by Jess Mindel
The past week, me and Dan Smith were given the incredible opportunity to represent LJY-Netzer at the URJ Biennial in Boston. The URJ is the Union of Reform Judaism based in America, the “offspring” of the WUPJ and they hold a conference every two year in which Reform Jews from all over America come to and share their wisdom/ learn things to take back to their communities/congregations. This year, we, along with other Netzer sniffim (RSY-Netzer, Netzer Germany, Netzer Australia, Netzer Belarus, Netzer Russia and Noar Telem) and youth movements (Habo South Africa and Tlamim), were invited to come along to represent our respective movements.
Each day had a similar structure of Plenaries to start and finish the day, followed by the option of about 20 different sessions, three times a day. I went to some incredibly interesting sessions, including; Egalitarianism in Israel, Discussing with Anat Hoffman why there is such an Issue of equality with regards to praying at the wall and what is being done to overcome it; Breaking Barriers & Touching Souls, looking at how we can make prayer services and general congregational life more inclusive for those who have visual or hearing difficulties as well as providing comfort in music for those who are on the autism spectrum and finally a session run by NFTY (North-American/Canadian Netzer Snif) in which we reflected on how successful our communities are at being inclusive with regards to Gender, Race, Ability etc. I was really proud of LJY-Netzer in this session as we really are pushing boundaries compared to other congregations/movements.
Speaking of NFTY, myself and a few others set ourselves the goal of starting to break down the wall between NFTY and Netzer. Currently, there are about 6000 members of NFTY and only a minuscule amount of them know what Netzer is, which is a huge issue considering they are a part of our worldwide movement. So, during the week, we (as Netzer-niks) took it upon ourselves to interact as much as we could with NFTY-NETZER to educate them on Netzer Olami and to start connections that can be continued for years. Through our efforts, we had meetings, filmed videos and have started on the pathway towards bringing NFTY-Netzer back into being an integrated part of our worldwide movement. They are also looking at having a Netzer delegation at their next NFTY Conference!! Very exciting!! We also had some other empowering moments throughout the week. Speaking with Anat Hoffman (Women of the Wall); Having dinner with the president, vice president and chair of the WUPJ; finding out how we can start impacting the JNF-KKL and the decisions they make and just in general, spreading Netzer all throughout the conference. We had the pleasure of attending a wonderful dinner that included a Debbie Friedman orchestra tribute which was insanely beautiful! We also had the opportunity to take part in a Nava Tehila prayer service which, if you are ever in Jerusalem, you must attend as they are so immersive and beautiful. The whole experience of Biennial was truly incredible, I can now say I have taken part in the world’s biggest Shabbat dinner (5500 Jews altogether) and was able to represent LJY-Netzer, which I feel truly honoured to have been able to do, and do us proud!