Moving Forward: The Association for Progressive Judaism Looks Ahead

by Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.

The Reform movement in Judaism is at a crossroads. For the first time since the Great Depression it has experienced both a demographic and financial decline. More importantly, Reform Judaism’s religious, cultural, and social appeal has weakened in the general community and softened among many of its own adherents. These challenges are being met by a variety of institutional initiatives at every level of the movement. The Association for Progressive Judaism (APJ) is but one of those heartfelt attempts. What sets it apart, however, is its focus on the intellectual foundations and history of Reform Judaism by rabbis and like-minded scholars  to fortify the Reform movement by providing it with a deepened self-awareness of the great ideas, which have preserved it over the years and a venue in which new concepts can emerge and be redefined. To accomplish its mission, the APJ needs to reorganize itself as a research and policy institute complete with an independent Think Tank and the capacity to self- publish. In addition to its annual meeting and presentation of scholarly papers on Reform Judaism, the APJ will also endeavor to use online means to upgrade the presence of Reform Judaism on the internet (e.g., monitoring Wikipedia) and republish the classics of Reform Jewish thought both in book and digital form. The APJ is committed to an intellectually grounded vision of Reform Judaism. Beyond marketing and the fads of the day, the Association believes that our movement is ultimately grounded in the quality of its ideas and the loftiness of its mission. In an age of popular culture, it will seek out and promote intellectual excellence rooted in the movement’s past philosophical expressions and open to new frontiers of religious thought, literature and art. Among other possibilities, the Association will consider topics such as the relationship between contemporary Jewish studies and the modern synagogue, current Biblical scholarship and archeology and its implications for Judaism today, modern Judaism and philosophy, religious post-modernism, Judaism and the sociology of religion in America, new technologies and religious life, American transcendentalism and Reform Judaism, Judaism and the visual arts, Jewish secularism, counterculture and Judaism in America, ethnicity-class-gender and Reform Judaism, feminist theory and Reform Judaism. Finally, the APJ will create educational materials from fifth grade through adult education to increase both knowledge of and pride in Reform Judaism. Reform Judaism today finds itself in a battle for the hearts and minds of American Jews. The APJ believes that an intellectually progressive approach to Jewish religious life is indispensible in this struggle. Otherwise, our movement will be subject to an obsequious religious consumerism, which chases after the whims of the moment without reference to the classic literature and values of our tradition. Instead, we offer an intellectually and religiously grounded approach to progressive Jewish religious life in our time.

LANCE J. SUSSMAN President,
Association for Progressive Judaism
Senior Rabbi, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel,
Elkins Park, PA