WRJ-Israel Mission - Investing in our Future

March 12, 2012Rabbi Marla J. Feldman

Today has been our busiest day so far on our WRJ-Israel Mission, involving meetings with many of our institutional partners in the Reform Movement. It was a veritable alphabet soup of organizations: IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) IMPJ (Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) HUC-JIR (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion) WUPJ (World Union for Progressive Judaism) EIE (Eisendrath International Exchange) In a variety of ways, each of these organizations deepens the Reform Movement’s engagement in Israel, builds Reform Judaism globally, and educates the next generation of Reform leaders. You will read more from WRJ President, Lynn Magid Lazar, about the powerful experience we had on our ‘Freedom Ride’ with IRAC director Anat Hoffman, during which we ‘integrated’ gender-segregated buses in Jerusalem by sitting in the front of the bus. Equally important, however, is WRJ’s ongoing support of the daily work of IRAC, which empowers the social justice arm of the Reform Movement in Israel to challenge injustice, fight for religious pluralism, and litigate landmark Supreme Court cases on behalf of women, refugees, immigrants and non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Anat and her IRAC team are today’s exemplars of the prophets and is a source of great pride to those of us who admire and support from afar in North America. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"90146","attributes":{"class":"media-image alignleft wp-image-52","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"222","height":"158","alt":""}}]]Lifelong education is the theme that ran through our meetings throughout the day. We had a delightful tour of the IMPJ’s gan (pre-school) based at the Reform Movement’s center in Jerusalem (Beit Shmuel). We have learned that many of our congregations in Israel begin by establishing pre-schools as a means of engaging Israeli families and introducing them to Progressive Judaism. The IMPJ schools in Jerusalem have continued to grow and now go through high school. Most inspiring was a special pre-school program for children of foreign workers who need extra assistance to acclimate to Israeli society before they will be prepared to enter kindergarten. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"90151","attributes":{"class":"media-image alignleft wp-image-53","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"251","height":"166","alt":""}}]]At HUC-JIR we had the opportunity to meet with the first-year students in the rabbinical, cantorial, and education programs. We treated them to lunch – maternal instincts cross international boundaries – and had the opportunity to expose them to the work of WRJ and the importance of their role as professional Reform leaders. They asked good, and sometimes challenging, questions, and we came away confident that these future leaders will be wonderful partners for us as we continue to define the role of WRJ within Reform Jewish life. We continued discussions of our support of seminary students with the WUPJ. For many years, WRJ has provided scholarships to both North American students at HUC-JIR and overseas students studying at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, Leo Baeck in London, and Geiger College in Berlin. This investment in our global future leadership is possible through the YES (Youth, Education, and Special Projects) Fund and the generosity of the sisterhood women who have sustained these efforts since WRJ was established nearly a hundred years ago. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"90156","attributes":{"class":"media-image alignleft wp-image-57","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"237","height":"155","alt":""}}]]Ending our day with a visit to the EIE students at Kibbutz Tzuba was a special treat. Over 60 high school youth are currently taking part in this semester exchange program, during which they learn about Jewish history, study Hebrew, cover all the normally required high school subjects and travel throughout the country. Each student we met was articulate, bright, engaging and totally enthralled with their experience. It takes very special educators to inspire youth to “love” being in classes for up to 10 hours days, 6 days per week. And it takes very special youth to choose such an experience and rise to the challenges. WRJ’s support of NFTY youth programs like EIE is an unbeatable investment in our future. This WRJ mission to Israel has been an opportunity for us to check in with our grantees and see how WRJ funds are used to advance Reform Judaism and improve the world at large. In that regard, we can all be proud of what we are able to accomplish working together with other arms of the Movement and supporting Youth, Education, and Special Projects. Just say YES!   Rabbi Marla J. Feldman WRJ Executive Director

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