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Jun 21

Why we recommend the Beutel Seminar to our members

‘ I attended the 2012 seminar along with Jim Cherney, whose blog post appears below. I can heartily recommend the seminar to anyone involved in Progressive lay leadership’ RUSSELL COHEN, CHAIRMAN

Reflections of my Beutel Seminar by Jim Cherney, Temple Sholom of Chicago – Published in RJ Blog, March 8, 2012
Last month, I had the great pleasure to participate in the Beutel Seminar in Israel for 10 days. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, it is an education/ enrichment seminar sponsored by the Saltz Education Center of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Reform and Progressive Jews from throughout the world can apply to the program which is held in the first quarter every year in Israel.

For participants, the cost is subsidized by a generous sustaining gift from Austin and Nani Beutel of Toronto; the program is only one example of their enormous philanthropic support of World Progressive Judaism. I am a veteran of numerous earlier trips to Israel so I was not sure what to expect. Suffice it to say that the experience far exceeded any expectation I had beforehand. The group consisted of eighteen individuals from eleven different countries; in addition to the U.S. and Canada, there were participants from: Israel, Brazil, the UK, Germany, Poland, Australia, Singapore, India and South Africa. It was a very diverse group-what we all shared was an interest in Reform/Progressive Judaism, some congregational experience, and a love of and interest in Eretz Yisrael.

It is not easy to characterize the content of the program. It included study, prayer, travel, some presentations, and much interactive engagement. Most mornings (in Jerusalem), we started with a combination of study and worship led by Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman of Congregation Kol Hanashamah in Jerusalem. We had one Shabbat in Jerusalem at Hebrew Union College (in a service led by North American HUC students) and another at Kibbutz Yahel in the Negev.

We visited the City of David and had engaging presentations about the history of the Old City. In Tel Aviv, we visited the Museum of the Jewish People and Independence Hall and spent time hearing about the exciting growth and programming at Beit Daniel, the Reform community in Tel Aviv. And finally, we spent two days at Kibbutz Yahel in the Negev where we celebrated our second Shabbat-and we visited the cutting edge environmentally attuned Kibbutz Lotan.

But I do a grave disservice to this program if it sounds like a travelogue. What I gained from this program was a more refined sense of K’lal Yisrael Arevim Zeh l’Zeh-All Israel stands one for the other. A group of diverse individuals of different ages and prior life experience spent ten intensive days together in Israel and formed a community of Jews, whom I suspect will now be lifetime friends and colleagues. We became a true community.

Those of us who focus so much time on building community in our synagogues would do well to study the Beutel model not to mention some of the innovative ways the Israel Reform Movement is reaching out to the secular population and growing so significantly. Also, the mix of travel, education, dialogue, and study enabled us all to understand better the complex issues facing Israel as well as our developing progressive Movement in Israel.

The Saltz Center hopes to build upon the success of the Beutel Seminar (this was the 10th Anniversary) to offer programs to congregations and other groups to consider additional opportunities to utilize the Saltz resources for study, meetings and programming on Israel and World Jewry issues. For those of you to whom the Beutel program sounds inviting, you should consider applying to the 2013 program. You will not regret it.
(EDITED FOR SPACE)