Top Ten Reform Movement Moments of 2013
It seems to be the time of year for lists, and 2013 was an exciting year in the Jewish world. From the Pew study to the Sharansky plan, check out our picks of the top 10 Reform Jewish moments during the year just ending. In no particular order, they are...
- Release of "The Pew Study": In early October, the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project put out a study that rocked the Jewish community. Their "Portrait of Jewish Americans" revealed American Jews' feelings about denominational affiliation, social justice, Israel, and more. Leaders in the Jewish community, including those from the Reform Movement, responded in a variety of ways: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) responded to the study with an op-ed titled "Don't Give Up on Jews Who Care About Being Jewish"; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, joined a panel of other Jewish thought leaders for a discussion hosted by Pew; and a panel at the URJ Biennial featured rabbis and academics discussing the implications of the study.
- Anat Hoffman Arrested at the Kotel: At the start of the Jewish month of Cheshvan, Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chairwoman of Women of the Wall, was arrested at the Kotel and charged with the "offense" of wearing a prayer shawl and disturbing public order. In the Reform Jewish community's statement about the incident, Barbara Kavadias, then the acting executive director of ARZA, said, "Anat Hoffman has been arrested for doing what Jewish women all over the world do on a regular basis: pray as Jews…It is unconscionable that the State of Israel is now denying us the religious freedom to pray." In her op-ed for the Huffington Post, Hoffman agreed - and was subsequently named Haaretz's Person of the Year.
- ReformJudaism.org Takes Off: In late 2012, the Reform Movement launched ReformJudaism.org, its new website that not only targets the Jewish community-at-large, but also at those seeking spiritual guidance and a community of their own. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, announced in December that the site is now regularly at the top of the first page of Jewish Google searches and that in its first year, the site boasted more than half a million visitors.
- Women of Reform Judaism Turns 100: Two-thousand thirteen marked the centennial of Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), which has been at the forefront of social action and change throughout its history. WRJ celebrated this milestone anniversary with a year-long series of events and initiatives, including Limdu Heiteiv, an 18-song compilation album with a commissioned title track by Beth Schafer and contributions from other popular Jewish artists, an archival project in cooperation with the American Jewish Archives, a commemorative journal that revisits the past and celebrates WRJ's legacy, and more. At its recent Assembly and Centennial Celebration, WRJ honored Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and Chairwoman of Women of the Wall, with the WRJ Dr. Jane Evans: Pursuit of Justice Award for her efforts on behalf of religious pluralism and progressive Judaism in Israel.
- Sharansky Plan: At the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in April, Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency for Israel chairman, announced a plan to establish a permanent area for egalitarian worship at the Western Wall. The plan called for the expansion of an existing site, near Robinson's Arch, where egalitarian prayer was allowed, but only at certain times. Calling the JAFI chairman's plan "bold," "audacious," and "a unique opportunity" for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs praised Sharansky for "mov[ing] everybody off their place of comfort and righteous demand to a place where we could all be together."
- Increased Focus on Inclusion Issues: "Thanks to a new partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation," Rabbi Rick Jacobs announced during his recent keynote address at the URJ Biennial, "the URJ will be helping all of our congregations remove barriers to participation, so that all individuals can take their rightful place in the center of congregational life." This initiative will bring "new talent and energy beyond our wildest dreams" into our congregations, enriching us all.
- Strides in Marriage Equality: It has been a ground-breaking year for marriage equality. The June Supreme Court rulings have paved the way to extend marriage equality to lesbian and gay couples. The Reform Movement, having submitted amicus briefs in the Supreme Court cases, celebrated this victory. The landscape of marriage equality is changing on an almost-daily basis. One Oregon boy, Duncan McAlpine Sennett, spoke about marriage equality in a moving d'var Torah delivered when he celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland.
- Thanksgiving + Hanukkah = Thanksgivukkah: For the first and only time in our lives (or was it?), the secular American holiday of Thanksgiving had overlapped with the second night of Hanukkah, creating the phenomenon dubbed "Thanksgivukkah." The American Jewish community responded enthusiastically to the hybrid holiday, creating a unique menorah (called a Menurkey, of course), special recipes, and more. By the time the actual holiday rolled around, most Americans (and, dare we say, all Canadians) were burnt out on the novelty, and November 28 th came and went without much fanfare.
- "8th Night for Ethan" Raises Thousands of Dollars: On June 29th at Goldman Union Camp Institute, 12-year-old Ethan Kadish was teaching a group of younger children how to play ultimate Frisbee when a bolt of lightning struck him to the ground. After a long stint in the rehabilitation unit at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Ethan faces a long road to recovery, including daily therapies, and his family faces mounting financial costs related to his ongoing care and necessary accommodations to their home. URJ Camp George organized a "fundraising flashmob" on the 8th Night of Hanukkah called 8th Night for Ethan, inviting individuals and organizations to donate to HelpHOPELive's campaign to assist with Ethan's ongoing medical expenses. The campaign raised more than $30,000.
- Neshama Makes Aliyah to Reform Judaism: Jewish musician Neshama Carlebach, daughter of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, was a guest and performer at the URJ Biennial Convention in San Diego. Raised in an observant Orthodox household, Carlebach assumed the divide between the Reform Movement and her own upbringing was great. She says she "had no idea how extraordinary Reform Judaism was."