The Top 10 Reform Jewish Moments of 2015
At the end of every secular year, "top 10" lists abound. Check out our picks - in no particular order - for the most exciting moments of 2015 within the Reform Jewish world. Do you agree with our list? What would you add?
- Reform Judaism becomes largest religious denomination to welcome transgender individuals: In November, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a resolution affirming the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people, approved unanimously by delegates at its 73rd Biennial convention. “We have a longstanding commitment to bringing in people who have heretofore been on the margins of society,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, told the New York Times. “For us, this is not just political correctness, but opening possibilities theologically.” Reform summer camps are already working toward the full inclusion of transgender campers, starting with a trans pre-teen named Hannah who was welcomed at URJ Eisner Camp in Massachusetts.
- Reform Judaism embraces a new High Holidays prayer book: The Central Conference of American Rabbis published Mishkan Hanefesh, the new Reform machzor, in June, just in time to be used in congregations for the 2015 High Holidays. Replacing 1978’s Gates of Repentance, the new machzor features updated translations, rich commentary, and a beautiful selection of poetry, aiming to provide an environment for worshipers of all backgrounds to find deep meaning in the High Holidays. The Washington Post trumpeted the prayer book’s release, especially its more inclusive language aimed at women and the LGBT community.
- Female leaders named to top posts at major Reform institutions: It was a big year for Jewish women, three of whom were named to leadership positions within Reform organizations. In March, Rabbi Denise Eger took the helm of the Central Conference of American Rabbis as its first openly gay leader, as covered by the New York Times. The Union for Reform Judaism made two big announcements this year: Over the summer, it named 32-year-old April Baskin its first vice president of audacious hospitality, and in November, Daryl Messinger of Palo Alto, CA, was installed as the first female chair of its board.
- The Reform Jewish community participates in the NAACP's Journey for Justice: Led by the efforts of Rabbi Seth Limmer and Chicago Sinai Congregation, nearly 200 Reform Jewish activists – most of them rabbis – joined the NAACP this summer in an historic 860-mile march from Selma, AL, to Washington, D.C., carrying a Torah on foot the entire way. Together, they marched to advance a national agenda that protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education. At an NAACP rally in Raleigh, NC, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, told the crowd, “There is no question that the march represented the very best of our nation and of our Movement.”
- Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner becomes director of the Religious Action Center: Just days into 2015, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism announced its new director, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, who follows 40 years of leadership by friend, mentor, and former director Rabbi David Saperstein (who is now a U.S. ambassador). Named one of America’s most influential rabbis by Newsweek magazine, Pesner is an inspirational leader and creative entrepreneur whose influence is already being felt across the Jewish community as he advocates tirelessly for racial justice, LGBT equality, interfaith peace, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @jonahpesner.
- Reform camping celebrates major milestones: In November, the Union for Reform Judaism announced that a new summer camp, URJ 6 Points Sports West, in Los Angeles would join its already robust camping system in the summer of 2016. Two other Reform summer camps celebrated important anniversaries: Texas’s URJ Greene Family Camp turned 40, and URJ Kutz Camp in upstate New York turned 50, both to bigtime fanfare from alumni.
- Reform Judaism wins the largest delegation at the World Zionist Congress: Reform Jews 4 Israel, a partnership of the Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements, secured 56 seats out of a possible 145 at the 37th World Zionist Congress – almost 40% of the U.S. delegation and as many seats as the next two slates combined. Led by ARZA, the progressive slate campaigned on issues of religious freedom, gender equality, and a two-state solution, taking a large contingent to Jerusalem in October to work to affect change in Israel.
- Reform rabbi gives an impassioned address at the White House’s Hanukkah party: This year’s annual White House Hanukkah party was attended by dozens of representatives from the American Jewish community, as well as special guest Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. On stage with presidents Obama and Rivlin was Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO, who has been a central figure in the Reform Jewish community's activism on racial justice. Rabbi Talve led attendees in a Hanukkah blessing and delivered powerful and poignant remarks about civil rights and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, among other pressing issues.
- Women pray at the Kotel with a full-sized Torah scroll: It finally happened: In April, after a 26-year struggle, Women of the Wall read from a full-sized Torah scroll in the women's section of the Kotel, thanks to allies in the men’s section who passed it over the partition that divides the Wall’s gender-specific prayer spaces. Afterward, Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch announced that he would fast for 24 hours to atone for the women’s "desecration" of the Torah, saying that the very scroll would have to be ritually cleansed of their touch. Read a firsthand account of the experience from Anat Hoffman, head of the Israel Religious Action Center.
- Reform Jewish teens take a stand for gun violence prevention: The North American Federation of Temple Youth – representing Reform Jewish teens across the continent – was among the first organizations to sign on as a partner in National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and they’ve since launched an ongoing campaign to engage Jewish teens in gun violence prevention. After December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, the Reform Jewish community wrote a petition urging President Obama to take executive action to end the scourge of gun violence.