About Bet David’s ‚Jews-by-Choice Programme‘

Becoming a Jew involves becoming part of a people. Like all nations, the Jewish People has its own culture and civilisation, comprising of religion, language, cuisine, art forms and other facets of life. Completion of Bet David’s Jews-by-choice programme is an important first step to becoming a Jew. We hope that those who join the programme will share our enthusiasm about what choosing Judaism represents, with us.

Abraham and Sarah were not born as Jews — they were the first to “choose Judaism”. Ruth, a convert to Judaism, was the great grandmother of King David. We recognise the tremendous contributions converts have made to Judaism. We also recognise the difficulties with personal feelings, families of origin and/or certain members of the Jewish community, in the choice.

Our Congregation’s Jews-by-Choice Programme gives instruction in the basic belief system and practice of Judaism, from a Progressive, liberal point of view, as well as a basic command of the Hebrew language for the purposes of following the prayer service. The course is recognised by the State of Israel, the South African Union of Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) and by the World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ; the largest organised Jewish body in the world).

Taking on a new religious identity is not a frivolous thing. In fact, it can be one of the most profound steps in a person’s life. We invite those interested in Judaism to enrol in the Introduction to Judaism class. This class, which meets weekly, includes one-on-one study with Rabbi Schell, the opportunity to attend worship services, and instruction on the ways in which one can become involved in our community in accordance with one’s interests and skills. Choosing Judaism is a highly personal journey and not bound by a time frame, but when a student is ready to join the faith, she or he comes before a Rabbinic Beit Din.

The duration of the Jews-by-Choice programme is a minimum of 12 to 15 months (40 classes) enabling the students to experience the full festivals‘ cycle and to become acculturated into the Jewish People. The program is divided in 3 terms; intakes to join the program are in January, May and August. We ask everyone who is planning a wedding after completion of a conversion, NOT to schedule the wedding without consulting the Rabbi.

If you have questions about the program, and/or would like to join, please contact Glynnis to schedule an appointment with Rabbi Schell (admin1@betdavid.org.za). The next intake is in January 2018.

By the way, the members of Bet David can attend the ‘Introduction to Judaism classes‘, too, but must please enrol and commit to attend on a regular basis.

It will create opportunities

Dear congregants,

The press release from the SAUPJ/SAAPR (read it here) is an  immediate response of our movement on the newest development in Israel. It is a well thought through reaction on a demeaning attack on our Progressive movement. In the last days since the decision was  made by the Israeli government I read and learned about many who stand with us in solidarity and support our request to re-instate the compromise about the Western-Wall-Plaza, but I also hear voices that ask why we care about a “bunch of stones”. Our connection to Israel, so they say, are human beings and much more. While I agree that the Kotel is not Judaism alone, and that we have more and perhaps even many more spiritual places in Israel and around the world to practise Judaism, the Kotel and the Western-Wall-Plaza symbolises an important part of our traditions and history and a common link between us and the generations to come.

For me it is not a question of what we can currently do in Israel and in our homes, but what we are not permitted to do, even though the absolute majority of world Jewry shares our request to create a space where all Jews feel comfortable and recognised. The compromise would have enabled women and men to worship God together  as we do in our Synagogues. We need a place where we can share a pre-wedding-blessing with a gay-couple as any orthodox yeshiva student receives one in the orthodox-men-section before their wedding. A transsexual women should have the right to do hagba-ah (lifting the torah) at the Kotel to show her connection to the Torah without fear, and a young boy should be able to celebrate his bar mitzvah standing next to his grandmother and mother at a place that is meaningful for them without (!) being shouted at and booed by ultra-orthodox extremists. Women should be allowed to sing proudly and loudly and not have to remain silent because some ultra-orthodox men argue that a woman’s voice is evil.

It is important for me that when teenagers from our congregations arrive for the first time in Israel and perhaps celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem that they can do it in a meaningful and dignified way, too—strengthening their Jewish identity.

A third, egalitarian—pluralistic section at the Western-Wall-Plaza will enable more Jews to pray to God in their own authentic way. This section will create opportunities and does not take anything away from anyone.

And this is why I feel so strongly about the decision of the Israeli government. This decision demands from us to give up our way to pray, to cut our connection to the Kotel and perhaps even to give up on Israel. The Kotel is currently not a place for “all Jews”. Sunday’s decision is a clear statement that non-orthodox Judaism doesn’t count for the Israeli government.

We can’t accept this. We are proud Jews. We have values and ideals that are worth being protected and cared for. Israel and Jerusalem is as much part of our Judaism as it  is for any other Jew.

In the next few days and weeks we will—together with our partners in Israel (the Israeli Progressive movement and IRAC) find ways to challenge this newest development, and I urge you to support us.

Thank you—Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

Shanah Tovah

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Message from the Rabbi

This Shabbat is a time of endings and new beginnings: It is the last Shabbat of 5776, Jessica’s Bat Mitzvah, and the Torah cycle is nearly finished. We are bidding farewell to the past, and moving forward into something new. Like the ancient Israelites we are poised to enter what is metaphorically a new land: our new buildings and a brand new year. Have you ever thought what an appropriate season this is to begin a new year? Spring is a time for looking both forwards and backwards. As we see nature awaking, and seeing the new flowers blossoming, and the sun shining brighter and lighter than before, we prepare for the next season as well. And so it is with our lives. In the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we seek to rid ourselves of the habits, the thoughts, the actions that blemish our lives, and enter new paths, leading us to become better people.

And how can we bring more light and colour into the new year? One way is through our teshuvah. Teshuvah is far more than repentance. “It is,” argues Adin Steinsaltz, “a spiritual awakening to the possibilities within us. It is not just remorse, but a profound change of one’s life, a break, a reformation. We alone of all creatures have this power to turn, to recreate ourselves anew.Teshuvah at its heart is a creative process. It is not a turning back, but rather a turning forward, a turning to a new creation. Our teshuvah allows us to turn to who we have always possibly been and indeed are meant to be, but have not yet become. We turn to the growth and possibility that is inside us, but which has lain dormant. Like the sculptor who creates a work of art from what appears to be a block of stone, we create the person we truly are but which we may have kept locked inside us, not knowing how to release it or perhaps even afraid to do so.”

This process is not always easy. We might face both an intellectual and an emotional block to our teshuvah, yet, teshuvah, though sometimes painful can also be joyous. As we create our true selves, we truly become partners with God in the process of creation. We all stand here in the doorway of a brand new year. What will we do? We have the opportunity and the potential to create both ourselves and the world anew—today, tomorrow and in this new year.

Chayim joins me in wishing you and your families a blessed New Year filled with love, peace, joy, health, prosperity and Yiddishkeit
כְּתִיבָה וַחֲתִימָה טוֹבָה May you be inscribed and sealed for a good new year
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

What South African Progressive Jews have to say about Progressive Identity

saapr-journalIn time for the High Holy Days the newest issue of the SAAPR Journal has been published. The journal collects contributions from Monica Solomon, Rabbi Schell, Prof Bilchitz, Merle Williams, Rabbi Alexander, James Lomberg and Rabbi Shaked. A copy of the journal can be downloaded here: south-african-progressive-jewish-veiws-issue-2-with-cover

 

Settlement in the Equality Court case

Wow! What a week it has been!

rjm1SACRED and our co-applicants reached an out of court settlement in the Equality Court case, against the Board of Deputies. The Board of Deputies gave assurance that it would end its ban on „women’s voices“ and as such restructure future ceremonies so as not to exclude a woman signing solo. They will no longer silence women’s voices on the grounds that; a woman’s voice is sexually provocative and akin to nakedness.

I feel as a Progressive thinking community (being a minority in so called Orthodox environment) we should be glad to know that all future Board of Deputies ceremonies and events will be infused with human rights, where all are equal and none of our participants are treated as second class Jews. Our agreement has eradicated the atrocious and embarrassing situation of there being discrimination at official Holocaust memorials.

It is our hope that due to this revival of the traditional, pre-2005 Yom HaShoah format; our youth, women and others who were alienated from the Memorial between 2005-2016, will once again feel able to participate in a Memorial which reflects their values and the lessons of the Shoah.

As a negotiated agreement SACRED has had to compromise. We are aware that this will mean there are supporters of ours who will not be entirely satisfied with the agreement. These reservations also weighed on our minds. We find comfort in the fact that SACRED has consistently advocated for a negotiated settlement and sincerely believe that our excellent negotiators have achieved the best possible negotiated outcome. The only way in which it could possibly be bettered, was by going to court, an option almost universally opposed.

On behalf of SACRED I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to fellow applicants, and to all of those who have so generously given their time and support to us in this struggle. There were some difficult times on the way to achieving this settlement but your rock solid support and encouragement ensured that we were never alone.

Wishing you all a peaceful and warm weekend.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Julia Margolis 

http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/sa-jewish-womens-voices-freed-2050438

http://www.jta.org/2016/07/27/news-opinion/world/ban-on-women-singing-at-south-africa-holocaust-memorial-ceremony-dropped

 

SAAPR Press Statement

SAAPRThe South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR) welcomes the resolution of the Board to restore women singing to the Yom Hashoa ceremony. We are gratified that our proposal of separating the ceremony into two parts has been accepted by the broader community. This puts behind us the past decade of exclusion and we look forward to hearing that the same compromise will be accepted at the Johannesburg ceremony. We commend our colleague, Rabbi Julia Margolis for leading SACRED’s battle to have women reinstated on to the program, and will continue to support all efforts to recognize the equivalent role of men and women in leading the South African Jewish community.