On June 16, 14 young adults between 18 and 35 from Canada, Australia, South Africa, UK, France, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic and Israel met in Jerusalem for a five-day seminar on Reform Zionism sponsored by the WUPJ, Arzenu and TaMaR, and with the support of the World Zionist Organization. The focus of the seminar was to discuss and define the challenges facing Reform Zionism today in Israel, the Diaspora and among young people.
The first evening, Anat Hoffman from IRAC gave an interesting and inspiring keynote speech on some of the issues facing the Reform Movement in Israel.
The next morning, the group traveled through the Negev and spent the weekend in the Arava desert. The first stop was the eco-village and test center of Kibbutz Lotan where aspects of environmentalism in Israel were discussed. This was followed by Shabbat on Kibbutz Yahel led by Rabbi Benjie Gruber, where four of the participants had their first-ever Aliyah LaTorah on Saturday morning.
Next stop on the Sunday was the Ben Gurion Institute, where discussions were held about the characteristics and challenges of leadership in 1948 compared to the present day. This was followed by a visit to the unrecognized Bedouin village, Bir Hadaj, and later a meeting with the JNF and The Authority for Settling Bedouins in the Negev. This offered an interesting view of the very complex challenges of reaching a solution, among them the immense intercultural complexity of Israeli society.
Returning to Jerusalem on Sunday evening, participants arranged an informal discussion group over freshly-delivered pizza to talk about the challenges of engaging young people in their home communities.
Monday, the last day of the seminar, was spent in the company of Paul Liptz from the Anita Saltz Center, who ran a session about the increasing polarization of the Jewish people. This was followed by a visit to the Israel Museum. After lunch, the group met with Arzenu and WUPJ leadership for an extensive debriefing and discussion about the topics touched upon during the seminar. With this discussion fresh in mind, three participants took part in a panel discussion with Arzenu and WUPJ international leadership, who were in Israel to attend the World Zionist Organization meetings, with the moral support of the rest of the group.
The seminar offered a great opportunity to discuss Zionist questions and dilemmas in and outside Israel and get new perspectives on how to deal with these challenges. Most importantly, participants made new connections not only between their communities and Israel, but also among the communities outside Israel, which will hopefully lead to closer cooperation and interaction in the future.
With thanks to Louise Riewerts-Laursen for compiling this report and Oren Giorno for the photographs.