed their frustration with the lack of progress in enhancing the Kotel’s southern plaza and reminded the Prime Minister of how important an egalitarian prayer space is not only for diaspora Jewry, but for Jews in Israel as well. You can view a video update Rabbi Jacobs recorded after meeting with the Prime Minister on the URJ’s Facebook page.

Women of the Wall, whose representatives also attended the meeting, released a statement calling upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to stand up to the plan’s opponents in the Knesset, saying that they “look to the government to make the equality of women and the inclusion of ALL Jews, a central, high priority by taking significant steps to implement this plan in the coming weeks.” Since this meeting, the Prime Minister has reiterated his commitment to keep his promise and implement the agreement, ordering a bimah to be built in the current egalitarian plaza.

Compounding the frustration with delays in enhancing the egalitarian plaza are reports that an Orthodox service with a mechitzah separating men and women was held at the plaza on June 14. In response, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel held a service at the Kotel’s upper plaza, located behind the gender-segregated section of the holy site, on June 16.

Responding to the Reform and Conservative service, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs made it clear that “We will continue these regular prayer gatherings in our determination to affirm the right of all Jews to pray at the Western Wall and to assert the vision of Jewish unity in which every Jew feels at home at the Kotel and in the whole of the Jewish state.” Fully implementing January’s agreement on the Western Wall would make significant progress towards this vision. As leaders and activists in Israel and beyond continue to elevate the call for an egalitarian Kotel, it is important that we continue to lend our support and make it clear that we believe in a Jewish state that is welcoming to all Jews. Learn more about the RAC’s work on Israel by visiting our issue page.

Jacob Kraus is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Jacob is from Cincinnati, OH, where he is a member of Rockdale Temple. He graduated from Macalester College.

This post originally appeared on the RAC Blog

Voices of WRJ: Naso

by Carol Berger

Parashat Naso has many themes: the Levitical census, the Nazirite vow, the ordeal of bitter water endured by the Sotah, and the sanctity of the priestly blessing. Each of these themes has interesting ideas for us to navigate.

Naso means to lift up, and in this week’s parashah the word is understood to mean to take a count. This is not the count of the full community, but rather is the count of the different Levitical clans, each of which had a special job in the Mishkan, the travelling sanctuary. This count includes only males aged 30-50. How interesting that the count was only males, and not even all males at that. This is not surprising – the role of women in the Torah is so often ignored. We know that women have always occupied a central place in our heritage; they must have shared in the work of the Mishkan along with the men. It is our choice today, as Women of Reform Judaism to include them in our telling of our story, knowing that the Torah and the tradition often left them out. Our community includes everyone. Read more…

Voices of WRJ: B’midbar

by Susan Bass

B’midbar.  Wilderness. Imagine the limitless expanse of desert surrounding the tribes of Israelites as they prepare to depart from Sinai.  How strange it must have been for the generation who knew slavery in Egypt to face such space and freedom.  How overwhelming it must have been to think about their future, surrounded by such conditions!

The central theme of the book of Numbers is the transition of tribes into a nation – unified in their belief system, committed to serve the God who brought them out of Egypt. Read more…

Remembering how All Jews Stood at Sinai

By Jacob Kraus

In just a couple of days, we will celebrate Shavuot, the holiday that marks our receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This moment of revelation is one of the most pivotal and dramatic in the Torah, but it also reminds us of our shared identity with Jews all over the world. Read more…

Voices of WRJ: B’chukotai

by Isabel Einzig-Wein

As we conclude the book of Leviticus, the third book in the 5 Books of Moses, G_d asserts his instructions to the Jewish People:

“If you follow my decrees and observe my commandments and perform them: “I will…” and G_d proceeds to present 13 general requirements that will enrich and enhance and provide protection for the Jewish people. Read more…

Advancements in Global Health Research

In January, world leaders launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and promote health and well-being for all by 2030. In order to achieve goal number three, “Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages,” we must increase efforts to fully eradicate a wide range of diseases, and address persistent and emerging health issues. Although the international community is constantly combatting global health concerns such as malaria, in the past three years, we have also faced major health crises for which we were unprepared. The United States remains the largest supplier of health funds for research and development, but this year’s Global Health Technologies Coalition report found funding for global health has been decreasing since 2009. The importance and need for research and development funding is shown both by recent health challenges and crises:  Read more…

Celebrating Progress Towards Transgender Equality

May 20 marked Transgender Day of Celebration, to acknowledge transgender lives in a joyful and celebratory context. Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot for the transgender community and allies to be excited about, especially as we move into the month of June, which is LGBT Pride Month! Read more…

Voices of WRJ: B’har

by Judy Wexler

I recently had the opportunity to visit southern Spain, where so much Jewish history exists. I even had the privilege of attending a community Pesach Seder in Seville, where there is currently a small but thriving Jewish community. Nonetheless, for the most part, Jews have not lived in that area for over 500 years. As we toured the ancient cities there, I was faced over and over again with the devastation experienced by the Spanish Jews, culminating with the death of so many and the expulsion of others. Spanish Jews were denied their most basic freedoms, as occurred at so many other times in our history, although some continued to practice their Judaism at great risk. As I traveled and visited old synagogues and museums dedicated to the Spanish Jews, I recognized the theme of exile, which our people have faced so many times.

This week’s parashah, B’har, or “at the mountain of”, presents laws given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Thus, we begin the parashah by recognizing the close relationship between the people of Israel and God, during the period of the Exodus. The handing down of these laws at Sinai also emphasizes their importance. Read more…

The Zubik v. Burwell Decision: What Happened, and What’s Next?

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Zubik v. Burwell, a consolidation of several cases concerning the accommodation for religious non-profits to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court ruled to remand, or send back, the case to the lower courts for further review of alternatives to the accommodation as it currently functions, leaving key issues unanswered because the Court did not rule on the merits.

Under the accommodation, religious non-profit organizations can object to providing contraception coverage for their employees. Once the employers notify the government of their objection, a third party administrator works with employees to ensure seamless coverage for contraception. Read more…