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ACJ Renews National Presence

Rabbi Howard Berman
The Council Messenger
Spring 2007

One of the major goals of the Council over the past year has been a commitment to reviving the regional chapters that were historically the centers of energy and support for its national mission. With members and supporters in every state, and significant concentrations in many major cities, we want to provide networks to build relationships between those who share our principles, and deepen their personal connections with our work.  

This effort began in the Spring of 2006, with a very successful gathering in Dallas, where over 100 people, many of them leaders of the Jewish community,  
came to learn about the Council’s new directions.This meeting was sponsored by the “Friends of Classical Reform”, a group of devoted members of local temples who are committed to the historic ideals and worship traditions of American Reform Judaism. Rabbi Berman shared reflections on our distinctive vision of religious identity and observance, highlighting the contemporary relevance of Reform’s broad and universalistic perspectives, both for those many people who were raised in Classical Reform, as well as countless younger people who are searching for a spiritually inclusive Jewish encounter. He particularly emphasized the special potential attraction and accessibility of our worship for interfaith couples who find the current ritualism and dominant Hebrew usage of many synagogue Services to be significant obstacles to a shared experience. Many people who attended this program have become active and ardent supporters of the Council, and plans are being developed for another Dallas meeting in the coming months.  

The success of our Texas experience inspired efforts in other communities. In October of 2006, a meeting was held in Chicago, which attracted a significant  
number of young leaders of Chicago Sinai Congregation, one of the country’s historic centers of Classical Reform. The discussion focused on a shared commitment to support the Council’s efforts to advocate in other communities for the “Classical Option” that draws so many people to Sinai locally. A gratifying influx of new ACJ members and supporters,many of them in their 30’s and 40’s, resulted from this gathering, and ongoing programs are planned as well. In March 2007, Rabbi Berman was invited to deliver a sermon on the Council’s principles at Temple B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas,  
sponsored by a group of temple members who have supported the congregation’s efforts to offer monthly Union Prayer Book Services. This particular  
model is certainly the ideal we are striving for – working within congregational structures, with the support of local rabbis, to encourage congregations to actively respond to the needs of their Classical Reform members, and to offer this resource as a vital part of their programs. In the coming months, Rabbi Berman will be speaking at Sabbath Services at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, GA and The Temple-Adath Israel in Louisville, KY. An important gathering of ACJ Friends and supporters is also planned for the fall in Atlanta, GA.  

Another dimension of our efforts has been the support of new congregations around the country, which are seeking to offer a contemporary Classical Reform alternative in larger cities. Boston Jewish Spirit, organized in 2004, has flourished and welcomed the National Board Meeting of the Council  
last November at a special Sabbath Service, at which the congregation dedicated its new Union Prayer Books – Sinai Edition, purchased with one of the ACJ’s UPB Grants. BJS, now numbering over 100 members, is a “virtual laboratory” for creative worship and programming that embrace historic Reform’s progressive values and inclusive spirit, offering  
them as a vital option to a new generation. A parallel effort is being developed in Washington, DC, where “The New Temple” will be formally inaugurated with the coming High Holy Days.  

These are very exciting developments in the renewal of the American Council for Judaism. We particularly encourage our members and supporters in other communities to contact us to plan such gatherings and programs in other regions, spreading our message and bringing together kindred spirits who share our vision of “an alternative expression of faith and identity for American Jews!”

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