Rabbi Fuchs installed as WUPJ President

At an over-subscribed luncheon held at the URJ’s Biennial Assembly, the World Union for Progressive Judaism celebrated its achievements and its future. In a room packed to capacity, the WUPJ luncheon began with a moving installation service for our new President, Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs. Rabbi Richard Hirsch, WUPJ’s Honorary Life President spoke warmly and with great passion about the WUPJ’s future under the stewardship of Rabbi Fuchs. Then, representative leaders from our seven WUPJ regions ascended the podium: Rabbi Eric Yoffie from the URJ, Rabbi Gilad Kariv from the IMPJ, Rabbi Mark Goldsmith from the EUPJ, Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny from the FSU, Rabbi Paul Jacobson from the UPJ, Monica Solomon from the SAUPJ, Jerry Tanenbaum representing the Yad B’Yad Task Force (Latin America). Also joining the representatives was Steven Bauman who chaired the WUPJ Presidential Search Committee. Spreading a tallit over Rabbi Fuchs’ head they invoked the Priestly Blessing, wishing Rabbi Fuchs well on this new chapter in his life and the life of the WUPJ.

WUPJ Honorary Life President Rabbi R. Hirsch installing Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs as WUPJ President at WUPJ inaugural luncheo. (Photo by Arthur Roswell)

Rabbi Rick Jacobs spoke about the connection between the North American Reform Jewish community and its inviolable connection to Israel and the world. A long time champion of the Israeli Reform movement and the WUPJ (and a member of our Rabbinic Circle), he promised that we would work together as we all embark on new chapters in our history.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie was presented with the WUPJ Micah Award for his leadership and partnership with our movement. Rabbi Richard Hirsch made the presentation, which was a wonderful book-end, as earlier that day Rabbi Yoffie presented Rabbi Hirsch with the URJ’s Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award.

World Union VP and COO, Shai Pinto, reflected on our achievements over the past two years and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, World Union VP-Philanthropy, challenged the luncheon participants to join us in the rebuilding of Beit Shmuel in honor of its 25 years of service and encouraged those present to continue and increase their financial support for the sacred work of helping Reform and Progressive communities flourish throughout the world. Rabbi Joel Oseran, World Union VP International Development, concluded our luncheon by showing off the new Russian translation of the Plaut Torah and Commentary. Throughout the entire luncheon the spirit was high – it was a highlight of the URJ Biennial.

At the inauguration ceremony Rabbi Fuchs emphasized how thrilled he felt “standing with leaders of our movement from around the world and receiving their most heartfelt blessings... It was so thrilling to see the major leaders of the URJ expressing warm, sincere and total solidarity with our aims and mission.”

He expressed his warm congratulations to Rabbi Eric Yoffie for his signal accomplishments during his term of office, and his best wishes to Rabbi Rick Jacobs as he takes the reins of the URJ and leads it into the future. ”I know the North American Reform movement’s leaders have much on their plates, and look forward to working with them individually and collectively to build on the upbeat spirit which the Biennial generated.”

He then went on to the main point of his speech, our place in Scriptural text as Reform Jews. “When I have studied and taught Torah over the years and as I have taught it since I began my work with the World Union in July -- from Berlin, to Budapest and to Buenos Aires overseas, from New York, to Nashville to Naples in the U.S. and from Jerusalem to Modi’in and to Haifa in Israel -- I have been and remain interested in one essential question: Where are we in the text? What can we learn from this narrative or this set of laws or ethical teachings so that we become better people and better Jews”?

The answers lie in both the various high and low ethical and moral points of key figures in Jewish history. “Jacob plummeted to the lowest ethical depths, standing before his blind father and swearing he was his brother Esau... However the same Jacob was capable of soaring to the highest heights – of struggling with God, earning the name of Israel and taking responsibility for the future viability of our people.”

“Judah, another key figure of our history cynically suggests that rather than kill Joseph, they sell him as a slave, so they can make a profit from the affair. One cannot get much lower than that... The same Judah, however, is equally capable of riding the ethical high road, offering to remain a slave to the Egyptian vizier if he will let Benjamin return to his father, in order to put right the great wrong he had been a part of”.

But what do we learn from these stories? “We learn that the change in each case takes place when they leave home and begin to think beyond their own selfish interests. The change occurs when they take responsibility for the world around them.”

“We too rise in worthiness when we are able to think beyond ourselves and our own needs... We rise even further when we realize that there is an entire world out there requiring Tikkun, a world thirsty for Progressive Jewish thought, practice and community building.”

“Our world is dividing all too rapidly into those who dismiss religion and those who adhere to it in a fundamentalist almost fanatical embrace… Reform Judaism has shown there is a viable alternative, a sacred middle ground… We have and we shall continue to show the world the benefits of a Jewish approach that respects and reveres our precious heritage but considers it our right and duty to use our minds, God’s most precious gift to us, to analyze and critically consider the potential value in our lives of the many teachings of our tradition”.

“For me, it is a particular privilege to work to replant and revitalize Progressive Jewish life in places where it has been forcibly uprooted like Germany, the Former Soviet Union and most definitely in our beloved State of Israel! Even though these are difficult economic times, we North American Jews are blessed beyond belief! Our brothers and sisters around the world look to us for help. Please join us as we go about our God given task of connecting Jews around the world to one another, to the land of Israel and, in so doing we pray, to our minds, our hearts and our souls as well.”


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