Arzenu

International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists

ARZA COUNTRY REPORT

Sivan 5769 ~ June 2009

Quick Facts as of June 3, 2009:

  • Current ARZA Membership: 26,565
  • Recipients of ARZA’s Connections Electronic Newsletter: 6,395
  • Dollars Transferred to IMPJ/IRAC from Membership in FY09 (as of May 1, 2009): $271,755
  • Current paid members of the ARZA Rabbinic Council: 80
  • Dollars Raised in FY 2009: $445,000

ARZA Distributes New Adult Education Curriculum Nearly two years in the making, ARZA's new adult education curriculum, Reform Zionism: In Search of Clarity, was distributed to all URJ congregations in March. This five session curriculum, written and edited by Rabbi David Nelson, leads participants through five thought-provoking issues surrounding the meaning of Reform Zionism in a sophisticated and candid manner. The curriculum is designed to be maximally flexible for use in a wide array of settings and with almost any kind of group. A generous grant from Shoshana and Jay Dweck underwrote the development, production and distribution of this unique resource guide. While each congregation received one free hard-copy, Reform Zionism: In Search of Clarity, is also be available for free download at http://www.arza.org/programs/adulted.

ARZA E-Alerts

Rabbi Ira Youdovin, who served as ARZA’s first Executive Director and recently retired as the Executive Director of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, agreed to serve as Chair of the ARZA Rabbinic Council. One of his first acts was to establish a weekly ARZA E-Alert to provide American Reform Jews with a weekly email summarizing and explaining the latest developments and opinions in Israel and throughout the world. Sent out every Tuesday, ARZA’s E-Alerts include a small selection of articles taken from Israeli and Anglo-Jewish publications, along with original pieces written by Reform movement leaders in Israel and North America. Sign up to receive the weekly E-Alerts and publicize this service to rabbis, other synagogue professionals, and congregational members. To receive E-Alerts go to arzanewsalerts@arza.org or read an archive of the latest issues at http://www.arza.org/news/commentaries

New ARZA Educational Resources

ARZA is very proud of the resources it produced this quarter for holiday and Shabbat celebrations. These pieces are part of ARZA’s ongoing effort to provide congregations and individuals with meaningful resources to make Israel a more integral part of our Reform Jewish lives. The resources for Sukkot, Shabbat and Tu Bi’Shevat are all available on our website at www.arza.org/action/tools/

Make Sukkot a Truly “Green” Holiday: Developed in cooperation with members of Kibbutz Lotan, this Sukkot resource provides instructions for three ways to celebrate the holiday. By creating a “recycled sukkah,” hosting an eco-friendly dinner in the sukkah and enjoying the educational program included in this resource, users will enjoy the holiday and encompass the Sukkot traditions of Israel’s Kibbutz Lotan, a community of Reform Jews committed to living an environmentally-oriented, “eco-Zionist” lifestyle.

ARZA/Israel Shabbat: This is ARZA’s brand new guide for planning a Shabbat observance in our congregations. This resource emphasizes our people’s connection to the land of Israel through Torah study, story telling, music, and of course, food. These materials are intended to be versatile enough to use with everyone in a congregation from pre-schoolers to seniors, for a Friday night only or for a complete Shabbaton.

Tu Bi’Shevat Early Childhood Curriculum: ARZA in conjunction with the LLJL Early Childhood Department of the URJ has released a newly updated version of a Tu Bi Shevat Early Childhood Curriculum. These materials include an easy-to-implement three-lesson curriculum for early childhood students (ages 3-5) with songs, stories, poems, and classroom enrichment ideas including contact information for and photographs from Israeli preschools as well as movies and sound files of appropriate Hebrew songs and blessings.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot: A Torah Study Resource for Shavuot from ARZA

Shavuot is known as the commemoration of the giving of the Torah and is traditionally observed with intensive Torah study, sometimes lasting all night long. This Tikkun Leil Shavuot, late-night or all-night Torah study marathon is meant to recapture, in some small way the experience of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. ARZA is pleased to provide you with the following Torah study resource to use at your own Tikkun Leil Shavuot. It consists of six passages from the Torah which all address a question about the Land of Israel. Each text is accompanied by some discussion questions to help guide your study. Click here now to download this study resource!

ARZA Website Enhancement

In 2008-2009, ARZA expanded its communications reach by enhancing its website to make it more welcoming/user friendly to a broader audience, to increase content development and to create more opportunities for online giving. We collaborated to create the JNF/ARZA GoNeutral Synagogue Affiliate Program that provides congregations with content for their websites along with an opportunity to raise funds easily online for themselves and for environmental programs in Israel. ARZA also created content for congregations to run an effective ARZA Membership Campaign. By posting the materials online congregations can easily access the information anytime and ARZA can increase membership dollars at a very low cost by using technology to distribute information and marketing materials at a lower cost to a larger audience. ARZA designed Information Resources Beyond Daily TV and Print Media to attract a larger audience and to enhance our collection of media resources online. The new page on the ARZA website has a list of credible media resources to supplement information available through popular television and print media that report on developments in Israel, as well as an Israeli perspective on current events.

ARZA Articles

ARZA created a series of brief pieces that include useful information about ARZA and Israel for: congregational newsletters, worship service handouts, website bulletin boards, congregational emails, classroom discussions, drashot or any other means of communicating to congregants. Every month ARZA highlights a new ARZA Article on its website and distributes it to our Congregational Leaders Network.

Response to Gaza

In late December, as the IDF began its military operation into Gaza in response to the

barrage of rockets targeting Israeli towns and cities inside Israel proper, ARZA quickly responded to this unanticipated turn of events. By January 6, ARZA began distributing materials designed to help congregational leaders and clergy understand and respond to this crisis informed by a Reform perspective. ARZA President, Rabbi Robert Orkand immediately issued a statement responding to international criticism that Israel’s action was “disproportionate” and inhumane towards Gaza’s citizens. Within the first week of Operation Lead Cast, ARZA staff worked around the clock and updated and distributed by email relevant materials from Our Israel: A Reform Response. Clergy, congregational leaders and educators received additional resources by periodic email and were invited to participate in the Reform Movement’s Israel Briefing call. And, ARZA’s website began to feature a new section, “Crisis in Gaza” with frequent updates and resources not available elsewhere and developed especially for Reform Jews.

Miri Gold Petition

ARZA was instrumental in circulating a petition on behalf of Rabbi Miri Gold, who serves a Progressive synagogue in the Gezer Region of Israel. There are 16 rabbis serving that area. Fifteen of these rabbis—all Orthodox men—are recognized by the Israeli government and receive a government salary. Only Rabbi Miri Gold, ordained by HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, receives neither government recognition nor a government salary, although she is recognized by the larger community as a rabbi and spiritual leader. Litigation on behalf of Rabbi Gold is pending in the Israeli Supreme Court, but the State has managed to delay it for over three years. ARZA has worked together with IRAC (the Israeli Religious Action Center) to garner support from the Jews of North America on behalf of government recognition of Rabbi Miri Gold. Together with IRAC, and due to the incredible efforts of ARZA Advocacy Chair, Jay Greenfield and Sandy Tankoos, one of ARZA’s representatives to the Religious Action Center in Washington, more than 10,000 signatures have been collected on petitions in support of Rabbi Miri Gold. Those petitions were presented to Israeli President Shimon Peres in March.

URJ Regional Biennials Featured ARZA Speakers and Israel Programming

ARZA’s overall success in making Israel a more central topic within the Reform Movement at large is perhaps best reflected in the invitations it received to lead significant programming elements at several URJ Regional Biennials. “Going green” in a Jewish context was the central theme at Biennials for the URJ Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes Regions. ARZA showcased the significant environmental initiatives coming out of Israel by sponsoring the participation of Alex Cicelsky, Director of the Center for Creative Ecology at Kibbutz Lotan, one of two Reform kibbutzim in Israel. Alex presented several workshops and facilitated group discussions that not only highlighted the internationally-recognized work that Lotan has accomplished in the realm of sustainable building construction and water re-use and conservation, but also shared Lotan’s commitment to Progressive Judaism in Israel. He clearly demonstrated how important it is that American Reform Jews support the IMPJ and its very important work in Israel.

At the URJ Greater New York Council Regional Biennial, former ARZA Executive Director Rabbi Andrew Davids lead two workshops and met with key leaders looking to strengthen the Israel agenda at the regional and congregational level. In Texas, Rabbi Davids met with congregational and community leaders in Houston and lead a series of workshops and a leadership training seminar at the URJ Southwest Regional Biennial in Dallas. The Saturday evening program of this regional biennial was dedicated to Israel programming and featured remarks from Rabbi Davids and ARZA’s partners from the Jewish National Fund, the screening of a film that explores the IMPJ’s Mechina pre-army program and the challenges facing young Reform Israelis, and a reception featuring Israeli wines.

In addition to participating in Regional Biennial meetings for the Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Greater New York and Southwest Councils last fall, ARZA had an active presence at the Pacific Southwest Regional Biennial in February in Irvine, California with an informational display, a Shabbat afternoon “interest luncheon” and a Sunday morning workshop entitled “Expanding Israel and ARZA’s Role in Your Synagogue.” The workshop was presented by ARZA National Board Member Fran Sherman, her husband Steve Sherman, Men of Reform Judaism Vice President, and PSW Regional Director Jerry Krautman. Participants enjoyed a brief history of ARZA and the Progressive Movement in Israel and engaged in a discussion of how to increase their congregation’s ARZA and Israel activities. The highlight of the workshop was a PowerPoint presentation designed by Steve and Fran Sherman and Jerry Krautman. This workshop was one of the first steps in creating a Pacific Southwest regional network of congregational leaders committed to ARZA/Israel programming.

ARZA Fundraising Initiatives

In 2008-2009, ARZA expanded its fundraising reach by hosting two major events. In January, ARZA honored Gerry Daniel in Sarasota, Florida.. This event was co-sponsored by each of the three Sarasota Reform Congregations as well as by the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation. Rabbi Eric Yoffie addressed the over 200 people who attended and spoke about the importance of the progressive movement in Israel.

In April 2009, ARZA honored Michael Laufer and Edie Miller at a Gala Concert at Central Synagogue in New York. Anat Hoffman addressed the crowd and shared news of IRAC’s great success in winning additional rights for women going through divorce in Israel. The attendees also heard ARZEINU HAKTANTONET, a musical tribute to Israel through story and song.

In March, 2009, ARZA instituted on-line giving. For the first time in ARZA’s history, someone can become a member of ARZA or a donor to ARZA via the web. By lowering barriers, ARZA hopes to increase both membership and fundraising revenue.

Strategic Partnership between IMPJ/IRAC and ARZA

In 2008/2009 ARZA was given the green light to fundraise directly on behalf of the IMPJ and IRAC. ARZA will be partnering with IMPJ to reach the “Amcha” – givers up to $10,000. A strategic plan for year one of this partnership was developed recently and will guide ARZA and IRAC/IMPJ during the coming months.

Goals:

  1. Increase visibility of IMPJ and IRAC in the US
  2. Increase individual connections between IMPJ, specifically Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Exec. Dir. and US Reform leadership (Rabbis and Lay)
  3. Increase ARZA membership revenue - which leads to increased funds for IMPJ
  4. Raise direct funds for IMPJ – either general or project based
  5. Increase awareness of the role ARZA plays in creating a bridge and serving as the
    ”Israel Specialist” resource for the Reform Movement in the US.
  6. Convey a message of unity to the clergy and top lay leaders in the US and Israel

In year one, ARZA will partner with IMPJ to focus on four – five areas of the US: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta/Florida. Each subsequent year, IMPJ will deepen connections in each of these areas and work toward adding one new city.

December ARZA Board Meeting in Tampa, Florida

Over 40 ARZA Board members participated in the winter 2008 ARZA Board meeting in Tampa, Florida including newly installed Board members, 13 ARZA Officers and 4 senior ARZA staff members. Highlights of the meeting included an orientation to the World Zionist Congress and the possible upcoming WZO elections, an overview of an election campaign and the role of ARZA Board members in achieving success. Several organizational affiliates and Israel partners addressed the Board, including ARZENU’s Chairperson Joan Garson and URJ Chairman Peter Weidhorn. A rich, informative dialogue occurred with Miami’s Israeli Consul General, Ofer Bavly and ARZA Board members.

A panel with Board members and staff presented a case-study on Using Partnerships to Strengthen Membership.” Rabbi Jim Bennett, Seymour Lipton [via conference-call], Rabbi Andrew Davids and Elana Paru highlighted best practices for congregational relationship-building and membership growth through meaningful engagement with Israel and ARZA.

ARZA/Israel Congregational Leaders Network

Effective congregational Israel programming; advocacy; and engagement are often dependent on having the right committed person in place that has both passion and the necessary tools to make Israel a priority for the temple. In May 2008 ARZA held a Congregational Leadership Seminar specifically geared toward current and prospective Israel-minded leaders within congregations. The successful seminar concluded with a commitment that ARZA would host quarterly calls to assist congregational leaders with programming, problem-solving, committee work and more. On September 16, ARZA held its first call with almost 30 participants. Our third call took place in March and to date we have compiled a roster of over 500 individuals who have requested to be a part of this growing network. ARZA is committed to serving the congregational leaders in the field who are committed to Israel and ARZA. This network is a priority for ARZA during the coming year and will require ongoing input and ideas from committee representatives to make sure that ARZA addresses real needs, interests and opportunities regarding Israel engagement and increased ARZA membership

Speaking Tour Highlights Innovative Part-time Aliyah Model and Second Home in Israel

In September, 2008, Rabbi Stanley Davids, immediate Past President of ARZA, toured Reform congregations with his wife Resa in an effort to encourage Reform Jews to establish a home in Israel, while retaining a home in the North America. The Davids made Aliyah in 2004 upon retirement. They spend the majority of the year living in Jerusalem, and several months at their home in Santa Monica, California.

“For some people, this is the way to live their Zionist dream,” Davids explains. “We take part fully in the Israeli experience and are citizens of the Jewish State, but we haven’t severed our physical ties to the United States either.” Resa defines it as “a life- changing decision at a wonderful time in their lives”.

The trend of establishing a second home in Israel is growing, especially among middle age couples and seniors who have lived the majority of their lives in North America. “It is a new trend to purchase a second home in Israel rather than in Florida, and it is an innovative approach to realizing the dream of becoming influential citizens of the Jews State in the 21st century.” says Liran Avisar-Gazit, head of Jewish Agency’s New York Aliyah office, who worked with ARZA on advancing this Aliyah model and accompanied the Davids on parts of their tour. The Davids shared their life experience as Reform Jews and retirees in Jerusalem at Reform congregations in Toronto, Canada, Chicago, Connecticut, and New York.

KESHER Connecting with Reform College Students

Since December, Kesher-affiliated college students have been organizing programs on campuses from a Reform Zionist discussion group at Columbia University to an Israel fair at Drew University and a Shabbaton at Princeton and more. Kesher Shaliach Hanan Cidor has been an active presence at these and other campuses: in March Hanan led workshops and panel discussions at a Kesher leadership training seminar at McGill University and student-led Shabbaton in Binghamton University, and has been a consistent presence at Shabbat services at NYU and Columbia delivering divrei torah and informally engaging students in discussion. He also continues to work with returnees from a Kesher birthright trip, which he staffed, to enhance their post-Israel experience and increase their levels of engagement back at school.

Strengthening Regional Leadership in the Pacific Southwest (PSW) and Great Lakes (GL)

ARZA’s regional leadership is emerging as a group committed to raising awareness of ARZA in their communities and increasing ARZA membership. Leaders in these regions regularly participate in the Congregational Leaders Network conference calls and in local regional meetings.

Mifgash Experience

In 2008-2009 ARZA raised approximately $150,000 to launch a Mifgash Experience. The Mifgash Experience is a new initiative designed to enhance the interaction between the participants of Reform congregational trips and the Reform Movement in Israel. In April 2009, ARZA contracted with Dr. Elan Ezrachi to begin research to develop a film and a prototype for educational modules that would be used by groups traveling to Israel.

The philosophy directing the implementation of this project is: Israel cannot fulfill its destiny as a pluralistic, democratic, Jewish state without the involvement of the North American Jewish Community. Furthermore, The North American Jewish Community cannot fulfill its destiny without Israel.

Goals of film:

  1. Education – should teach about the Progressive Movement in Israel – opportunities and challenges.
  2. Connection – should emphasize the connection between North American Jewry and Israelis and leave space for people watching to participate. Should include a call to action.
  3. Marketing – must identify ARZA as a key part of the connection and an avenue that facilitates this connection.
  4. Jewish Peoplehood. We support Israel because we are part of one Jewish people. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh le Zeh. The film should be a message of universal Jewish solidarity.

ARZA World Contract

2009 saw a deepening of our relationship with ARZA World Travel. In addition to commemorating our relationship with ARZA World travel in writing, ARZA is coordinating more closely with ARZA Travel in reaching out to congregations proactively to help them with their travel plans.

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