Jews from 30 communities gathered at the weekend to attend Progressive Judaism’s first major event since the historic unification of Liberal and Reform Judaism was announced.
They were assured that the unification was “not a merger or a takeover”, rather an “opportunity to work together and build something new”.
Over 200 Liberal Jews, and as many online, attended the three-day event, which took the theme of “Liberal Judaism Matters”. The occasion was Progressive Judaism's first in-person biennial event in five years.
Guests were updated on the unification of the movements, and a memorial was held for all those who had died since the last in-person meeting. They also celebrated the birthday of 102-year-old Ruth Shire, who was watching through Zoom.
In addition to numerous Liberal Judaism rabbis and community leaders, speakers included Board of Deputies CEO Michael Wegier, Leo Baeck College principal Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris and the co-chairs of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors, Rabbis Rebecca Birk and René Pfertzel.
Levy told attendees: “This is a time that is calling out for Progressive religion. We live in a liberal and tolerant country and together we have a unique religious offering which speaks to that.
“There is a calling for us to create something different and be something different. This is our moment, and we are best placed to do this if we do it together."
Baginsky added: “Liberal and Reform Judaism today have more in common than we ever have in the past, but we are also not trying to make a homogenous movement with no differences.
"There is an amazing breadth and diversity not just across the movements but within the movements – and that is one of the great strengths of Progressive Judaism.
“This is not a merger or a takeover – but our time and our opportunity to work together and build something new.”
Paul Langsford, Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Ruth Seager, and Rabbi Josh Levy, 2023 (Credit: Richard Bloom/tigerpink.co.uk)
Liberal Judaism chair Ruth Seager then ran a joint session with Reform Judaism co-chair Paul Langsford where attendees were invited to express their thoughts about a shared future.
Seager described the Biennial event as “warm, engaging and meaningful,” and an “amazing opportunity for us to learn, pray, laugh, dance, and eat together as Liberal Jews,”
“People told me that they were excited that a single Progressive Judaism will have a strong voice and clear brand, and there is much that I will take away from the Biennial as we continue to develop this new movement,” she said.
Young Liberal Jews on the LJY-Netzer programme, the youth movement of Liberal Judaism (Photo: Richard Bloom)
Two of the three keynote speakers, Rabbi Larry Hoffman and Dr Joel Hoffman, delivered talks throughout the weekend, offering in-depth discussions into “everything from the development of the Hebrew language to the future of prayer to all the bits that were cut out of the Bible.”
In another “candid address that resonated with everyone present”, Rebecca Soffer, co-founder and CEO of Modern Loss, explored “practical, meaningful, and often humourful ways to address loss and grief.”
The weekend also saw an Emerging Leadership track run by LJY-Netzer to "develop the next generation of lay leaders" as well as rabbis and musicians from different communities coming together “to showcase the best of Liberal Judaism in prayer and song.”