Abundant optimism from Panama. Joshua Kullock (second from left in the picture, and findable on Twitter: @kullock) reports from the first full plenary day on Thursday. He’s promised us some more color in his next post, but in the meantime, here’s the rundown.
Yes, we can. And we did.
The 12th UJCL Convention started this morning [Jan. 29] with a series of plenary sessions and workshops aimed to address some tough questions and to offer some challenging ideas for developing healthy and vibrant Jewish institutions in Central America and abroad.
During the opening session, Dr. Fabian Triskier, associate director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Latin American and the Caribbean, delved into the social action programs that his institution developed in order to deal with the economic crisis in Argentina during 2001. He also gave a theoretical framework to understand why tzedakah (charity) must be a central pillar in our organizations. Social justice, said Triskier, is not only an act of profound love but also of commitment to the law, and to the desire to amend what has being broken. Moreover, he affirmed that consequently "not every donation can be considered as tzedakah" — that is, not every act of charity helps to mend the social order.
At the same session, Rabbi Joel Oseran, vice president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the man in charge of the organization’s international development, based his presentation on six pillars for successful community building, and stated, "Synagogues have to be purpose driven, not program driven."
Finally, the plenary ended with Rony Steinitz, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel in Latin America, who spoke on the role Israel has in our own institutions.
The day continued with a plenary on women and leadership and exposed the main challenges that we have down here giving women more opportunities for equal participation, especially in ritual issues.
But the most important event of the day was the last plenary session, where Raul Gottlieb, vice president of the World Union of Progressive Judaism in Latin America; Alan Silberman, president of Masorti Olami; and myself shared some thoughts about the importance of umbrella organizations setting a great example of what we can achieve working together in this particular region.
"Yes, we can" was the message that we said aloud. And, "Yes, we must," because pluralism and joint work are the only ways for the significant continuity of Judaism in our faraway lands.
Living at the margins of the Jewish map, at this gathering we are trying to show the world that there are places and specific projects where we can all work together, putting aside all the rest. From the UJCL region up to the rest of the world, we keep telling everybody that it is possible to build bridges between umbrella organizations for the sake of a vivid Judaism. And if this was the only achievement of this convention (which it’s not!), we would have to say Dayenu.