Reconstructionist Judaism,
April 2016
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In this Issue:
Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood, Plenary #1, National Museum of American Jewish History, April 10, 2016 (Photo by RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.)
. “Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood” Shabbaton and Conference
“For more than 75 years, the idea of Jewish peoplehood has served to unify Jews,” wrote RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities President Rabbi Deborah Waxman, ’99, Ph.D., in the Jewish Daily Forward. “Essentially, peoplehood means that Jews share binding ties that cut across practice and national boundaries. It points to a shared history and, we presume and hope, a shared and connected future. The decades have shown that the 'peoplehood' term has functioned as a powerful rationale, though not necessarily as an effective transmitter of values. As our global Jewish community becomes increasingly diverse and even polarized, many thinkers are exploring the idea of Jewish peoplehood and questioning whether or not it remains relevant.” (You can read more of Rabbi Waxman’s op-ed piece by clicking here)

This is especially the case now that our communities are multiethnic and multiracial, and include Jews by choice and interfaith couples and families. We are in a post-ethnic Jewish moment, and many of the prominent thinkers in the Jewish world are searching for new ways to imagine Jewish connectedness in ways that don’t assume an ethnic sameness.

On April 8-11, 74 of those thinkers -- including academics, Jewish professionals, rabbis, philanthropists, artists and musicians -- debated, dissected and analyzed the meaning of Jewish Peoplehood at the “Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood” Shabbaton and Conference in Philadelphia. You most likely received many emails from us about the Peoplehood conference. More than 200 people attended and many watched the live stream. For the rest, we wanted to report back.
As might be expected of a conference like this, there were more questions than answers. These were some that we took home with us:
  • What is the nature of Jewish collective responsibility?
  • How is the presence of Jews of color, Jews by choice and non-Jews altering peoplehood as an ethnic concept?
  • What role do philanthropy and funding decisions play in shaping peoplehood?
  • In place of Jewish law, what values or ideas bind progressive Jews to the Jewish people?
  • How can Jewish education foster a sense of peoplehood?
  • What is the difference between “Jewishness” and Judaism? Which are we choosing to preserve and how?
The conference clearly captured a vital and ongoing conversation about the future of Judaism and the evolving notion of Jewish peoplehood, with the Reconstructionist movement right in the midst of the discussion and the ongoing story.
The Kaplan Center will be posting video and summaries of the conference online in the coming weeks. We will share these links in future issues. We also captured live video and live posts on our Facebook and tweets on our Twitter. We’ll pin these to the top of our feeds for the next week to give you a chance to scroll through and see them.
“Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood” was co-hosted by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood, The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, and the Department of Jewish Studies of McGill University, and was held at the National Museum of Jewish American History
Chesapeake Annual Celebration, Oseh Shalom Synagogue, March 13, 2016 (Photo by RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities)
.Reconstructionist Communities Gather for the 25th Chesapeake Annual Celebration
When God called to Moses from the burning bush, Moses answered, “Hineni”—Here I am. He had little idea of the challenges he would face in the coming years, but that call and response initiated a relationship that would transform a beleaguered people into a thriving Jewish civilization.
“Dedicated, forward-thinking volunteers bring our movement to life,” said Alan Halpern, Vice President for Community Engagement at RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, “and Hineini is a perfect theme for honoring the volunteers of our Chesapeake congregations at the 25th Reconstructionist Chesapeake Annual Celebration.” The celebration, a longstanding gala at which each of the participating Reconstructionist congregations in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia honor their volunteers who, when called, responded "Here we are." These volunteers have served in a variety of different ways but all have strengthened their congregations. 
During the March celebration, RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities—the Reconstructionist movement—honored longtime leader John Riehl, a “Chesapeake champion.” John’s work has shaped the local community as well as the national and international movement through his service on the JRF and RRC boards of governors.
“Seeing the Chesapeake Region grow to being an incredibly powerful force in the Reconstructionist Movement has been one of the greatest experiences in my life,” John said. “And all of the relationships I’ve developed within the Region and the Movement have literally changed my life. I can’t imagine not being part of the Chesapeake Region and Reconstructionist Judaism.”

The movement also honored Chesapeake resident Roni Berkowitz for her work on the movement’s Tikkun Olam Commission.
We congratulate John Riehl, Roni Berkowitz, and all of the honorees:
Adat Shalom Congregation: Carol Baer Mott
Beit Tikvah: Karen Linder Staubs
Columbia Jewish Congregation: Charlene and Michael Levine
Kol Ami: NVRC: Herb Cooper-Levy
Kol HaLev: John Bowman
Congregation Mishkan Torah: Yael Fischman and Yoni Charry
Oseh Shalom: Allison Holtz and Marc Litz
The Reconstructionist Havurah at Riderwood: Lew Priven

See the Chesapeake Annual Celebration Tribute Journal.
Purim Party for refugees in South Tel Aviv, March 20, 2016 (Photo by Beit Tefilah Israeli)
.Pluralistic Judaism in Israel

Two organizations in Israel take some of the less common but essential features of Purim and Passover and extend themselves to needy Israeli residents outside their immediate community. We are happy to highlight the work as examples of how contemporary Jews reshape and reconstruct Jewish practice for our times.

Beit Tefilah Israeli, a Tel Aviv prayer, study and activism group, hosts a Purim party for children of African refugees who live and work in South Tel Aviv, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. And they send mishloach manot (gifts of sweets and food) to homebound older Jews.

For Passover, a few organizations like Beit Tefilah, Bina (Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture) and others conduct a Passover Seder for African refugees.

Marking the holidays not only in the Jewish familial and communal frameworks, but also with those who live among us and outside our family and circle of friends, expands the meaning of the holidays and reminds us that the mitzvot we are called to perform as part of the celebrations are not complete. We need to continue to reach out to others to give a deeper and richer meaning to the holidays.

Adina Newberg, Ph.D., Director of Israel Engagement at RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities. Read more about the Israeli-Jewish Renaissance on our blog, Pluralistic Judaism in Israel, or on the Gateways to Israeli-Jewish Renaissance Facebook page.
.Reconstructionist Ritualwell

Though we celebrate our freedom from Egypt, can you think of areas of your life where you feel held back? What is your Egypt?

What will you add to your Seder plate this year? Perhaps you will have an orange to symbolize inclusivity for members of the LGBTQ community. Perhaps a tomato to remember those still living in slavery-like conditions in the Florida tomato fields. Perhaps a padlock and key to symbolize an end to mass incarceration. Maybe a cup of water in honor of Moses’s sister Miriam.
For more ideas for your Seder plate and other Passover prayers, supplements, activities and rituals, visit
A Parent's Prayer for Patience

You’re trying to cook dinner, clean the house, set the table and get your children dressed before your guests arrive for the first night of Passover Seder. Oy! As you head to the bathroom to get yourself ready, you trip on a plastic frog from your children’s plague reenactment earlier that afternoon.
Before your headache worsens and you find yourself opening that bottle of Manischewitz in desperation, we invite you to take a breath and remember this prayer for patience from, the Reconstructionist movement's creative ritual website. 
.Reconstructionists in the News
RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities President Rabbi Deborah Waxman, '99, Ph.D., explores the historic and current meanings and applications of Jewish Peoplehood in a Jewish Daily Forward op-ed piece. You can also see coverage of the  "Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood" Shabbaton and Conference in the Jewish Exponent.

How are you telling the story of Passover? RRC students Jacob Best Adler and Emily Cohen have reimagined the Passover saga with a haggadah parody inspired by the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton.” Taking the Jewish world by storm this week, their haggadah was just featured in both the Forward and the Washington Post.
Rabbis Linda Holtzman, ’79, Alan LaPayover, ’02, and Sarra Lev, ’96, of the Reconstructionist Hevrah Kadisha of Philadelphia led a workshop on pre-burial purification for more than two dozen people.
Rabbi Waxman, writing from the AIPAC conference, speaks out against demagoguery and hopes voters will do the same in this Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed.

Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, CA responded to two hate crimes in a four-day period, taking precautionary measures and helping their affected neighbors.
Responding to the death of poet and playwright Israel Eliraz, z”l, Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz, ’97, writes a touching tribute in Haaretz.
Rabbis Carl Choper, ’90, Julie Greenberg, ’89, and Mordechai Liebling, ’85, joined our religious leaders in Harrisburg, PA for an interfaith protest on fracking.
Third-year RRC student Sarah Barasch-Hagans spoke on fair trade practices at the Fair Trade Fair sponsored by the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) in Randolph, NJ on April 3.
Mazal tov to Shir Hadash Synagogue in Highland Park, IL on your newly commissioned 117,000 watt solar panel system!

Mazal tov to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, '90, and all the other RRC alumni who lead Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) on your new home!

Rabbi Sandy Sasso, '74, published "Can Jeremiah's Missive of Love Survive in the Age of Emojis?" in the Forward, asking "What text message can replace the wisdom of Martin Buber’s 1902 letter? 'Meditate upon all mysteries, but in one person who is yours, and you lie upon the heart of the universe. For everything is in everyone and only love can extract it.'"
.Coming Up

Camp JRF
June 26-August 14, 2016
South Sterling, PA
It's not too late to register for Camp JRF, the camp that brings together Reconstructionist children. Register now for Summer 2016.

Experience our new Camp JRF video

Embodied Ritual, Embodied Writing
May 1, 2016
Philadelphia, PA
Join us for Ritualwell’s two-part event featuring a writing workshop and poetry performance to celebrate the work of Jewish women poets. Click here for more information and for registration.

New Year/New Mode: Creative Leadership for the High Holidays
June 2, 2016
Philadelphia, PA
For rabbis, lay leaders, educators, rabbinical students and anyone who leads High Holiday prayer services, join us to explore creative ritual. Click here to see more information and to register.

Hevreh Summer Adult Learning
July 20-24, 2016
Waynesboro, PA
A spiritual retreat for adults who seek study, prayer, spiritual renewal and growth with leading Jewish scholars, Hevreh returns for a second summer. Register now.
Inspiration and Connection

If you’re looking for spiritual Jewish music, take a look at the newest CDs released by Congregation Bet Haverim’s Merkavah Project.
In the newest post from Living Jewish Learning, Cyd Weissman delves into the entrepreneurial work of Lisa Colton, president of Darim Online in “Lisa Colton, Master of the Entrepreneurial Sashay.”
What’s the dean thinking about? Read about “The Numinous Power, and Storytelling” by RRC’s VP for Academic Affairs Elsie Stern, Ph.D.
Editorial Associate of Ritualwell Hila Ratzabi reflects on finding happiness after a terrifying health scare in a Ritualwell blog post, “Sometimes Happiness Takes Its Time”

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The Jewish Reconstructionist Communities in association with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) provide services for more than 100 congregations and havurot where members help create the Judaism they want to live. RRC is a progressive rabbinical school­­ where people of all backgrounds engage intensively with Jewish texts, thought and practice. As a combined organization, RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities make up a unique kind of entity in the contemporary Jewish landscape.
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