Constitution and By Laws
Voting for Officers and Executive Council members for 2019-2021 was
completed at our convention in Memphis, TN.
Thank you to the nominating committee for
providing an excellent slate.
Mazel Tov to all those elected.
MRJ Nominating Committee:
- Chair and Honorary President Tom Wiener
- Gary Brock
- Andy Chait
- Brian Hatkoff
- Robert (Bob) Ingrum
- Tony Perry
- Irving Shnaider
- Honorable Ira Warshasky
MRJ OFFICERS 2019-2021
1st Vice President
Aaron Bloom, Gary Brock, Andy Chait,
Dan Checkman, Paul Cohen, Buzz Deitchman,
Michael Fein, Brian Hatkoff, Robert Himmelstein,
Robert Ingrum, Andrew Johnson, Michael Kaplan,
Ken Keenan, Stuart Leviton, Alan Moskoff,
Ken Moskowitz, Charlie Niederman, Larry Pepper,
Tony Perry, Steven Portnoy, Alan Rosen,
David Schuster, John Shalett,
Stephen Sherman, Irving Shnaider, Ira Warshawsky,
Steve Weintraub, and Tom Wiener.
From MRJ VP Gary Brock
Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ) International Conference, 2018: Summary of Events
Old friends and newly minted ones met in Minneapolis, Minnesota July 12-15, 2018 to attend the Men of Reform Judaism’s (MRJ) International Conference, MRJ Today: Past the Curb, Beyond the Parking Lot.
Thursday’s dinner speaker, Moran Birman, Consul for Public Diplomacy, attaché to Chicago’s Israeli Consulate, gave a general overview of the relationship between the United States and Israel. His remarks took on a decided poignancy as he recounted that he and his fiancé had flown, as so many before, to Cyprus for their marriage, since the Orthodox Rabbinate fails to acknowledge Reform marriages in the State of Israel. While telling us of all the good that Israel does around the world, to the question of why current Israeli policy seeks to urbanize its nomads there was no easy answer.
Friday’s full day of events were preceded by President Steven Portnoy’s remarks of welcome. Steven recounted MRJ’s significant achievements of the past year, including the joint statement at the 2017 MRJ/FJMC at the Israeli Embassy disapproving Israel’s position as to whether non-Orthodox Jews are legitimate. Steven made clear that MRJ has had and continues to have a “seat at the table,” and that our leadership maintains meaningful and strategic alliances within and without the Reform movement.
Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker of St. Paul’s Mount Zion Reform Congregation led a spirited discussion on social change and the RAC’s Brit Olam. Brit Olam gives Reform congregations the opportunity to join in a “vision for Social Justice.” The brit encourages congregations to enlist a clergy member and at least two lay leaders to lead in a minimum of one of many actions. Examples include: acting in solidarity with vulnerable communities and participating with the RAC on immigrant justice. The RAC, in turn, will provide training and resources for those congregations committing to lead in this endeavor.
His study session centered on the question “What drives you to work for a better world”? He asked that one consider which Jewish value motivates us to work for this better world. The core text is that justice is central to Judaism, as we are heirs to Abraham’s calling by G-d to do justice. We were presented with a years-long study seeking to determine what “significant story/moment/experience connects you to this core motivation. R. Spilker posed the question: “Are you inspired to act”?
Chicago’s regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Allison Rosenfeld, presented the ADL’s ongoing campaigns to combat hate crimes and anti-Semitism in this country. When respondent’s in one particular study failed by some 60% to have knowledge of the Shoah the ADL is certain that there is a problem. The facts bear out the current dilemma: “anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose 57% in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents are up 89% on college campuses, and 94% K-12.” Most astounding, according to the ADL, “1.09 billion people worldwide harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.” Education, Rosenfeld insists, is primary in combating anti-Semitism, and the “Words to Action” program is an obvious program source available to Brotherhoods nationwide for their use.
Councilman Steven Fletcher, representing Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, presented the MRJ Conference a Proclamation, bestowing solemnity and dignity to our endeavors. Ample pictures were taken, and posted to social media.
The ultimate story-teller, Ron Wolfson, arrived to be with us without his luggage and little sleep. Nonetheless, he regaled us with his stories, all of which bear his hallmark of a “Gam Yachad” relationship. Relational Judaism is Ron’s message. Each attendee received a copy of his newest publication, Relational Judaism Handbook (2018, (he was most gracious and autographed the copies) which seeks to answer how we can “create a relational engagement campaign to build and deepen relationships in [our] community.” Urgency is the hallmark of greeting any stranger, whether at the border, on first seeing a new or prospective member of our congregations; we need to know who these people are and we need to know our place in that relationship It is a daunting task worth committing to. Wolfson’s stories continued after outdoor Shabbat services. Ron Wolfson’s message was everywhere in evidence: “greet the stranger with urgency.” MRJ attendees were met with open arms and broad smiles. A fine dinner followed, and Ron Wolfson, again, told his favorite stories to everyone’s delight.
Saturday’s Torah study was conducted by lay leaders and Rabbis Adam Spilker and Andy Shugerman. The parsha, dealing as it does with two of twelve tribes declining to enter the Promised Land, to Moses’ initial dismay, was a sounding board for a lively discussion of, among other things, what it means for Reform Jews to enter into debate with authority. Reform’s stand against some of Israel’s historic and current policies, well known by all in attendance, was made clear in the give and take of the morning. Made clear, also, was that even if not all agree about a certain issue, common ground may still be sought for the common weal, just as it was with the Reubenites and Gadites and the remaining 10 tribes.
Benji Kaplan, Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Steven Windmueller, Emeritus Professor at HUC Los Angeles, were panelists on the topic of “Issues for Jewish Students on College Campuses.” Benji Kaplan’s prologue listed the following facts: Boycott-Divest-Sanctions (BDS) has thrice surfaced on the University of Minnesota campus within the last 3 years; BDS proponents were successful in propagating their issues in a recent student election; Zionism has become a “dirty word” on campus; and students increasingly find themselves placed into untenable positions: “are you for human rights,” they are asked, “or are you a Zionist” are the positions from which you are to choose.
Equally unsettling were the points made by Dr. Windmueller. Most striking was his observation that we mostly thought the under-educated among us were the chief source of challenging Jewish values; currently, he noted, the elites of the right and left are attacking us. Fortunately, the BDS movement’s impact on the Israeli economy has been negligible; the psychological impact on the world has been incredibly successful. During Q & A President Portnoy invoked MRJ’s historic and ongoing support of Reform on Campus (ROC) as an antidote to some of BDS’s influence on college campuses.
Ross Shriftman capped off the afternoon with his presentation of his film “My Million Dollar Mom.” Ross’s mother’s decline resulting from dementia and his intentional choice to be her caregiver during her struggle was lovingly presented. That there is an amazing opportunity to share this film with their congregations, the larger community beyond the parking lot, is certainly to be considered by each of our Brotherhoods as we return home.
On Sunday, our conference drew to a close with our traditional “good and welfare” though everyone was asked to include an example of a recent successful program. MRJ is that place where intellect, vision, matter, and spirit meet. It is this place because our members recognize their obligation to our Jewish heritage and values.
Let’s conclude by invoking some prescient thoughts of Eric Mendelsohn, a life-long Zionist, and one of the notable Bauhaus architects of the 1930’s and ‘40’s who was Mount Zion’s architect for their renovation. “Palestine of today symbolizes a union between the most modern civilization and a most unique culture.” He continues, “[it] is the place where intellect and vision, matter and spirit meet.” Our MRJ, too, is that place where intellect, vision, matter, and spirit meet. It is this place because our members recognize their obligation to our Jewish heritage and values.
Respectfully, Gary Brock, Vice President.