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Turning a Vacation into a Homecoming

Since the publication of Reform Judaism magazine’s first Guide to Jewish World Travel (Spring 2013), I have fielded dozens of requests by travelers wishing to visit Progressive and Reform congregations around the world. For many of them, the experience of meeting spiritual leaders and Progressive Jews abroad on Shabbat is a kind of revelation: “I am part of a wider Reform Jewish family. In 49 countries around the world I can connect with people like me who are striving to create warm, welcoming, egalitarian, pluralistic Jewish communities.”

In North America we are called Reform. In other parts of the world, we are known as Progressive or Liberal (in most of Europe, if you ask for a Reform congregation, you’ll be directed to a Protestant church).

How do you find your larger Progressive/Reform/Liberal family when travelling outside North America? The process is different than what you find in North America, where synagogues and Jewish institutions in North America generally have an “open-door” policy and regularly welcome visitors. In most other lands there are pervasive security concerns. Synagogues do not publish their street addresses, return phone calls or emails, or openly declare their presence. A random visitor, even one claiming affiliation with a Reform synagogue in the U.S. or Canada, is likely to be turned away if visiting unannounced.

The best way to connect is to have the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), the institution that now serves, nurtures, and supports 1,176 Reform/Progressive/Liberal Jewish congregations worldwide, make an introduction for you.

This process takes time, so be sure to contact us several weeks in advance of your trip. First, go to the World Union for Progressive Judaism website, On the main page, use the dialogue box to search for WUPJ congregations by country and then city. Once you have verified the presence of a congregation in the area you plan to visit, email me, Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor (, at the WUPJ’s New York office. Provide your travel dates, where you plan to stay, when you would like to visit the congregation, the number of people in your party, and a way to contact you once you are there (to make sure you are advised of any last minute changes in the synagogue’s plans). If given sufficient time, we can try to arrange a personal visit.

Connecting with your “cousins” is a great way to experience a country and a Jewish community. You’ll get insight into the challenges and the triumphs of living as a Jew in that place—and, most of all, you will see that we are all a part of one extended family.

Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor is the Vice President—Philanthropy at the World Union for Progressive Judaism.