Latin American progressive communities hold biennial in Brazil

Some 600 people attended “Sounds and Flavors of Latin American Judaism,” the third biennial conference of the Progressive communities of Latin America, from July 10 to 13 at the Othon Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Much like the previous two conferences, held in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2004), and in Punta del Este, Uruguay (2006), the gathering aimed to further consolidate and integrate the congregations and institution of these communities, provide support to professionals and lay leaders, and seek ways to preserve pluralist Jewish values and develop a new generation of leaders.

Miriam Vasserman, a member of the World Union’s Executive Board and a leader at Sao Paulo’s Congregacao Israelita Paulista (CIP), co-chaired the conference with Marina Gottlieb, a leader at Associascao Religiosa Israelita (ARI), Rio de Janeiro’s Progressive congregation. They were assisted by numerous Progressive activists under the leadership of Berta Zylberstajn, the World Union’s executive secretary in Brazil and a congregational leader at CIP, and Raul Gotleib, a board member at ARI.

Sessions addressed a variety of subjects, such as the future of Progressive Judaism in the region, Jewish education, leadership development among youths and young adults, and Israel at 60. There were also discussions that focused on more all-encompassing issues, such as Jewish-Islamic relations, bioethics and the confrontation between religion and science.

The conference also provided a venue for congregational networking as well as presentations and an exhibit on projects that have proven successful in various communities. And of course, there was music, “a lot of Jewish gastronomy,” and worship services that included Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat morning services at ARI. Havdalah, set to Brazilian rhythms, took place on the world-famous Copacabana Beach. Click here to see a video of the ceremony and dancing.

Several World Union executives attended the conference, including Steven M. Bauman, chairman; Rabbi Uri Regev, president; Stephen Breslauer, secretary and member of the Yad B’Yad Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean; and Shai Pinto, the World Union’s vice president for operations.

“What began as a spontaneous response to the economic crisis in Argentina,” Bauman and Regev said in a joint statement, “has evolved into a long-term commitment by the World Union to strengthen Jewish life throughout Latin America, expand the presence and availability of liberal congregations, and invest in the next generation. We are proud of the regional growth of our youth and young adult movements, Netzer [Olami] and TaMaR, and are grateful to our partners and the dedicated individuals who are making this happen.”

Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israeli Religious Action Center, attended on behalf of the Progressive movement in Israel. “In Israel, the Progressive movement has over 20 congregations, schools, camps, a pre-army program, and naturally the social branch of the justice movement, the Israel Religious Action Center,” she told the convention delegates. “We are active in promoting a different future for the state of Israel and in building a society based on human equality, Jewish pluralism and tolerance. Israel needs a better social conscience, and Progressive Judaism brings the Torah together with humanistic and modern democratic values.”

Other honored guests included Tzipora Rimon, Israel’s ambassador to Brazil; Jack Terpins, president of the Latin American Jewish Congress and of CONIB (Confederacao Israelita do Brazil); Sergio Niskier, president of FIERJ (Federacao Israelita do Estado do Rio de Janeiro); Boris Ber, president of the Sao Paulo Jewish community; and congressmen Marcelo Itagiba and Walter Feldman.

“‘Sounds and Flavors of Latin American Judaism’ was much more a debate than an exposition,” says co-organizer Berta Zylberstajn. “As the title itself demonstrates, the conference had a serious, but not stern, tone. It was a happy event that was open to knowledge, showing that liberal Judaism is based on authentic manifestations of Jewish creativity, [both] ancient and modern, particularly those which emphasize spirituality and the desire to learn what God expects from us; justice and equality; democracy and peace; and personal fulfillment and collective obligations.”


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