What type of Judaism have you been looking for? To provide you with information you need to make the right choice, we enlisted the help of Pekka Sinervo, president of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism (CCRJ), and a recipient of Canada’s highest honour, the Order of Canada.
How would you describe Reform Judaism?
Reform Judaism is a progressive Jewish movement committed to egalitarian communal worship, study of Torah, social justice and love of Israel. Our congregations are warm, welcoming, vibrant and inclusive.
What makes it unique?
The Reform movement is the world’s largest progressive expression of Judaism, preserving tradition while embracing diversity. Services are meaningful and accessible. Deeply committed to social action, Reform Judaism fights for the rights of disadvantaged members of society. As the largest Zionist religious organization, Reform Judaism has formally adopted principles expressed by the World Zionist Organization.
Reform Judaism, like all streams, has its share of detractors and is often characterized as “Judaism light.” What do you make of that?
This is a common misunderstanding, as the principles and practices of Reform Judaism are deeply committed to Torah and its teachings – Reform Judaism just places lower priority on practices not relevant to our modern existence. Instead, we have a responsibility, as individuals, guided by our rabbis and teachers, to understand the Torah and its teachings and determine what is relevant for us to live ethical lives. Our relationship to God is as complex and varied as in most other denominations.
How is Reform Judaism in Canada different than in other countries?
The Canadian Reform movement has maintained a deep commitment to traditional practices that have shown how one can be committed to a progressive Jewish lifestyle while maintaining a religious practice firmly rooted in Torah, prayer and acts of loving kindness. The Canadian community has a relationship with Israel that is closer and deeper than found in many other liberal Jewish movements.
A recent survey found that those who participated in overnight summer camps through the Reform youth movement were far more likely to be engaged in Jewish life in college and beyond and more committed to “doing good.” Talk about the importance of Reform summer camps in fostering beliefs and lifestyles.
Immersive experiences, such as Camp George, the only Canadian overnight camp of the 17 Reform summer camps in North America, are critical to the development of Reform beliefs and strengthening one’s identity as a Reform Jew. There is simply nothing like what a child encounters while at a summer camp where they eat, breathe and sleep progressive Judaism around the clock.
How would you describe the CCRJ and its role?
CCRJ is the national organization whose mandate is to grow and strengthen the Canadian Reform movement by supporting its 25 member congregations and collaborating with affiliate organizations. The CCRJ co-ordinates activities in areas such as social action, youth programming and leadership development.