Issue # 274

Issue #274 – 26 July 2007 / 11 Av 5767







Germany’s Leo Baeck Foundation, in partnership with the Breslauer families of California and Texas, recently initiated the formation of the Jewish Institute of Cantorial Arts, a new training facility for cantors and Jewish educators in Europe. The Leo Baeck Foundation is already the funding arm of Abraham Geiger College, Germany’s first and only post-war Progressive rabbinic seminary and an affiliate of the World Union. The five-year grant to establish the institute will come from California's Breslauer-Soref Foundation, and the Soref-Breslauer Texas Foundation, led by Jim and Liz Breslauer and by Steve and Sandy Breslauer, respectively.

"Over the years," says Rabbi Professor Walter Homolka, chairman of the Leo Baeck Foundation, "there has been a steady interest in an organized training program for cantors who can lead services and provide religious education where there is no rabbi or where the rabbi requires assistance. In Germany alone - the fastest growing Jewish community in central Europe - new and established Jewish congregations are in desperate need of young and effective leadership, which can give new content to their Jewish identity." Homolka adds that the tremendous growth in Germany is due primarily to the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and says, "Our experience has demonstrated that new immigrants from the FSU are especially attracted by the music of the synagogue."

Danny Maseng, a popular composer of modern liturgical and synagogue music (and artist-in-residence at the World Union's recent international conference), has agreed to serve the Jewish Institute of Cantorial Arts as Patron Artist. There are also plans for close cooperation with HUC-JIR's School of Sacred Music in Jerusalem and the U.S.; cantorial students will be expected to spend their first year in Israel at HUC.

Students who complete their Bachelor of Jewish Studies degree at the University of Potsdam after three years will continue their vocational training at JICA for an overall duration of four years, after which the candidates will receive their cantorial diploma.

Indications are that the federal German government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany are both likely to provide the Jewish Institute of Cantorial Arts with regular financial support beginning in 2008.

Backers of Germany’s future cantorial training institute (l-r): Jim and
Liz Breslauer of the Breslauer-Soref Foundation, and Steve and Sandy
Breslauer of the Soref-Breslauer Texas Foundation.

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The World Union's Anita Saltz International Education Center recently held a 10-day Summer Institute on Prayer and Spirituality in conjunction with Kol HaNeshama, a congregation in Jerusalem affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. The congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, a recognized authority on Jewish spirituality, led many of the sessions.

The participants explored prayer, its origin, melodies and tradition through experiential and traditional learning. The focus of the seminar was on prayer and individual renewal; text, music, silence and meditation; and Shabbat as a community experience. Participants also went on study tours throughout Jerusalem, visited the Western Wall, hiked and prayed in the desert and visited mosques and churches.

The Saltz Education Center offers a wide choice of seminars and programs in Israel as well as abroad. It has now added two activities geared primarily to tourists already in Israel: the Jerusalem Shabbat Seminar and Sunday night Jewish studies.

"We have found that Shabbat is the perfect niche for Reform groups here on an organized tour," the Saltz Center director, Rabbi Rich Kirschen, said of the Jerusalem Shabbat Seminar. Recent participants have come from Solel Congregation of Mississauga, Ontario (Rabbi Larry Englander); Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (Rabbi Laura Geller); Temple Gates of Prayerin Metairie, Louisiana (Rabbi Bob Lowey); and Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, New York (Rabbi Matt Cuttler). The Sunday night study sessions, Kirschen says, are designed for tourists already in Jerusalem seeking to study Jewish texts “from a Progressive perspective with local rabbis, educators and personalities.”

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The Progressive movement in Ukraine recently held a shabbaton for Beth Am, its affiliated congregation in the city of Poltava. The weekend, attended by 40 people, included lectures and workshops that focused on the meaning of Shabbat and Torah, and was highlighted by a b'nei mitzvah ceremony and the reception of a newly donated Torah.

According to Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin, one of the two World Union rabbis in Ukraine, the family-oriented shabbaton included, in some cases, three generations. The newly-elected chairman of the congregation, Anatoliy Muchnik, was there with his grandson.

Founded primarily by college and high school students seeking a meaningful and egalitarian way to express their Judaism, Beth Am now has some 200 members of all ages. It offers weekly Shabbat and havdallah services, education programs, a youth group and a sisterhood. Each year it holds a Passover seder and other holiday celebrations. It is led by Alla Magus, a graduate of the World Union's Institute for Modern Jewish Studies (Machon), which trains community workers for Progressive congregations throughout the former Soviet Union.

During services on Friday evening, the congregation received a new Torah donated by Project Kesher, the largest Jewish women's organization in the FSU. Says Kapustin, "The scroll was brought into the room and symbolically passed from Rima Novikova, who represents Project Kesher in Poltava, to Anatoliy Muchnik, who passed the scroll to me. I then passed it to Alla Magus. Each of us expressed our gratitude to Project Kesher and the hope that the scroll would help the community in the future.”

The next morning, five young people became b'nei mitzvah while wearing tallitot donated by Congregation Beth Am in Los Alto Hills, California, with which Poltava's Beth Am has been twinned since 2001. "Each celebrant read a prepared passage from newly arrived scroll," says Kapustin "and gave a short drashah (sermon). Some were crying with the emotion of a very special moment, and two more people were inspired to pursue their b'nei mitzvah next year."

"The shabbaton was very successful," says Kapustin. "I'd like to thank Alla Magus and her team of madrichim for their hard work and enthusiasm. I'd also like to express my gratitude to Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, and to Cherie Half, chairperson of the congregation's twinning committee, for enabling us to develop Jewish life in Poltava."

Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin assists the b'nei mitzvah celebrants don the tallitot
donated by Congregation Berth Am of Los Altos Hills, California.

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October 18-22, 2007 – Biennial conference of the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ), Hobart, Tasmania

December 12-16, 2007URJ Biennial - Union for Reform Judaism, San Diego, California

December 13, 2007 – World Union Luncheon & Concert at the URJ Biennial, San Diego, California

January 29-February 3, 2008 – Annual conference of the Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL), Kingston, Jamaica

February 27-March 20, 2008 – “Shalom India: Seeing India through Jewish Eyes” tour, led by Rabbi Fred Morgan of Melbourne, Australia

March 13-16, 2008Biennial conference of the World Union’s European Region, Vienna, Austria

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