Joy, Connection, Commitment, and Celebration

January 5, 2024Carol Berger

WRJ was in the house for URJ’s 150th celebration in Washington, D.C., at the end of last year! So much love and many hugs as we celebrated the joy of being together IN PERSON. So many smiles, so many “I missed you”, and so many wonderful opportunities to get both reacquainted and meet people we had previously only known in boxes on the screen. WRJ was honored to welcome many special guests to our reception including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Rabbi Danny Friedlander, Cantor Jeff Klepper, and Rabbi David Saperstein, among other Movement leaders.

Meeting and getting to know our new Executive Director, Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch, was also wonderful. She spoke at the beautiful WRJ reception with strength and conviction, sharing, “We have work to do…both broad and deep. We create leaders and help people unlock their potential.” She continued, “What does Sisterhood mean today? We celebrate enduring relationships between Sisterhoods and congregations. Sisterhood is local, and Sisterhood is global. When one person’s rights are at risk, We stand up.”

The theme of URJ 150 was “Defining the Path Together.”  Rabbi Jacobs’ opening remarks included three key words: reconnect, rejoice, and recommit. He suggested that to accomplish these goals we need to be less judgy, more curious, and willing to open ourselves to transformation as we do our holy work of Tikkun Olam. As I listened to his speech, I couldn’t help thinking that his words are absolutely in line with the work of WRJ!

Later in the weekend, we were all treated to a presentation by the Second Gentleman, Douglass Emhoff. He described himself as a Reform Jew who grew up going to Jewish summer camp, and learning the Jewish values of justice, equality, and standing up against bullies. He talked about the inclusion of the very first Mezuzah EVER at the Vice President’s residence, and Vice President Harris’s respect and support of his Jewish background. He was a mensch, and we all loved getting to know him.  

PROUD MOM ALERT! My son Cantor David Berger of KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park, Illinois was the Cantor for Friday Shabbat services, and he knocked it out the park! Watching him and those who sang and prayed with him, feeling the spirituality and pride of the moment was incredible. I got so many hugs and wonderful comments from my WRJ sisters afterwards. I posted a few photos on Facebook and immediately got over 200 likes. I am still kvelling for him and for the pride I felt sharing him with all of you. The Shabbat Song Session afterwards featuring Movement musicians was fabulous. Lots of singing and dancing, and our own Rabbi Hirsch was up on the stage.

Even with the joy the weekend brought, Israel remained on all of own minds. Rabbi Jacobs spoke of Israel as a family. “Our bond is forever…we must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder…We are part of that land, and it is part of us. Am Yisrael Chai. The Jewish people live…We are guided by love. I need you, and you need me. Roll up our sleeves. Build it back until it resembles the world God wants us to build. We can’t let all of this take our love of Judaism away. Show the joy. Show pride,” he shared in his remarks.

There were many interesting speakers and workshops, and special guests from Israel. Topics included nurturing Jewish communities; belonging, justice, and shared humanity;  antisemitism; and shaping vibrant Jewish communities. 

The look back at 150 years of URJ was beautifully done, including song and poetry.  The moderators for this session were CNN journalists Dana Bash and David Gregory.  They led us through the years with grace and a little humor, and concluded the program very powerfully, wearing their tallitot and sharing why they are Reform Jews.

Like WRJ, URJ is evolving, building on strengths and successes. They even unveiled a new logo at the closing session! Both WRJ and URJ members are leaders who come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Together, we can continue to navigate the world, launching and creating in line with our mission and values. Ken Y’hi Ratzon (May it be God's will). 

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