by Megan Brumer
My connection to the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) began in the summer of 2010. As a camper at URJ Kutz Camp, I shared a cabin with campers from Israel and South Africa, and I learned from them and other international campers about their experiences growing up in Netzer, the international Reform Zionist youth movement sponsored by the WUPJ. This was the first opportunity I was given to consider and learn about world Jewry, and it sparked an interest for me that has continued to this day. In preparing to enter rabbinical school, I’ve spent the past year living in Jerusalem while I study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Religion. When I heard the WUPJ Connections biennial conference was going to be held practically in my backyard, I jumped on the opportunity to join fellow NFTY Alumni to participate. I was eager to learn more about WUPJ and Progressive Judaism throughout the world.
I started my week meeting fellow NFTY alumni and seeing friends who I haven’t seen in many years. Twelve of us from across North America met up in Jerusalem and connected (or reconnected) over hummus at the popular Humus Ben Sira. We got to know each other more and spent time hanging out before the trip’s formal itinerary began. We then came together to participate in the TaMaR Conference, which was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience. TaMaR brings together young adults from countries all over the world to learn and socialize and network with each other. During the conference, we learned about what it means to be a leader and an entrepreneur and we talked about the future of young leadership in WUPJ and the progressive communities throughout the world. We, as young adults, are the future leaders of the movement, but we are also the present leaders of the movement. Throughout the whole conference, we took that to heart and showed how young adult leadership is important to have in the overall leadership. I love learning about different practices throughout the world and it was amazing to learn about worldwide progressive Jewish communities and meet and hear from young adult leaders around my age from all those communities. Every community functioned in their own way and each community can learn from each other and strengthen their own home community. As I am starting my studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) this summer for Rabbinical school, it was exciting to learn about other Reform Seminaries around the world that I had never heard of before. It reminded me of the worldwide mission that I am about to take part of in becoming part of the rabbinate.
After the TaMaR conference, Connections 2017 began. We had a beautiful opening event at the Tayelet overlooking Jerusalem. It was a warm, clear evening and you could see a beautiful panoramic view, including the Old City of Jerusalem. On Thursday morning, at Robinson’s Arch at the Kotel, we participated in a B’not Mitzvah service of 13 women from Brazil. After that, we marched with the Torahs through security to the Kotel plaza, chanted Torah again and finished our progressive Shacharit service together at the Upper Plaza. While some rituals performed at the Kotel by progressive Jews have been faced with protest from the Orthodox community, we felt lucky to have had the opportunity to worship in peace. This is the second time I have witnessed a Reform/Progressive Egalitarian service at the Upper Plaza of the Kotel and it was an historical event. Having men and women praying together in the Kotel plaza is not a regular occurrence.
Thursday afternoon and Friday there were many learning sessions to attend. Two sessions that stood out to me were a session on Jewish activism led by the leaders of Women of the Wall and a music session to learn the new repertoire from the conference. There were also panels about the future of progressive Judaism and its leadership. Friday evening, we attended a Kabbalat Shabbat service open to all the Israeli community led by eight Israeli Reform congregations. There were over 800 people and it was amazing to see the Israeli Reform Movement come together. There were many tunes that I recognized and knew and I find it incredible how Jews from all over the world can come together through music and prayer. Saturday was filled with Shabbat activities, including walking tours and music sharing and open mic. That evening we had an amazing dinner and closing ceremony with a music celebration at the end. Overall, I had an amazing time learning, praying, networking and celebrating worldwide progressive Judaism. I enjoyed creating new connections along with strengthening the ones I already had, and it was great to share this experience with my fellow NFTY Alumni.