CONNECTIONS Conclusion Press Release





(JERUSALEM, Israel – May 21, 2017)  On Saturday evening, May 21, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) concluded the Friday and Shabbat portion of its biennial conference CONNECTIONS ( with a rousing performance by Bat Ella. In the midst of songs and prayers in English and Hebrew, including covers of well-known songs by Debbie Friedman z”l, delegates linked arms and harmonized voices to sing out the final moments of the Shabbat together.

Centered around the theme “Milestones & Innovation,” in celebration of the WUPJ’s 90th anniversary as well as other significant historical landmarks and achievements in the world and the Reform movement, the four-day biennial event drew over 450 lay leaders, rabbis, students and congregants from Progressive, Reform, and Liberal communities from 30 countries. For many, Shabbat services are often a highly anticipated event, known for bringing together cantors and rabbis from around the world. Many of the delegates were looking forward to being exposed to songs and practices from around the world.

Friday began with a keynote address by MK Stav Shaffir (Labor Party, Israel) who encouraged delegates to continue fighting for justice and social equality in Israel and abroad. She drew parallels between the founding fathers of Israel and Reform Zionism in ways that both tap into our heritage as a people and as a religion. She concluded with a quote from last week’s Torah portion wishing peace upon Israel and its people. Subsequent plenary discussions and workshops, including one by Gilad Malach of the Israel Democracy Institute, with Sergio Della Pergola from the Jewish People Planning and Policy Institute, addressed critical issues facing the Jewish people and Israel, including demographic challenges, young leadership and Jewish and Israel education. Lunchtime offered regional leaders and staff a chance to meet and discuss challenges facing their own congregations and constituencies across Europe, Latin America, the Former Soviet Union and North America.

Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream, opened the afternoon’s keynote address, inspiring attendees with his tips for innovating and forging new pathways with his business approach as a model for community action. Being courageous in the face of adversity, using creativity to achieve one’s goals, and communicating about what really matters were among the suggestions he cited, using SodaStream’s viral commercials as evidence of seizing opportunities and hitting the right notes. A dedicated member of Tel Aviv’s Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism, Birnbaum proudly reiterated that these same principles have been driving the history and accomplishments of Reform Judaism for centuries.

Following additional workshops and think tanks, this time focusing on inspiring the next generation, combatting antisemitism and fostering stronger ties to Israel among congregations, delegates made their way to Jerusalem’s First Train Station (Tachana Rishona) for the municipality’s first of the season Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat services.

With the sponsorship of eight Progressive congregations in and near Jerusalem – Kamatz (Kehilat Mevaseret Zion), YOZMA (Modi’in), Kehilat Tzur Hadassah, HaDror, Har-El and Achva B’Kerem, Mevakshei Derech, and Haneshama (Jerusalem) – hundreds gathered for the upbeat and moving ceremony. Passersby joined the dancing and singing, and then delegates who chose home hospitality went to Israeli families for Friday night dinner.

The celebrations of song and prayer continued on Shabbat morning as Rabbis Nir Barkin (Israel), Lisa Tzur (USA), and Charlie Baginsky (UK) led a moving service that reflected the 20 different languages and multiple melodies from the 30 countries represented at CONNECTIONS. Morning services used a new siddur that was compiled from 28 Reform and Progressive prayerbooks from around the world. The project, led by Rabbi Jordan Helfman (Canada), with 20 rabbis contributing from 15 countries, features Hebrew as the central text language for the first time, aided by the input of the rabbinical arm of the Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism (IMPJ). The siddur will be available for download by congregations around the world this summer.

The text of the siddur is more gender inclusive than previous editions, and yet the text is much more traditional/complete than other texts, reintroducing Mussaf and many sections of the prayer service that were cast aside by earlier generations of Reform.

“Hearing the strength of our movement in songs and prayers, and coming together for Shabbat reflects the uniqueness of our global movement – that no matter where you are, or whether your regional or congregational practices vary this way or that way, you are welcome in a Reform service. And your prayers are welcome to join ours,” said Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, President of the WUPJ.

Aliyot for the Torah reading were allocated to rabbinical students, regional leadership, WUPJ board members, CONNECTIONS steering committee, retiring Rabbi Joel Oseran, and retiring Netzer founder and pioneer Maoz Haviv. Rabbi Freelander’s sermon then drove home the highlights of the conference, and encouraged attendees to bring the message and experience of CONNECTIONS to their home communities:

“Thursday’s Kotel experience and last evening’s spirited Kabbalat Shabbat should prove to us that if we march ahead without looking back, we can create the kind of Jewish moments that will motivate 21st century Jews…I have learned this week how strong we are. I have witnessed how strong we are in our commitment, creativity and resolve. But most of all, I have felt how  much it strengthens us when our movement leadership gathers, and we realize what our potential is. Chazak, chazak venitchazek, may we go from strength to strength.”

Afternoon walking tours visited the Old City, LGTBQ sites and history in downtown Jerusalem, and interfaith programs near Beit Shmuel-Mercaz Shimshon.

The gala closing program featured Bat Ella, also a dedicated member of the Daniels Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv, who sang original songs and prayers of her own composition alongside known melodies by legendary Reform musician, singer and composer Debbie Friedman. Delegates joined arms and hearts as they wished each other health and happiness on their continued journeys back home.

Nefesh Mountain, visiting Israel with their unique blend of U.S. country and bluegrass, sweetened up dessert and coffee as delegates exchanged contact information and hugs and promised to strengthen the connections forged over the past four days in Jerusalem.

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The World Union for Progressive Judaism ( is the international umbrella organization of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements, serving 1,200 congregations with 1.8 million members in more than 40 countries.  Headquartered in Jerusalem, the WUPJ represents the largest body of Jews in the world who seek a traditional yet contemporary expression of their Jewish spiritual, cultural and religious identity. The WUPJ supports the Progressive Zionist Youth Movement, Netzer Olami, and the TaMaR Progressive Young Adult Movement.

It is the World Union’s goal to ensure that all Jews have access to a vibrant and personally meaningful Jewish life that can best inspire them spiritually and ensure the future of the Jewish People, whether in the State of Israel or throughout the Diaspora.


Ziva Haller Rubenstein
Director, Marketing & Communications
World Union for Progressive Judaism
Cell: +972-54-795-6758