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Sunday, 9 March 2008

Being at the Amazing Beutel Seminar

Being at the Amazing Beutel Seminar
by Mira Sasic

At the end of January the representatives of the Reform communities from
5 continents came together to the Beutel ten-day Seminar for Progressive
Jewish Leadership and Learning organised by the Anita Saltz
International Education Centre in Jerusalem.

I was a very proud member of Alyth synagogue when I entered the room 403
at the World Union for Progressive Judaism where we had most of our
talks and discussions and saw a plaque 'Donated by NWRS in London'. All
walls in Mercaz Shimshon / Beit Shmuel, headquarters of the WUPJ are
covered in plaques showing the commitment of individuals, families,
synagogues and other Jewish groups to Progressive Judaism and Jewish
values.

Actually all over Israel you could witness how the country was built and
developed over the last 60 years through various donations and
contributions marked on the benches in the parks, kindergartens,
schools, Magen David Adom ambulances, hospitals and many buildings and
monuments. You could feel everywhere how important and essential it is
to continue supporting Israel and strengthen the ties between the
Diaspora and our Jewish State.

That's why we gathered at the seminar. We had two sessions with a
remarkable educator Steve Israel about the First Temple Period in
David's City and the Second Temple Period in the Israel Museum and the
Jewish Quarter of the Old City. We all heard something new about our
roots and felt strong belonging to our historic homeland where our
ancestors had been creating our Jewish tradition.

We spent memorable few hours with the most inspirational Rabbi Michael
Klein-Katz on the promenade and on the roof of his house overlooking
magnificent Jerusalem and the controversial fence/wall. We discussed the
ethical issues within the Jewish society and in relationship between
Jews and Arabs, the challenges in maintaining security for Israelis and
honouring the Palestinian human rights.

We also had privilege to be at Mount Hertzl with another wonderful
educator Paul Liptz whose uplifting lectures I remembered from Limmud.
We visited Ben-Gurion's hut and grave in Sde Boker with him and spent
two lovely days in the Reform kibbutzim: ecological Lotan and adjusting
to the new economic reality Yahel.

This is just a taste of Beutel. We experienced much more while walking
Jerusalem through the Psalms with Rabbi David Wilfond, praying in the
mornings with Rabbi Levi Wieman-Kelman of Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem and
listening to Rabbi Meir Azari of Beit Daniel about the projects in Tel
Aviv. We met with the leadership of the Israel Movement for Progressive
Judaism and the Israel Religious Action Centre who spoke about their
work on protecting and defending freedom of religion and on
strengthening the democratic character of Israeli society.

At the end of the seminar the participants expressed the heartiest
gratitude to the organisers Elyse Leifer-Anker, the educational
coordinator who took care about our wellbeing during the seminar, and
certainly Rabbi Rich Kirschen, the director of the Saltz International
Education Center. Not only that we discussed power and powerlessness of
Israel with Rabbi Rich, visited the Kotel tunnels and Yad Vashem with
him, we also experienced the most moving moment of the seminar. At the
Tzriffin Army base one of the carriages in which the Jews were taken to
the concentration camps was turned into a memorial museum. We stood in
the circle in that carriage and holding each others hands we sang
Hatikva. We remembered six million lives lost in the Holocaust with
tears in our eyes and with pride that we are in our Jewish State
celebrating its 60th birthday. We agreed that Israel is still young, it
faces a lot of problems and challenges but it achieved a lot within a
short period of time.

At the Beutel Seminar I made new friends and I felt like I met family I
never knew I had in Australia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Canada,
Belgium, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Germany, and of course Israel and the
UK. I fell even more in love with Judaism and felt committed to the
Progressive Jewish values more than ever.

Due to the generosity of Austin and Nani Beutel and the Saltz family we
have got this enriching opportunity of Jewish learning. Please visit the
Saltz site www.saltz-center.org to find out more about how you can have
the most wonderful Jewish experience yourself.

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