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Reform Jewish Movement Launches Major Mid-East Peace & Justice Initiative

With Ford Foundation Funding, UAHC Launches 'Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice'

New Campaign to Educate and Mobilize North American Jewry To Support Peace and Justice In Israel

Contact: Emily Grotta, (212) 650-4227
Esther Lederman (212) 650-4160
Rachel Glast, (202) 387-2800

NEW YORK, December 4, 2000—Affirming its commitment to a peaceful resolution to the violence that continues to engulf the Middle East, the Reform Movement of Judaism is undertaking a major initiative to bring peace and social justice issues in Israel to the forefront of American Jewry's concerns. 'Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice' aims to make American Jewry's voice heard by changing the ways these issues are addressed in the 1.5 million-member Reform community.

Details of the three-year project, financed by a generous $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, were announced at the just concluded Union of American Hebrew Congregations Board of Trustees meeting in Palm Springs, California.

"The American Jewish community overwhelmingly supports a negotiated peace settlement," UAHC President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie told the Board. "This grant will enable us first, to educate our membership on the complicated issues involved, second, ensure that support for peace in the Middle East is once again a major focus of our community, and finally mobilize our 1.5 million members to advocate for a lasting, peaceful solution to this cycle of violence."

To achieve its goals, 'Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice' will marshal all the resources of the Reform Movement, America's largest synagogue organization. Materials prepared by the project's staff and distributed to 1,700 rabbis and more than 900 congregations will be used to engage American Jewry in the struggle for social justice and equal rights for all of Israel's citizens.

The UAHC, in cooperation with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), ARZA/WORLD UNION North America, and the Israel Religious Action Center will oversee Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice. Other UAHC affiliate organizations — including Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods (NFTB), North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), and National Association of Temple Educators (NATE) &$151; will also play a role.

As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told American Jewish leaders in Chicago last month, "We must understand the fundamental strategic fact: that only through a negotiated settlement can a durable peace be achieved that will enhance our security, guarantee our national interests, and end this tragic conflict once and for all. There is no other alternative. This is our vision: we will leave no stone unturned in our attempt to achieve peace and security with our Palestinian neighbors."

The project will encourage the American Jewish community to examine the real risks and potential rewards of peace for Israel, the United States, and Israel's neighbors, and to undertake critical, constructive public dialogue on the most pressing issues facing Israeli society — including the status of Israeli Arab citizens and other minorities, and other issues of inequality and discrimination in Israel today. In this effort, the Reform Movement will work closely with other agencies and organizations devoted to enhancing the prospects for peace and justice.

Isabel P. Dunst, a prominent Washington attorney and UAHC board member, will chair an advisory committee bringing together leadership from all arms of the Reform Movement.

A team of highly respected figures within American Jewry, led by Project Director Esther Lederman, will manage 'Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice.' Lederman most recently served as the Assistant Director of the Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center. She will work closely with UAHC Senior Consultant Dr. Leonard Fein who recently stepped down as Director of the Commission on Social Action. Fein, a former professor of political science at MIT and Brandeis University, founded Moment magazine and organized Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. The project's professional staff also includes Washington-based Program Coordinator Rachel Glast, a former Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center. In addition, the Reform Movement leadership, including Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the UAHC; Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Executive Vice President of the CCAR; Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the RAC; Rabbi Daniel Polish, Director of the Commission on Social Action; Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, Executive Director of ARZA/WUNA, North America; and Rabbi Uri Regev, Director of the Israeli Religious Action Center, will be deeply involved.

Beginning with the release of a set of publications in early 2001, the Reform Movement's initiative during the next three years will work to enhance American Jewry's voice in peace and justice issues.

"Our goal is to provide publications, educational materials and programs for synagogues, educators, rabbis, youth groups, and communities to use at the local level in order to engage and educate the American Jewish community on the critical issues facing Israel today. These programs will include curriculums, speaker series, Israel missions, interfaith dialogues, as well as the launch of a web site and an on-line e-mail forum," said Lederman, the Project Director.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.



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