Biennial and Assembly Awards Acknowledge Outstanding Contributions to Jewish Life

December 15, 2013, San Diego, CA — Nearly 5,000 Jewish leaders gathered this week for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) North American Biennial and the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Assembly and Centennial Celebration, held concurrently at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California, where a number of prestigious awards were given to individuals, congregational and sisterhood groups for their contributions to Jewish life.

Alexander M. Schindler Award for Service to World Jewry

One of the Reform Movement’s highest honors, the Alexander M. Schindler Award for Service to World Jewry, was given posthumously to Rabbi David Hartman, z”l, the founder and spiritual leader of the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute.

Named for Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, the second president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from 1973-1996, this award honors an individual who has shown a passion, leadership and commitment to World Jewry. Rabbi Schindler was a compassionate humanitarian, devoted to social justice and religious action, always seeking to better the human condition, to gain rights for the disenfranchised, and sustenance for the destitute and the downtrodden. A true Ohev Yisrael, lover of Israel, Schindler prodded the Reform Movement to participate fully in the Zionist world and was a prime mover in the creation of ARZA and ARZA Canada.

Rabbi Hartman was a leading thinker among philosophers of contemporary Judaism and an internationally renowned Jewish author who passed away on Feb. 10, 2013. He was honored by the URJ for his dedication to the Jewish people and to religious pluralism.

“I would not be a rabbi if I had not studied with Rabbi David Hartman,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, “Back in 1975, I walked into a class he was teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Learning with David was as if someone turned on the lights in a dark room. He shattered forever my narrow conception of traditional Judaism.”

“His brand of Judaism was fearless, always evolving, brutally honest, defying all labels and yet profoundly authentic,” continued Jacobs. “Each day I try to live and teach the Torah that I learned from Rabbi Hartman, a Torah that is desperately needed in the fractured Jewish communities where we live, especially in Israel. Our Jewish communities must expand the circle of our concern to include both the Jews with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. This was David’s Torah of pluralism, which he taught with passion and persuasiveness. May we have even a fraction of his insight and backbone as we help shape a more compelling Judaism for the next generations.”

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and the director of the Engaging Israel Project, accepted the Schindler award on his father’s behalf.

The Maurice N. Eisendrath “Bearer of Light” Awards

The Maurice N. Eisendrath “Bearer of Light” awards are among the Reform Movement’s most prestigious honors and were given to Founder and CEO of Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation Jay Feinberg and to Women of Reform Judaism.

The Bearer of Light Awards are named in memory of Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, the executive director and President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from 1943 – 1973. Under Rabbi Eisendrath the Reform Movement experienced tremendous growth. In 1951 Rabbi Eisendrath moved the Union’s headquarters from Cincinnati to New York, dramatizing the adoption of a more dynamic program of leadership within the Movement. The Union purchased its first camp in the early 1950s, and the Movement’s emphasis on social action began in earnest, culminating with the 1961 founding of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation is North America’s only Jewish bone marrow donor registry. In March 2013, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism announced a collaboration with The Gift of Life to bring the organization’s mission to save the lives of patients suffering from leukemia, lymphoma, other cancers and genetic disorders to the forefront of social action initiatives within the Reform Movement. The Gift of Life has also partnered with 13 URJ camps to test for potential bone marrow donors, resulting in six matches and two bone marrow stem cell donations.

Jay Feinberg, a 16-year bone marrow transplant survivor, has brought tremendous innovation to Gift of Life, including the use of cheek swabs for bloodless testing at donor drives, complete typing at initial recruitment, and most recently, Speed Swabbing® technology. He is responsible for establishing groundbreaking relationships with organizations such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, URJ Camps, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Taglit Birthright Israel, and more. He has also been responsible for negotiating partnerships with other registries, most notably the National Marrow Donor Program.

“It is people like Jay Feinberg who truly make our world a better place,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. “Jay’s tireless work has saved countless lives, and his actions follow in the footsteps of Reform social justice pioneers, such as Rabbi Eisendrath. The Talmud teaches that whoever saves a life, it is as if he has saved the entire world. Jay’s work so truly embodies this teaching, and for that we are abundantly grateful.”

A second Maurice N. Eisendrath “Bearer of Light” Award was given to Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), on the occasion of the organization’s centennial. Founded in 1913, WRJ is the women’s affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America. WRJ represents about 65,000 women in nearly 500 women’s groups worldwide and promotes women’s issues and leadership through education, programming, and advocacy.

“For one hundred years the Women of Reform Judaism have been the leaders of this Movement: advocating, teaching, and inspiring generations,” said Rabbi Jacobs. “I am confident that WRJ will continue to be at the forefront of the Reform Movement, and the greater community, for the next century – and many years beyond – and look forward to seeing all that will be accomplished in the future as we mark this momentous occasion.”

WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award

Anat Hoffman, executive director, Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and chairwomen, Women of the Wall (WOW), received the WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award.

Jane Evans served the Reform Movement for more than 70 years, 43 of them as Executive Director of what was the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, now WRJ. Jane was deeply committed to human rights, women’s rights, civil rights, interfaith relations and countless other manifestations of justice. They are reflected in the resolutions and advocacy efforts that have put Women of Reform Judaism in the forefront of religious action. This award is given to a humanitarian who models Jane Evan’s values.

Anat Hoffman was honored this award for her work on behalf of religious pluralism and progressive Judaism in Israel.

“We are thrilled to present Anat Hoffman with the WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award,” said Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, WRJ Executive Director. “Her unyielding demand that all of God’s creations be treated with dignity and respect, her love of Israel and Progressive Judaism, and her tireless dedication to improve our world reflect the same values that Jane Evans lived by and that inspired this award.”

WRJ Faculty Award

WRJ gave its inaugural WRJ Faculty Award to Dr. Gary P. Zola, executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA). The award, established in honor of Rabbi David Ellenson on the occasion of his retirement as president of HUC-JIR, will be presented biennially to an HUC-JIR faculty member who either has supported WRJ in its endeavors, or whose work exemplifies the values and mission of WRJ.

Dr. Zola’s efforts have allowed WRJ to share their history with sisterhoods through his teachings and research.

“With the WRJ Faculty Award, WRJ is excited to recognize both Rabbi David Ellenson, in whose honor the award is being created, and Rabbi Dr. Gary P. Zola, who is the inaugural recipient,” said Blair C. Marks, WRJ President. “Both of these visionaries have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to furthering shared missions between our organizations within the Reform Movement and have helped us commemorate 100 years of Jewish women educating leaders, strengthening Jewish life, and repairing the world.”

WRJ Or Ami “Light of My People” Awards

The WRJ also honored six sisterhood groups with a WRJ Or Ami “Light of My People” Award for social justice programmatic achievement between 2011 and 2013.

Established in 1973, the WRJ Or Ami “Light of My People” Award recognizes social justice, community service, and educational programming that is exemplary and serves as a model for other WRJ Districts and women’s groups. For the period of 2011-2013, there were 66 applications from WRJ affiliates in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. Based on selection criteria including quality, program content, replication potential, and impact, there were six programs in each of the following categories: Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

“As we celebrate WRJ’s Centennial year, we are pleased to recognize exceptional WRJ District and women’s group programming with the renowned Or Ami award,” said Lynn Magid Lazar, Immediate Past WRJ President. “These programs represent WRJ’s continued commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world) for the past 100 years and they will ensure that commitment will continue for the next 100 years and beyond.”

Gold Or Ami Award Winners
Temple Chai Sisterhood, Long Grove, IL
Beth Israel Sisterhood, Portland, OR
WRJ Midwest District
Gates of Prayer Sisterhood, Metairie, LA
Sisterhood of Temple Sholom, Vancouver, BC, Canada
WRJ Kehillat Emet VeShalom, Nahariya, Israel and Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood, Tucson, AZ

Silver Or Ami Award Winners
B’rith Kodesh Sisterhood, Rochester, NY
Congregation Ahavath Chesed Sisterhood, Jacksonville, FL
Women’s Group of Kehillat Mevakshei Derech, Jerusalem, Israel and Temple Beth David Sisterhood, Commack, NY
Temple Concord Sisterhood, Binghamton, NY
Congregation Beth Shalom Sisterhood, Arlington, TX
WRJ Pacific District

Bronze Or Ami Award Winners
Main Line Reform Temple Beth Elohim Sisterhood, Wynnewood, PA
University Synagogue Sisterhood, Los Angeles, CA
Emanuel Congregation WRJ, Chicago, IL
Temple Beth Emeth Sisterhood, Ann Arbor, MI
Women of Shir Ami, Newtown, PA
Temple Beth El Sisterhood, Knoxville, TN
To learn more about the award-winning programs, please visit the WRJ website.

NFTY Lifetime Membership Award

NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, awarded Rabbi Aaron Panken with their highest honor, a NFTY Lifetime Membership. Rabbi Panken is the incoming President of HUC-JIR upon the retirement of Rabbi David Ellenson.

NFTY has a rich history of bestowing Life Membership upon individuals who have demonstrated extreme commitment to the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. .

URJ Director of Camp and Israel Programs Paul Reichenbach said, “As a proud product of NFTY and the Reform Movement, a NFTY regional president, regional advisor and NFTY in Israel trip leader, Aaron has dedicated thousands of hours to leading, mentoring and inspiring teens. As a warm and engaging teacher, a caring and compassionate mensch, Aaron embodies the best of what it means to be committed to young people and building a Jewish future.”

“Rabbi Panken exemplifies how involvement in NFTY can help shape a person’s life,” said NFTY Associate Director Beth Rodin. “As NFTY celebrates its 75th anniversary, we aim to re-connect with 75,000 alumni, like Rabbi Panken, to celebrate how NFTY impacted their lives.”

Belin Outreach and Membership Awards

The URJ also offered recognized the winners and honorable mentions of the 2013 Belin Outreach and Membership Awards.

The Belin Outreach and Membership Awards have been designed to encourage and honor Reform synagogues with outstanding Outreach and Membership programs, which actively welcome and integrate those new to Judaism, create relationship based membership models, or develop new, innovative ways to engage and retain members.

There were many inspiring programs that were submitted this year by Reform congregations from all across North America. Eight winners and nine honorable mentions were chosen out of the myriad entries received.

2013 Belin Award Winners
Congregation Shir Ami, Castro Valley, CA
Temple Sinai, Atlanta, GA
Temple Sinai, Sarasota, FL
Congregation Or Chadash, Chicago, IL
Congregation Beth Yam, Hilton Head Island, SC
Temple De Hirsh Sinai, Seattle, WA
Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, Overland Park, KS

2013 Belin Award Honorable Mentions
Temple B’nai Shalom, Fairfax Station, VA
Temple Adat Shalom, Poway, CA
Temple Beth Torah, Upper Nyack, NY
Temple Beth El, San Pedro, CA
Temple Beth El, Charlotte, NC
Temple Beth Emeth, Ann Arbor, MI
Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park, PA
Ohef Sholom Temple, Norfolk, VA
Temple Israel, Memphis, TN
Epstein Communicate Awards

The URJ also recognized congregations that won Epstein Communicate Awards.
Communicate is the URJ’s online resource bank of over 2,600 programs and ideas. Every two years, summaries in several categories are selected to receive an Epstein Award, recognizing those congregations’ outstanding programming. Award recipients receive a $1,000 programming grant.

Communicate founders Paddy and Barry Epstein created this grant to encourage congregants to share their successful programs and ideas with fellow URJ congregations by submitting them to the Communicate resource bank. Epstein Communicate Awards were given to the following congregations:

Adat Chaverim, Plano, TX
Temple B’nai Torah, Wantagh, NY
Temple Beth El, Boca Raton, FL
Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, CA
Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Seattle, WA

Honorable Mention Certificates were presented to the following congregations:
Temple Judea, Tarzana, CA
Congregation Kol Ami, Vancouver, WA
Beth Israel Congregation, Jackson, MS
Temple Kol Tikvah,Woodland Hills, CA
To learn about these exemplary programs, visit the Epstein Communicate Awards webpage.

Published: 12/15/2013

Past Assemblies

WRJ Assembly 2015
Orlando, FL

WRJ Assembly 2013
San Diego, CA

WRJ Assembly 2011
Washington, D.C.

WRJ Assembly 2009
Toronto, ON, Canada

WRJ Assembly 2007
San Diego, CA

These biennial awards for Special Achievement in Programming recognize exemplary social justice, community service, and educational programming that serves as a model for other WRJ Districts and sisterhoods.

Given biennially, the YES Fund Awards & YES Fund Honor Roll recognize sisterhoods that make significant contributions toward the YES Fund, to strengthen the Reform Movement and ensure the future of Reform Judaism.