The UPJ develops community by investing in our leaders. We provide leadership training for both professional and volunteer leaders. There are loans for rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators and Jewish communal professionals. Leadership seminars are held for current and potential leaders, and there is training for those who have served in the past to be mentors and guides for the future.
The UPJ offers and sponsors leadership development through national and international programs of leadership (including the Nahum Goldmann program and the Beutel Program) for lay leaders and presidents. UPJ also provides loans and grants for people to train as rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators and Jewish communal professionals.
by Toni Whitmont
Ever since my visit to Jerusalem in January, I have been singing the praises of the Beutel program. So what is it all about? Put very simply, it is an amazing opportunity to visit Israel within the context of reform and progressive Judaism and to be in the presence of terrific educators and inspiring people from around the world.
The Beutel program is one of three annual seminars that is run through the World Union of Progressive Judaism at its very impressive and fabulously positioned world HQ Mercaz Shimshon opposite the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.
The Beutel seminar has been running for about nine years. It takes up to 20 people, in my year from 10 different countries including Israel, and gives them an extremely intense 10 day program of exploring prayer, spirituality, ancient texts, Jewish history, contemporary Israeli society and politics, Jewish ethics, morality and leadership all within a Progressive Jewish context. The devices used are mixture of learning groups with Rabbonim, walking tours with texts, groups discussion, working groups, role plays, games and visits to various relevant sites.
The aim of the seminar is to connect people from different communities around the world, to foster leadership skills, to deepen and strengthen both religious and lay practice and to develop links between Israel and the Diaspora.
This is not an introduction to Israel tour. All the site visits are within the context of the themes of the seminar. For example, our discussions of leadership including some pretty critical analysis of Herzl and other leaders and all took place while discussing their memorials at the National War Cemetery Har Herzl. You don’t get to go to Masada or the Dead Sea. You do on the other hand spend three days at the Kibbutz Lotan and Kibbutz Yahel, where progressive Judaism is a living, breathing way of life. We didn’t “do” the top ten Synagogues. What we did “do” was spend our Shabbat time with various local communities, joining in with whatever was happening that particular week. And when it came to many of the discussions of contemporary life in Jerusalem itself, it was under the banner of “paradise or paradox”. Heady stuff indeed.
So, ten days of wonderful, stimulating, engaging, absorbing, challenging, demanding material (with for most of us, only one session that was generally considered a dud). The highlights were most definitely my fellow Beutel-niks. We were a group of 19 people, age between 23 and 66, some leaders of their communities for many years, some reconnecting after a spiritual absence of some time, some Jews by birth, some Jews by choice, some married, some not. While we all had so much in common, the issues and dilemmas we faced in our communities ranged enormously from those who were starting up congregations from scratch to others who were trying to reinvigorate aging ones, to young people who were at the forefront on the Jewish world in their countries.
As for our teachers – they were almost without exception, of the highest calibre. Jewish educators from three continents, all of whom were either born in Israel or make Israel their home, they were knowledgeable, thought provoking, challenging and often very funny. Paul Liptz, with his little Ben Gurion doll, is a gem of man, Rabbi Levi Kelman who took us for our daily prayer workshop is an inspiration, Josh Weinberg (a Rabbi cunningly disguised as an ordinary tour guide) brought alive Jerusalem in the Jewish Mind, Rabbi Joel Oseran was absolutely fascinating on his honest appraisal of the challenges facing the progressive movement both within Israel and in the Diaspora, Sally Katz Klein’s session on ethical dilemmas was both hilarious and thought-provoking.
At the end of the seminar we had a session talking about the moments where suddenly the penny dropped and it was fascinating to listen to everyone’s stories. For all of us, however, there seemed to be a common theme and that was the strengthening of understanding, and of resolve, that liberal/progressive/reform Judaism is not just a diluted version of Orthodoxy. It has its own articulated vision, and there no single patent on what it is to be Jewish.
If you have the chance to go on the Beutel seminar, I can only say “take it”. It is an unforgettable experience.