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Progressive Judaism in Florence

FIEP's Second General Assembly

November 4, 2018

On the theme “The Future is Now” the second general assembly of the Italian Federation for Progressive Judaism (FIEP) was held on November 4 in Florence.  


The morning began with an introductory report by co-presidents Franca Eckert Coen and Joyce Bigio, followed by a long and spirited debate on the current state and future prospects for the Progressive Jewish Movement in Italy.


The afternoon program was opened by professor Bruno di Porto who presented his book “The Reform Movement in the Context of Contemporary Judaism” (Il Movimento di Riforma nel Contesto dell’Ebraismo Contemporaneo), published in October by Angelo Pontecorboli Editore. The book is an interesting recounting of the history of Progressive Judaism in Italy, in which di Porto himself played a central role. It also tells the story of the formation of the four contemporary congregations and the FIEP, which elicited this remark from Franca Coen: "We are ourselves making the history of Italian Judaism", a sentiment shared by all present.


There followed an engaging workshop entitled “How to Grow a Community – New Modern Models” conducted by Mario Izcovitch, director of the JDC’s pan-European program. Based on his years of experience in the growth of Jewish communities all over the world, Mario gave advice to the FIEP’s congregations on how to further their growth by adopting less “top-down” organizational models which would be more attractive to younger people. Izcovitch gave those present greater encouragement by describing the new energy and abundant enthusiasm he felt in the assembly. He concluded that his expectations for the Florence meeting had been greatly, positively surpassed.


Then came the turn of the presidents of the four Progressive congregations (Beth Hillel – Rome; Beth Shalom – Milan; Lev Chadash – Milan and Shir Hadash – Florence) who related their community’s situation and various activities: from the Talmud Torah class in Rome for 30 youngsters to the 10 religious and cultural courses offered by Lev Chadash, to the new youth members of Beth Shalom, and finally the activities of the new tots group at Shir Hadash. 


The co-presidents concluded with a report on the participation of FIEP at the UCEI General Assembly (November 1 and 2) where, promoting the visibility of the Federation, the delegates were given an explanation of the development of the Progressive Jewish Movement -- already firmly rooted here in Italy -- and a definite request was made for its recognition by the Union.

Letter from FIEP to the Israeli Ambassador (translated)

November 20, 2017

H.E. Mr. Ofer Sachs, Ambassador from the State of Israel to Italy,

Last Thursday, November 16, should have been a day of joy for the International Progressive Moviment,
which represents nearly two million Jews worldwide. We were celebrating the one-hundredth ordination
of an Israeli Reform rabbi – a concrete example of the growing success of our movement in Israel,
despite the efforts of the institutional Rabbinate and the ultraorthodox parties, which operate all
over the world to block this phenomenal expansion.
A delegation of 150 people, among them the entire Board of Regents of Hebrew Union College – Jewish
Institute of Religion of New York (including a large number of the principal leaders and rabbis of American
Jewry), as well as numerous leaders of the progressive Moviment in Israel, were gathered for morning prayers
in the archeological park next to the plaza of the Western Wall. After prayers, he delegation, which was also
carrying eight Torah scrolls, moved toward the area of the Western Wall, as Jews have done for thousands of years.
What happened then can only be described as a revolting, unprecedented, horrible incident. Our rabbis and leaders
carrying the Torah in their arms, were assaulted, thrown to the ground and physically attacked (Rabbi Rick
Jacobs, President of the Union for Progressive Judaism, was treatened with a club).
No one was seriously injured, but, given the intensity of the aggression and the absence of intervention by
security personnel, a similar incident could have led to much more serious consequences. All this happened
regardless of the fact that the Supreme Court of Israel has ruled that the security forces at the HaKotel
have not done enough to protect the non-orthodox worshippers and workers there.
THESE ATTACKS WERE CARRIED OUT BY OTHER JEWS, whose actions must be strongly condemned by Israeli authorities and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
We, the Italian Federazion for Progressive Judaism, representing the four progressive congregations in Italy,
put great faith in the State of Israel, an Israel which operates with compassion, equality and inclusivity.
We await faithfully for the government to honor the agreements made which insure that all Jewish affiliations
can pray at the Kotel.
Respectful and faithful wishes for shalòm from the Presidents of FIEP
Joyce V. Bigio
Franca Eckert Coen

Constitutive Assembly of the Italian Federation for Progressive Judaism

15 October 2017

On October 15, 2017 in Florence the first general assembly of the Italian Federation for Progressive Judaism (FIEP) was held. This new Jewish association has been promoted by four congregations that were formed in Italy beginning in the year 2000:
Lev Chadash (New Heart) in Milan
Beth Shalòm (House of Peace) in Milan
Beth Hillel (House of Hillel) in Rome
Shir Hadash (New Song) in Florence


These congregations represent the modernist stream of Judaism in Italy, which began in Germany during the Enlightenment, and spread largely to English-speaking countries. Progressive (or Liberal, or Reform) Judaism faces the problems of the modern world by using Jewish religious traditions and the principles of equality and social justice proclaimed by the ancient prophets of Israel. It dedicates particular attention to human rights, sexual equality and individual autonomy. In contrast with Orthodox Judaism, it offers equal roles (including the rabbinate) to men and women; it welcomes without discrimination persons of all genders, and recognizes the rights of LGBT couples to have a religious wedding.


In Italy there is an official agreement between the State and the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), which only represents Orthodox Judaism. Thus, other Jewish voices have no representative to the State. This open problem of the recognition of forms of Judaism other than orthodoxy led to the foundation of the FIEP.


Progressive Judaism aims to promote and spread the universal message of Judaism, which is a message of love, justice, equality, reciprocity, responsibility, honesty, peace, humanity and sincerity.


The FIEP assembly approved the association’s by-laws and elected a board of directors and two co-presidents, Franca Coen of Rome and Joyce Bigio of Milan, and a secretary, Sandro Ventura of Florence, who will have a three-year mandate.


The presence of the FIEP will enrich and complete Italian Judaism with a new component. Its principal international affiliations are the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the European Union for Progressive Judaism, which represent more than 1,800,000 Jews.

Sermon for Yom Kippur by Rabbi Robert Levy

September 29, 2017

Why Israel Matters


When I was seventeen years old, a long, long time gone, I moved to Israel to live on a socialist farm, Kibbutz Urim, where I worked as the assistant food manager.  Basically, I helped prepare 500 meals three times a day and 300 snacks twice a day and I, alone, with my tractor, took out all the garbage.  I grew up that year in so many ways.  And for that experience alone I support the State of Israel.  That year I passed through many of life’s challenges.  In Israel, I found a place for myself to explore life in a safe, Jewish setting.


But there are more reasons to support Israel than as a cure for adolescent angst.  We are a small people, around 13 million throughout the world.  And almost half of us live in Israel.  That, by itself, is enough to concern ourselves with the safety of Israel.  All Jews and all Jewish communities are precious.  I cannot say enough about the love I feel for our community at Shir Hadash.  But how much more so for a community of almost half of all Jews.


And as we support Israel, Israel supports us, the other six to seven million Jews in the world.  Israel plays an enormous role in our security.  Unlike, the three and a half million Jews living in Poland on the eve of WWII who constituted 10% of the Polish population and perished, Israelis are armed in defense of the Jewish people.  As Mao Tze Dung said, “Power comes from the end of a gun barrel.”  Or as Max Weineich, the Yiddish scholar said with some sorrow when speaking of the lack of respect accorded Yiddish, “A language is a dialect with an army and navy.” It is good to have an army and powerful weapons on your side.  Then your language, your culture and your lives gain respect.


On the night that Israel gained its independence, the father of Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, told his son how Polish children had treated him in school, stealing his pants and ridiculing him for being a Jew. Then, he said to his son: “Bullies may well bother you in the street or at school someday ... because you are a bit like me. But from now on, from the moment we have our own state, you will never be bullied just because you are a Jew. ... Not that. Never again. From tonight that’s finished here. Forever.”


But Israel’s role in our lives is so much deeper than the safety it provides world Jewry.  The Jewish people are far more culturally richer because of Israel.  It’s been more than 2,000 years since the birth language of millions of Jews was Hebrew.  Hebrew literature, like what Amos Oz writes, once again matters.  Jewish culture everywhere, always rich, expanded dramatically in the 20th century under the influence of Zionism.  In the sciences and the arts Israelis and Jews everywhere contribute to world culture.  We are no longer a remnant of an ancient people, Jews are a dynamic force for human goodness.  We have Zionism to thank for this.


The story of Zionism itself, is a great gift to Jews and to world history.  The idea of marshalling the Jewish people, in a period marked by Jewish weakness, the time of the Dreyfus affair, was genius.  Jew were a bedraggled, impoverished minority occasionally experiencing violence, and sadly waiting, as we now know, for the ultimate pogrom.  And Hertzl and others saw how Europe entered modernity though nationalism, as did Italy.  He realized that somehow we too could take our rightful and equal place through a nation-state.  Of course, unlike Italy, Land of Israel was both far away and bedraggled itself.  Hertzl’s Vienna was distant from dusty Jerusalem and there was no Tel Aviv, just sand.  Yes, there were people living in this Turkish backwater that became Israel, people who still today also need a homeland, but not that many people.  Much of the Land of Israel was empty and much more was undeveloped.  From Zionist shovels sand dunes rose into cities. 


Yet, even more amazing in this dramatic story was the rise of utopian thinking among Zionist leaders in addition to Hertzl.  Early Russian Zionists were communists, dogmatically dedicated to their vision of workers’ equality.  In the early 1900’s while so many Jews fled the sorrows of Czarist Russia and Poland for western Europe and the United States, a few of the idealistic ones went to the Land of Israel.  There, under their red banner, the Zionists of the second Aliya built economically viable communist farms, and a socialist health care system, and unions, and worker owned bus networks, and systems of national distribution for goods and services, and they built an army, the Haganah, which provided for the common defense and, when the time was right, the Hagana won Israel's war of Independance.  In the Middle East, Labor Zionism, it build a nation, strong and viable, where one did not exist. 


I support Israel for the sake of the Jewish people, for my own self interest and because the energy infusion that Zionism provided the Jewish people changed everything for Jews everywhere for all time.  I can only speak for myself, but as an American I am overwhelmed by the rise of anti-Democratic and anti-Semitic movements in the States.  Three armed neo-Nazis with automatic weapons menaced, from across the street, the Reform Synagogue in Charlottesville on Shabbat this August and the police refused to help.  Thomas Jefferson’s university was essentially occupied by those who seek a white dictatorship. Yet I feel less afraid in a world in which Israel exists.  We are better off in so many ways living in the age of Israel.


But there is a loss.  Among the early Zionists, both the red left, as well as the smaller group of non-leftists, few saw themselves as religious.  They felt very little for Judaism, what we are doing right now here in this room.  Some were openly hostile toward Judaism.  To the vast majority of the builders of the State of Israel, Judaism was something of the past, a passivity that actually held back the Jewish people.  So today, Israel is the center of Jewish life in so many ways but not in religious life.  In fact, the secular state, disinterested in religion, gave away the power that a religion can exercise to their natural enemy, the orthodox authorities that were so passive in Europe and from which the Zionists rebelled.  Israeli state builders said to the orthodox authorities, “Be the bosses of Judaism.  It is no concern of ours.”  The Zionist leaders wrongly thought that religious Jews would die out. 


And so Israel is powerful in so many ways, economically and politically, culturally and militarily, which are the great gifts of Zionism.  And Israel is so very weak in modern creative Judaism.  More than once, I have witnessed an Israeli ascend the bima at a bar mitzvah for an aliya, and quietly tell me that although they can, of course, read the words, they have never heard the Torah blessings before, that don’t know the melody, that they, in fact, have never been inside a synagogue.  An extreme case, as many Israelis know something of Judaism.  Yet the Judaism they mostly know is an dry orthodoxy from which they are alienated.  Judaism is scorned by many, ignored by most or imposed by a few.  Israelis don’t know the melody anymore.


But we, Reform Jews worldwide, do.    And this is our role in the unfolding of Jewish history.  Liberal, modern Judaism, another product of the 19th and 20th centuries along with Zionism, has something Israel needs.  Liberal Judaism has something that world Jewry needs.  Last year when I became aware of our efforts to organize Italian liberal Jews, for strength and to support our fellow Jews in Europe and Israel and the world, I was excited.  We have something to offer.  Prayer and song and belief and a vision of a Godly world for which we can work.  I am not trying to lay a theology on anyone.  Liberal Jews do wrestle with God’s existence and God’s relationship with us.  Yet, it is in the wrestling, and the gathering and the passion we can feel in this room, which we bring to the Jewish world.  I believe that when we meet to consider our soul’s journey on Yom Kippur or light shabbat candles or sing, we bring a presence of community and Godliness into our lives for goodness and blessing.  Organizing Italian Reform Jews strengthens our ties to all liberal Jews and to Israel.  Living in community allows us all to grow together. 


I do not worry about Israel being destroyed.  Israel is a strong country in so many ways.  I do worry about Israel losing its Jewish character.  A nation of Jews is not necessarily a Jewish nation. 


When I had first arrived in Israel, a member of the kibbutz advised me to earn an extra day off, easy to do in the kitchen, and combine it with Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat and take a long weekend vacation.  Not go to services, but travel somewhere in the country.  That was in 1970.


A few years later I learned from another Israeli the secret of Israel’s victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.  You may remember that the war had the opposite storyline of the Six Day War.  In 1967, facing potential annihilation, Israel struck first in surprise and insured victory on three fronts.  But in 1973, on Yom Kippur, the Israel’s Arab neighbors unleashed a surprise attack.  Fortunately for Israel, the attack occurred on Yom Kippur.  In those days Israelis, while not in synagogue, were in the habit of remaining close to home.  The emergency military call up succeeded because most everyone was close to their reporting stations.  But what was really fortunate was that the coordinated Arab attack did not occur on Rosh Hashanah when most Israelis go on vacation or to the beach.  Every minute counted as the Arab armies overran Israel’s defensive positions.  A nation on the beach could not have responded as well.  And a nation on the beach is missing something.  Something spiritual.  Something we have and can share.


O God, a vast universe cannot contain You, yet one place holds Your Essence. Centuries passed while You waited for our return. We arrived, both idealistic and bedraggled. In the land of our ancestors we build a restored nation. Threads of old cloth became new garments. The desert became farm and forest. Sand dunes rose into cities. We did this. You did this.


The hope You instilled in our hearts for the land of Sarah and Abraham’s wandering moved heart and hand. Thank You for the dream and gratitude to those who did and do the work of our renewal.  May those who live the Zionist vision find their reward in Israel’s prosperity.


Loving God strengthens us in our generation’s work in the Land of Israel. And we ask for Your Wisdom to help us to resolve what must be resolved. We share the land with people who feel dispossessed.  May we come to appreciate their aspirations. We live with neighbors. May we find dialogue, respect and peace. We cherish our global mission. May Israel be a light to the nations.  May that light also shine for us showing us our path into tomorrow’s tomorrow.


We are so blessed to live in the age of rebirth. Continue to bless us with your goodness and may the work of our hands honor You, our God of Peace. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  We pray for the welfare of the State of Israel.

Sermon for Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Joel Oseran

September 21, 2017

“And your children shall return to their land” Jeremiah 31:17
Sermon for Rosh Hashanah morning
Beit Hillel, Roma

As most of you know, even though I was born and raised in America, I have been living for over 35 years with my family in Israel. Because Israel is so important to me and to all of us in the Jewish community, I decided many years ago to give one High Holiday sermon each year on some issue related to our precious homeland.

Usually I speak about Israel on Rosh Hashanah morning, the time when we read in Torah about Abraham and Sarah and their two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Since our sages regard Ishmael as the father of the Arab nation, it has always seemed a natural extension of our Torah reading to discuss modern day Israel and, in particular, the challenges of living together with our Arab cousins.
This morning I will continue my tradition of speaking about Israel, but not about the Arab-Jewish challenge this time. Rather, I want to speak about the Jewish-Jewish challenge we see unfolding in Israel between the Israeli Orthodox religious establishment and the majority of Diaspora Jewry who are affiliated with Progressive and conservative Jewish denominations.
The relationship between Jews in Israel and Jews living in the diaspora is of special concern for me as we enter this new year of 5778. I say to you from the bottom of my heart: the danger to Israel’s long term future will not be the Arab-Jewish conflict. Israel is strong; we are not alone in our struggle to ensure our security while living alongside a Palestinian state committed to peace. It will take time, perhaps a very long time, but I am optimistic that peace between the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael will yet come to pass.
No my friends, my major concern for Israel’s future is not the external security threat, but the internal threat of a growing Jewish fundamentalism and its war against religious pluralism inside and outside the state of Israel. As Israel approaches its 70th birthday next May, we are seeing more clearly than ever before the challenge all of us face, those Jews at home and those Jews living in the Diaspora, and that challenge is: should there be only one official Jewish approach which the state of Israel recognizes or should there be religious pluralism where the state of Israel recognizes more than one way to be a religious Jew?

Now some of you may think this is a problem primarily for those of us living in Israel – it’s your business, you might say. We Jews in the Diaspora have our own issues to deal with. Here in Italy we Jews are shrinking in size each year, our children are intermarrying at an alarming rate of over 50%, we have our own challenges to defend religious pluralism and create a new Progressive community right here in Rome. Please, you might say – don’t complicate the matter and add to our problems by connecting them to what is going on in Israel. Just help us, if you can, to solve our own problems.

Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you here this morning do think this way. And most likely all of us are more than a bit confused regarding the bonds which connect us here in the diaspora, whether in Italy, the United States or elsewhere, to our homeland in Israel. So let’s spend the next few minutes trying to make sense of that connection and its implication for the future of Israel as our collective Jewish homeland.

When David Ben Gurion stood in Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948, it is difficult to remember that there were only about 700,000 Jews in the Jewish state. A tiny number, barely 6% of the total world Jewish population, which was then about 11.5 million Jews. And yes, just imagine how much smaller a percent that would have been had we not lost 6 million of our extended family in the Shoah.

69 years ago the Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora seemed to agree on a certain unwritten understanding:
•    Israel was committed to protect and defend the physical security of the Jewish people, both inside and outside the land and always remain a refuge for those Jews in need of a home.
•    Israel would consult with Diaspora Jewish leadership on matters of mutual impact and importance, especially in the area of Jewish status, but the final decision would be Israel’s alone.
•    Israel would defer to Diaspora Jewish leadership on matters related to Jewish practice inside that Diaspora Jewish community.

For its part, the diaspora Jewish community was committed to:
•    stand by Israel and support its government decisions publically – even if privately it might express disapproval when necessary.
•    provide political, material and human resources and support to ensure Israel’s continued existence as an independent, democratic and Jewish homeland for all Jewish people.
•    defer to Israeli authority on matters related to Jewish practice inside the state of Israel.

For a number of reasons, over the past several generations, these unwritten understandings which characterized Israel-Diaspora relations during the early years of statehood, have lost their force and integrity.

•    Israel has changed demographically: Israel has grown rapidly and is home today to nearly 45% of world Jewry. This Rosh Hashanah there will be approximately 6.5 million Jews living in Israel, which for the first time in history is more than the number of Jews living in North America. Estimates are, that in another generation from now, there will be more Jews living in Israel than in the entire diaspora combined (the first time this will be the case since the Babylonian exile 2,500 years ago.)
•    Israel has changed politically: right wing nationalist, Orthodox and ultra Orthodox parties have assumed greater power in recent government coalitions impacting Israeli policy in all areas, especially issues regarding religion and state.
•    Israel’s chief rabbinate has changed: over the past decades Israel’s chief rabbinate has become increasingly Haredi (ultra Orthodox) and has exerted itself more and more to control religious life inside and also outside Israel. We in Italy have felt this change directly. Anyone who remembers the late Italian chief rabbi Elio Toaff z”l who served with compassion and enlightened thinking from 1952 to 2002, will appreciate the different approach  of today’s Orthodox rabbinic leadership in Italy. Certainly the more fundamental approach in Italy today reflects pressures from Israel exerted on Italian rabbis.

And during these past decades, so too has the Diaspora changed in significant ways: While the Diaspora is still overwhelmingly supportive and committed to Israel’s well being, over the past few decades more and more pro-Israel groups in the Diaspora are voicing public criticism of certain Israeli actions and policies. By the way, inside Israel there has always been a robust voice of opposition to government policy, whichever government was in power – we are a dynamic democracy don’t forget.

However, regarding Diaspora Jewry, no longer will Diaspora Jewry remain silent in the face of Israeli actions (political, military, social, economic, and even religious) which appear to violate the high moral and ethical standards which Israel, as a Jewish state, must uphold. Gone are the days when Israel can expect Diaspora Jews, especially those from America, to blindly fall in line regardless of what policy Israel takes. Perhaps one of the most significant changes taking place between Diaspora Jews and Israel in the past several decades concerns the growing impatience, even resentment of Diaspora Jews for Orthodox fundamentalism in Israel and the refusal of the  state of Israel to recognize the validity of non Orthodox Jewish approaches and religious pluralism.

For 69 years Diaspora Jews were prepared to accept the status quo that religious life in Israel would be under the strict control of the Israeli chief rabbinate. For sure Diaspora Jews were not happy that Progressive and Conservative  Judaism were not recognized by the state which also meant that their rabbis in Israel were not recognized either. But that was what was called for according to the unwritten understanding of 1948.

Diaspora Jews reasoned – for the sake of shalom bayit, peace at home, “We will remain silent and continue to uphold our unwritten understanding, especially given Israel’s constant need to fight for her life against Arab aggression and terrorism.” Diaspora Jews, especially the majority of them who live in North America, perhaps also reasoned, “We will remain silent and let this religious discrimination continue in Israel because at the end of the day, we return to our own homes – to our own synagogues and rabbis, to our own communities where religious pluralism is supreme, where we can be free to worship our own way, where the Israeli chief rabbinate has no control over our practice of Judaism.”

It is against this background of changes, in Israel and in the Diaspora, that we must understand the dramatic and explosive crisis of the Kotel issue.

As you know, the Kotel or Western Wall in Jerusalem, has been under Orthodox rabbinic control since it went back to Jewish sovereignty after the June ‘67 war. For decades Women of the Wall, an organization representing women from all denominations, as well as the Progressive and Conservative movements in Israel, have petitioned the government to establish an equivalent egalitarian space at the Kotel which would permit all Jews, and not only Orthodox Jews, to pray in a manner which recognizes their fundamental beliefs and practices.

After nearly 2 years of negotiations with all the relevant bodies from the government, the Jewish Agency, Women of the Wall, and the Progressive and Conservative movement leaders in Israel and in the United States, an agreement was signed in January, 2016, to establish an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall area. For the first time in history, the government of Israel acknowledged the importance of religious pluralism by affirming the rights of non Orthodox Jews, Israelis and Diaspora Jews alike, to have their own place at the Kotel and equally important, to have the authority to manage and operate that space.

This principle was seen by the non Orthodox movements in Israel as an essential affirmation of the legitimacy of Progressive and Conservative Judaism, and as a step towards full recognition of Jewish pluralism in the state of Israel. But then, under intense political pressure from the Orthodox and ultra Orthodox political parties which threatened to leave the coalition and bring down the government if the agreement was implemented, the government changed its mind. On Sunday, June 25, the Israeli cabinet voted to overrule the agreement and end the government’s commitment to enforce it. An enlarged egalitarian plaza area could still be developed, but under no circumstances would Progressive and Conservative Jews be permitted to have responsibility for managing that egalitarian prayer area. The Orthodox understood very well that this part of the agreement would have confirmed recognition of Progressive Judaism – and that was simply unacceptable to the Orthodox.
The reaction of Diaspora Jewry to the government’s reversal of its Kotel decision was immediate and more passionate than anyone in the Israeli government imagined. Many commentators refered to a historic break in Israel-Diaspora relations. What the government of Israel did not appreciate was the fact that Diaspora Jews over the years had come to identify with the Kotel issue in a deeply personal way. More and more Diaspora Jews had come to identify with the Kotel as their own personal religious foothold in Israel and not the private property of the Orthodoxl rabbis who the state put in charge. The Kotel was seen by Diaspora Jews as the symbolic center of Jewish spirituality – a source of nourishment where every Jew was free to pray equally in his or her own way.

When the government said no to the Kotel agreement, it was essentially saying no, not only to religious pluralism in Israel but to religious pluralism in the Diaspora as well. To the legitimacy of Progressive and Conservative Diaspora Jews as well.  No longer would Diaspora Jews passively accept the dictates of a fundamentalist Orthodox chief rabbinate. The unwritten understanding between Israel and Diaspora Jewry was coming apart.

And this, my friends, is what concerns me deeply as we begin our new Jewish year. The Kotel crisis is but a microcosm of a much larger and more fateful crisis facing the Jewish people at home and in the Diaspora. It must be seen as a wake-up call to Israeli political leaders who must find a way to remove the monopoly of Orthodox and ultra Orthodox political parties on matters of Jewish status and observance which impact all Israelis and all Jews in the Diaspora. If Israel loses the commitment and allegiance of Diaspora Jews because they, and all those in Israel who value pluralism, are denied the right to practice their religion freely in their own homeland, it will lose its historic legitimacy as the homeland for the entire Jewish people. If that happens, the Jewish Diaspora will become vassal enclaves of Israel’s chief rabbinate (it is happening already in many countries worldwide) and Israel will become an increasingly fundamentalist Jewish island which will suffocate without a lifeline of Diaspora spirit and enrichment.

But the Kotel crisis must also serve as a wake-up call to over 6 million Diaspora Jews, including those of us here in Italy, who must do more to help change the status quo of religion and politics in our beloved homeland. We must learn from history – Israel and the Diaspora have changed in significant ways as Israel approaches her 70th birthday. No one back in 1948 could have imagined the stranglehold over life in Israel which the Haredim currently wield. We dare not assume that life in Israel 70 years from now will remain what it is today.

Please hear me well. I am not anti-Haredi. I am not anti-Orthodox. They are part of my extended Jewish family and I love them as I try to love everyone in my family. But my point is that all Jews – Haredi, Orthodox, Progressive and secular as well – all Jews in Israel must be free to worship and have equal rights to worship as they believe. 70 years ago we didn’t imagine this would be a burning issue in Israel – powerful enough to endanger our future as a nation. But we see today that it is such an issue and it is our obligation and duty as Jews who love their country, to make the political adjustments needed to prevent our implosion from within. Time is running out.

I conclude my drasha with the teaching of the prophet Jeremiah which we will soon read in our Haftorah portion for Rosh Hashanah. Jeremiah, having no knowledge of the Kotel crisis which would weigh down on the Jewish people 2,500 years later in history, did understand the importance of the temple in Jerusalem for the Jews living in exile in Babylonia, the Diaspora community in his day. Jeremiah envisioned the day when all the Jewish people would be one – unified under God’s benevolent protection symbolized by the temple in Jerusalem. For Jeremiah, the temple in Jerusalem represented that one place where the entire Jewish nation would feel connected, would feel at home. How ironic that 2,500 years later, it is that same physical place, the Kotel, the last remnant of the holy temple in Jerusalem, that can once again become the symbol of Jewish unity and the place where all the Jewish family can feel at home.
We pray that our new year, 5778, will see an end to the growing divisions of the Jewish people and the strengthening of the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora. We pray for God’s sheltering presence over all Israel and we pray for peace, in the city of peace, Yerushalayim – where, after our long road of exile, our children have returned to their land.

Keyn yehi ratzon – so may it be God’s will. Amen

Kotel Campaign

October 2016

Shir Hadash invites you to join the email campaign sponsored by IRAC (the Israel Religious Action Center) to demand that Israel live up to its promise to establish a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.  Use this link to send an email to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and other members of the government.  Let them know that you believe in religious pluralism, and that the Kotel should be a place where all Jews can pray together. 

Please join us, along with the Union for Reform Judaism, ARZA, Central Conference of American Rabbis, American Conference of Cantors, ARZA Canada, ARZENU, Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism, NFTY, Association of Reform Jewish Educators, Women of Reform Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Women's Rabbinic Network, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and the Men of Reform Judaism, in supporting this campaign. Click here to sign the message!

Rabbi Ariel Friedlander at Shir Hadash

September 2016

We are looking forward to meeting Rabbi Ariel Friedlander, who will be with us for Rosh Hashanah services this year (October 2-3).


Rabbi Friedlander was born in NYC and moved to London at the age of 2. Her father was a rabbi, and he says that when she was 5 she said she'd like to be the first girl rabbi, but he said it was too late, so she said forget it. She got a BA in American Studies at the University of Nottingham and entered her first career as a professional sports and theatre photographer. She was an official photographer for Queens Park Rangers FC for about 5 years.

Ultimately she did go to rabbinic school and was ordained by HUC-JIR in 1996. She served congregations in Toronto, the Shenandoah Valley, Long Island and Westchester before returning to the UK in 2009. There she worked for Liberal Judaism for a couple of years, serving small congregations around the country and students on campus. She is currently the administrator for the Memorial Scrolls Trust, a small charity that cares for 1564 Torah scrolls saved from lost congregations in what was once known as Czechoslovakia. She also teaches at the West London Synagogue, working mainly with Jews-by-choice and B'nei Mitzvah students.

She participated in the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the UK, and was a founding member of Keshet UK, an educational and advocacy charity for LGBT people in the Jewish and wider community. She currently supports Citizens UK in the struggle to bring over from the camp in Calais those children with the legal right to residency. She is an avid sports fan with a preference for soccer (QPR season-ticket holder). Her partner is from Modena and Rabbi Friedlander has started studying Italian. She still takes a camera with her wherever she goes - “At the moment I am taking lots of pictures of bees.”

New rabbis at Shir Hadash

October 2016

We are proud to welcome two new rabbis to the Shir Hadash family!

Joining us for Rosh Hashanah services is Rabbi Ariel Friedlander, curator of the Memorial Scroll Trust in London, U.K., and for Yom Kippur, Rabbi Robert Levy, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, MI, U.S.A. who will be resident at Shir Hadash through mid-November.

The Gans are back at Shir Hadash

September 28, 2015

Shir Hadash is very happy to welcome back in Italy our old friends, Sheila and Bob Gan. This will be the fourth time the Gans have been with us; they were also in Italy in 2009, 2010 and 2012. Bob will serve as rabbi for both Shir Hadash and our sister congregation in Milan, Beth Shalom, through December, with the difference that this time they will be staying in an apartment in Florence.

Bob was born in Boston and Sheila in Cincinnati. They both graduated from the University of Cincinnati. Bob was ordained in 1967 at Hebrew Union College, and then served as Jewish Chaplain at Ft. Lewis, Washington. They still live in Los Angeles, where Bob served as rabbi at Temple Isaiah for 38 years beginning in 1969. In 1992 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC. Rabbi Gan also held the presidencies of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, ARZA/World Union, and the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California. Sheila worked at UCLA in both the neuropsychiatric institute and the cancer center. During the 1990s she was Director of Development for the UCLA School of Medicine. They have two children, Michael and Hilary, and two grandsons. They both love to travel and have been around the world four times.

During their multiple visits to Shir Hadash they have greatly enriched our community with wisdom, guidance, and teaching. They have also imbued community events with a great sense of fun, joy and fellowship. We are looking forward with excitement to spending the next few months with them!

Welcome back Cantor Louise Treitman for the High Holy Days

September 2015

  Shir Hadash will open the year 5776 with High Holy Days services, and we are happy to welcome back Cantor Louise Treitman, who will be with us for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
  Cantor Treitman has just accepted a new pulpit at Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, MA. She will be returning there for Sukkot after the High Holy Days in Florence. For the past seven years, Cantor Treitman served as the Associate Dean of the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College in Newton, MA. She will continue to teach cantorial, rabbinic and education students. With degrees from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts (Music & Judaic Studies) and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts (Performance of Early Music & Viola da Gamba), Cantor Treitman was certified as an Invested Cantor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She is currently a member of the board of the American Conference of Cantors, the organization that serves the Reform Cantorate.
  Cantor Treitman is the co-founder of Il Concerto di Salamone Rossi Hebreo, an octet committed to presenting the music of this seventeenth century Italian Jewish choral composer in the context for which it was written - the synagogue service. The ensemble was founded in 2008 and has been leading Friday evening Sabbath services in the Boston area regularly since then. She has also served as Scholar-in-Residence presenting the Jewish music of Renaissance Italy. Cantor Treitman loves Italy and this will be her sixth visit.  In 2012, she and her husband spent a month in Italy, including a Shabbat visit to Shir Hadash in Florence. She has done several bicycle tours in Italy, one in Lombardy and the other in Puglia. The Jewish choir of which she is a member, the Zamir Chorale of Boston, did a musical tour of Italy in 2003 and performed a concert in Florence on the steps of the Great Synagogue and some of us were in the audience at that time! She is thrilled to be returning to Shir Hadash and to be leading services for a World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) congregation. One of Cantor Treitman’s students at Hebrew College, Jinny Sagorin, will be joining her on Rosh Hashanah as a cantorial soloist intern to add her beautiful voice to our services.
  Cantor Treitman and her husband, Rick, live in Lexington, Massachusetts. They are blessed to have three daughters and two granddaughters.

Rabbi John S. Friedman

October 26, 2014

  Shir Hadash is looking forward to welcoming Rabbi John Friedman, who is coming to lead services for us in December and January. Rabbi Friedman, currently on sabbatical from Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina, and his wife Nan, a retired pediatrician, will be joining us for the first time on December 5.
  Rabbi Friedman was born in Kansas City, and he studied at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem and Cincinnati, where he was ordained in 1976 and from where he received an honorary doctorate. After four years at Emanuel Congregation in Chicago, he went to Judea Reform, where he has been for over 30 years.
  Rabbi Friedman has received a number of awards including the Martin Luther King Jr. Keeper of the Dream Award, the Durham Better Human Relations Award, and the Elna Spaulding Medal for Social Justice. He has been active in many Jewish and civic organizations, has been a popular speaker for diverse groups and has written articles for a variety of Jewish publications.
  He and Nan have two children, Josh and Abby.

Musical Evening with Rabbi Norm Roman

October 26, 2014

  Rabbi Norman Roman will be joining Shir Hadash after Havdalah on November 22 for a musical evening together. Rabbi Roman was in Florence last year and he gave us a wonderful Purim evening.
  He has been the Rabbi at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, Michigan for 25 years. He was born in New York City, raised in the Cleveland area, was educated at John Carroll University (1971) and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati (1975). He received the title of “Reform Jewish Educator” from the URJ and the National Association of Temple Educators in 1991. Additionally, he earned a Master’s Degree in Hebrew Letters and an honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR. He served at congregations in Cleveland, Santa Monica, California and Birmingham, Michigan before Temple Kol Ami. He serves on numerous civic committees and boards and is an Adjunct Instructor in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy.
  Rabbi Roman is an accomplished folk singer and guitarist, and is recognized nationally for his work with Jewish youth. His love for and commitment to Israel are very strong. He is descended from chalutzim (pioneers) who were early settlers of Zichron Yaakov and he visits Israel at least once a year.
  The Rabbi, his wife, Lynne, and their children live in West Bloomfield.

Cantor Louise Treitman joins Shir Hadash for the High Holy Days

September 2014

  Shir Hadash will open the year 5775 with High Holy Days services, and we are happy to welcome Cantor Louise Treitman, who will be with us for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
  Cantor Treitman is the Associate Dean of the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College in Newton, MA, and Cantor Emerita of Temple Beth David in Westwood, MA where she served for 20 years. She also serves as Visiting Cantor at several Boston-area congregations. With degrees from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts (Music & Judaic Studies) and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts (Performance of Early Music & Viola da Gamba), Cantor Treitman was certified as an Invested Cantor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She is currently a member of the board of the American Conference of Cantors, the organization that serves the Reform Cantorate.
  Cantor Treitman is also the co-founder of Il Concerto di Salamone Rossi Hebreo, an octet committed to presenting the music of this seventeenth century Italian Jewish choral composer in the context for which it was written - the synagogue service. The ensemble was founded in 2008 and has been leading Friday evening Sabbath services in the Boston area regularly since then. She has also served as Scholar-in-Residence presenting the Jewish music of Renaissance Italy. Cantor Treitman loves Italy and this will be her fifth visit.  In 2012, she and her husband spent a month in Italy, including a visit to Shir Hadash in Florence. She has done several bicycle tours in Italy, one in Lombardy and the other in Puglia. The Jewish choir of which she is a member, the Zamir Chorale of Boston, did a musical tour of Italy in 2003 and performed a concert in Florence on the steps of the Great Synagogue. This will be her first time leading services for a World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) congregation.
  She and her husband, Rick, live in Lexington, Massachusetts. They are blessed to have three daughters and two granddaughters.

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