Progressive Jews convene in Latin America to debate democracy as a Jewish value

Marcy Oster

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Hundreds of Jewish activists from several countries are meeting in Brazil for the biennial congress of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, one of the world’s largest Jewish organizations.

Rabbis, spiritual leaders, cantors, scholars, teachers, volunteers and other activists from across Latin America, Israel, United States, Canada and England will attend the event’s fifth edition, titled “The Continuity of Democracy as a Jewish Value,” which will take place in Sao Paulo on June 23-25.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, who serves as Argentina’s minister of environment and sustainability, is scheduled to attend.

“The WUPJ dedicates significant resources and efforts to maintaining and growing Progressive Judaism across Latin America,” Chairman Carole Sterling told JTA. “Our last event in Rio, Connections, intended to raise awareness of and involvement in the great work taking place across congregations, in communities and by dedicated leaders across the region in general, and in Brazil in particular.”

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Lectures, presentations, debates, panels, round-tables and prayers will be held at Congregacao Israelita Paulista, Brazil’s largest synagogue, with 2,000 affiliated families, and at the Hebraica club and other Jewish institutions in South America’s largest city, which is home to half of Brazil’s 120,000 Jews.

The region needs to respond to the scarcity of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Progressive rabbis able to lead and found congregations, Sterling also told JTA. The WUPJ’s local key goals also include support for Jewish liturgy translations into Portuguese, boost social action to improve the lives of the less fortunate, promote seminars, and grant Torah scrolls to new congregations and bridge communities across the world.

Raul Gottlieb, WUPJ president for Latin America, said he believes the Reform movement has an “irreplaceable role” in Judaism alongside other liberal streams.

“The congress’s theme is the continuity of democracy as a Jewish value, which is particularly important. The prosperity and even the survival of minorities depend on the guarantee that only democratic regimes can provide,” he told JTA. “As Jews, a minority in Latin America, we depend fundamentally on the enhancement of our democracies and we need to engage in this debate and task.”

With an estimated 1.8 million members in 50 countries, the WUPJ is the international umbrella organization for the various branches of Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist Judaism.

Latin America is home to some 500,000 Jews, most concentrated in Argentina and Brazil.

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