UPJ’s progressive vision

Dr Ron Wolfson

MORE than 160 people representing 29 Progressive congregations in Australia, New Zealand and Asia converged on Sydney for the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) conference.

The biennial event, which took place October 25-28, saw Sydneysider Stephen Freeman elected as UPJ president, succeeding David Robinson of Auckland, who served for four years.

Welcomed aboard by UPJ CEO Steve Denenberg, the Slater & Gordon lawyer outlined a vision for his presidency, stating he would “strengthen Jewish continuity with acceptance, vibrancy and relevance”.

On what he called his “bucket list” of goals, Freeman nominated a chair in Progressive Jewish studies at an Australian university, standardising conversion criteria with Modern Orthodox congregations, extending tikkun olam activities in Aboriginal communities, and using technology to reach out to Jews in remote regions.

He also envisioned broadening youth visits to Israel. “I want to ensure every person belonging to our community has a meaningful Israel experience before their 26th birthday.”

The UPJ also resolved to write to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to state that “the Israeli government has a duty to protect the rights of all who worship at the Wall” after the recent arrest of Women of the Wall’s Anat Hoffman for praying there.

Conference visitors included Zionist Federation of Australia executive director Ginette Searle and NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) CEO Vic Alhadeff. In a workshop, Alhadeff gave a briefing on the JBOD’s Israel advocacy and urged international speakers to use “context and balance” when criticising Israel.

US educator Dr Ron Wolfson, president of research body Synagogue 3000, delivered a spirited keynote address on the need for relationships, not just programs, in boosting synagogue attendance.

The UPJ reviewed its ­achievements over the past two years, including the introduction of Mishkan Tefilah, the new Progressive machzor, and founding of the Centre for Living Judaism, a partnership with Progressive Judaism Victoria and The King David School, and the Jewish Religious Action Advocacy Centre.

At a conference dinner, Peter Marks and Phyllis Dorey were recognised with Vatik awards for past presidents continuing their outstanding service. Naomi Johnson, Herb Lesser,  and Liz Marks received Ner Tamid awards for dedication to their congregations, and Judy Campbell, Joel Oseran and Neil Samuel received President’s Awards.


Dr Ron Wolfson adressing delegates at last week’s UPJ conference.