260 people including over 100 first-timers attended a completely sold out Chagigah weekend celebrating Reform Judaism. The event, described by guest speaker Rabbi Dr Larry Hoffman as being “full of joy and love” took place at Eastwood Hall near Nottingham.
Chagigah, which means celebration, featured music-filled services and over 40 sessions with inspiring speakers and educators offering learning opportunities for all ages and levels. There were innovative and practical ideas and resources to take back to communities, with a strong focus on education and learning. There was also room for fun with quizzes, wine tasting, arts and crafts and storytelling.
Special guest for the weekend was Rabbi Dr Larry Hoffman. He is Professor of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual at Hebrew Union College in New York and an expert in synagogue transformation who has worked with hundreds of communities globally. He noted that the Movement has changed since his last visit some 20 years ago seeing “more intimacy and spirituality.” In a number of sessions he called on British Reform Jews to “think big.” In a changing Jewish world we must respond to challenges with optimism and vision to “move the great project of Reform Judaism forwards.”
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement gave a D’var Torah which echoed this challenge. We must respond to the question “why bother being Jewish?” and as Reform Jews “we are uniquely placed to respond to this question and inspire Jews of all ages with a Judaism of greater meaning.”
The community came together for a Friday night service described by Rabbi Dr Larry Hoffman as being “spectacular; an extraordinary experience.”
Participants could choose from a variety of Shabbat morning services showcasing the possibilities open to communities including traditional Reform, a contemporary choral service, an explanatory service, a band-led service and a relaxed service featuring guitar and quiet prayer.
Saturday night saw a special tribute to David Jacobs, Director for Synagogue Partnership, who retires this week after 22 years at the Movement.
Tracy Israel of Cardiff Reform Synagogue said: “Chagigah has challenged me to think in new ways, raising my awareness and broadening my horizons. I feel that my Reform Judaism has been reaffirmed and I’m looking forward to taking this back to celebrate Reform Judaism in Cardiff.”
Heather Harris from Hull Reform Synagogue commented on the warm and welcoming atmosphere: “It was easy to make new friends and strike up conversations. The whole weekend has been a thoroughly engaging, inspiring and uplifting experience.”
Leslie Gold of Sha’arei Tsedek North London Reform Synagogue said that as a first timer he was unsure of what to expect: “I wish I had come to Chagigah before! I don’t always engage with the religious and spiritual side of Judaism but it was a fantastic opportunity to explore this. The organisation was perfect and the enthusiasm of the team really came through.”
Rabbi Paul Freedman from Radlett Reform Synagogue said: “it’s been like Glastonbury but more intense! We’ve had a fantastic experience and as a community will return uplifted and invigorated.”
Chagigah closed with an emotional musical ceremony challenging participants to return to their communities with a sense of purpose and mission to change lives and the world because of who we are as Reform Jews.