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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


November 6, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

5,000 Jews praying and singing together

By RABBI MICHAEL TOROP Temple Beth-El, St Petersburg

It seems that every article we read about the latest studies of Jewish life, or the latest pronouncement of a leading Jewish thinker, creates angst about the dire future of American Judaism. Despite the poor prognosis, there are some things that bring us hope. Where does that hope come from, we might ask?

The answer is found, in part, in the gathering happening Nov. 4-8 in Orlando as 5,000 Jews gather for prayer, study, relationship building and to be motivated to create stronger and more welcoming congregations around the country. The Union for Reform Judaism (the North American movement uniting all Reform synagogues in the U.S. and Canada) is currently holding its Biennial Conference. Having attended many URJ Biennials over the years, I am consistently awed by the experiences of powerful worship and song, inspiring speakers and insightful workshops.

This year’s conference promises to be all of that and more. Not only do delegates get a chance to honor leaders of our movement who have made incredible contributions to Jewish life and to American society as a whole, but also we have the chance to build relationships with those who can help us lead our communities to effectively confront the challenges of Jewish life today.

There are those in the Jewish world who will give voice to biased attitudes about Reform Judaism, conveying an erroneous belief that Reform Jews are inauthentic, or that our approach will result in the disappearance of Judaism due to assimilation and diminishing traditional practice. And yet, Reform Judaism is growing stronger, has the largest number of affiliated synagogues with the greatest reach, touching more Jews in our country (and around the world) than any other denomination.

The reason for the continuing success of the Reform Movement, and for the ability to create opportunities like this Biennial Conference, is that Reform Judaism consistently and successfully manages the dynamic tension between tradition and modernity. At the core of Reform Judaism is a true commitment to equality, egalitarianism and inclusiveness. Reform Judaism is open and welcoming to the LGBT community, supportive of families who come from different faith traditions and seek to create Jewish homes and raise Jewish children, and actively engaged in the local, national and global community so that the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) remains central to our identity as Jews. The movement has created new prayerbooks for Shabbat and the High Holy Days that recover many aspects of traditional liturgy, while seamlessly weaving modern poetry, song lyrics and contemporary Jewish teachings into the mix. Reform Judaism has been at the forefront of developing contemporary Jewish music (a genre that is now almost 50 years old!) and integrating it into worship that is joyful, uplifting and engaging for all ages.

Understanding the true nature of Reform Judaism and the approach it offers to contemporary Jewish life, one cannot be surprised by the gathering of 5,000 Reform Jews of all ages, from all different kinds of communities, and from locales across North America. We come together like this every two years simply because we know the power, beauty, and inspiration that is Reform Judaism, and the potential of Reform Jewish life to confront the challenges of our collective Jewish future.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press nor the Board of Rabbis.

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