Reform Jews Outside the USA?

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  • Maybe you’re planning a trip to Europe or Latin America.
  • Maybe your company is moving you to Australia for a year.
  • Maybe you’re a student looking at a year of study abroad.
  • Maybe you live outside North America and want to find a progressive Jewish congregation.
  • Or maybe you’re interested in supporting the growth of progressive Judaism worldwide.

Any of these are good reasons to get acquainted with a wonderful resource, the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The WUPJ has member congregations in more than 45 countries, congregations from Progressive, Liberal, Reform and Reconstructionist traditions. It also has a congregational directory on its website with contact information and website addresses for many progressive synagogues around the world. In other words, you can use the WUPJ website to find a congregational “home away from home” if you are a Reform or Reconstructionist Jew from North America.

Why get in touch with a congregation when you are overseas? It is a wonderful way to transcend the boundaries of being a foreigner or a tourist. Years ago, I visited London for about a week. Knowing I would be there over Shabbat, I looked on the WUPJ website and read up on the congregations in London. I called the Liberal Jewish Synagogue to inquire about Shabbat services. Long story short, Shabbat morning I joined them for a wonderful service and kiddush. I met some lovely people and the Jewish world expanded for me that day. For the morning, I was less of a foreigner, because I was with fellow Jews.

It’s important to contact congregations ahead of time, because they may have security requirements for visitors. Unfortunately anti-Semitism is on the rise in many parts of the world, so congregations may need advance warning, to be sure that prospective visitors are friendly.

If you are going to visit Israel, you should know about the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. The IMPJ has over 30 member congregations around Israel as well as a growing network of schools, educational and community centers. Israeli Reform congregations welcome visitors – again, it helps to give some advance notice. As with the WUPJ, there is a directory of congregations on the website.

For North Americans, visiting progressive congregations away from home can offer both a sense of familiarity and some surprises. For instance, we are accustomed to at least some of the service being in the vernacular. In the US and much of Canada that means English. However, in the Netherlands, the vernacular is Dutch. In Russia, it’s Russian. And in Israel, the entire service is in Hebrew, because the language of everyday life is Hebrew!

Lastly, perhaps you are not planning to travel, but you are looking for a way to support liberal egalitarian Judaism in the world as part of your tzedakah budget. The WUPJ and IMPJ websites are a great place to begin your research for a good match.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

21 thoughts on “Reform Jews Outside the USA?”

      1. It seems really strange….Ive wondered about that for a Good while. There are so many ‘strands’, and that there should be two with the same name but different ways really is an oddity.

  1. I was in London UK, for a few days last spring, and I went to Bromley Reform synagogue on Shabbath. There, I had a wonderful time, everybody was welcoming and helpful. So, on a trip abroad, Rabbi is right, we’ll always find a place.

    It is true that, sadly, anti-semitism is on the rise. And many synagogues may appear suspicious when a stranger stops by. Believe me for that!
    Don’t wonder why there are a few questions about you and your whereabouts, and your congregation.
    Whatever, you are sure to have a great time!

  2. This is really helpful! Great resource for a progressive Jew traveling or living outside the US. I had heard that entrance to a shul can be harder abroad, so it makes sense just to call or email ahead.

    1. Sometimes congregations may ask about your home congregation, or ask for passport information. This isn’t unfriendliness, it’s caution. So yes, call ahead or email, and be sure you have actually contacted someone. That way they will be able to expect you: you will save yourself embarrassment and save them anxiety.

  3. What may appear confusing is the great number of denominations within Judaism. No worry about that! That’s a result of history, well, could anyone figure that a 4,000 years story would not have slightly diverse versions?
    The first thing is if you ring a synagogue doorbell, no-one will question your being Jewish. That’s the thing.
    Recently, I went with an old friend of mine (he’s around 85) to a very tradidionalist synagogue, for the 8th night of Hannoukah.
    All I was asked was: Are you from the same side as we are? Meaning: are you traditional?
    I responded: we’re all in the same circle, aren’t we?! Which triggered a broad smile from the local rabbi! And then, I was told to make myself at ease!

    So, don’t be shy about any synagogue: if you don’t really follow their siddour, don’t fear! Your neighbours will help you when you ask!

    And, especially in traditionalists shuls, don’t be put off by the noise at the rear, the seemingly haphazard order of the office, and people having private loud conversations: that’s being Jewish! Praying together, being together! And again, there’ll always be someone to tell you the right page.
    I dearly remember an office in a Lubavitch shul on a Shabbath day: the leader held his 18-month-old daughter for an hour in his arms, while the noise at the back sounded like coming from the galleries at a football match!

    1. Jacques, what a lovely story…..thank you so much for sharing it. Made me feel as though I was there( and as someone who cannot go to a synagogue – agoraphobia, plus other health issues ) it was a very precious thing to me. Just wonderful. Again, thank you.

      1. Thank you for your warm comment!

        I am always surprised at how caring the people in a synagogue are, whatever the handicap you may suffer from. They’ll help you along, provide all the necessary gestures, whatever the denomination.
        I remember, once in winter, coming from the street where a downpour drenched me to the bone, people rushing to provide me with a dry kippa, handkerchieves to wipe some water out of my head, a seat near the heating, and constant whispers “You better now?”

        For agoraphobia and other health issues, just trust them along!
        They’ll find you a seat with no neighbours or a quiet one, won’t call you at the Torah, and yell if someone steps in your way!

        But… There’s an exception: when there’s a buffet, it is time to eat, it’s time to rush! We’re Jewish, aren’t we? 🙂
        Food is a very serious matter!
        What can you do then? Just ask somebody to fill your plate. They’ll do it before theirs is filled!

      2. Jacques, again, thank you….however…
        …..For agoraphobia and other health issues, just trust them along!
        They’ll find you a seat with no neighbours or a quiet one, won’t call you at the Torah, and yell if someone steps in your way!
        The problem with agoraphobia is the going out….too complex to explain in detail here. The further from home, the greater the panic, and here in Scotland there are not a lot of synagogues(the notion of ‘shul shopping’ always gives me a wry smile)…just a walk to the corner to pst a letter( barely 25 yards) is a Big Deal. Apologies to Rabbi Ruth if I have veered too far off topic.

    2. All good advice, Jacques!

      I would like to add a few things. You’re right, visiting an orthodox synagogue, it’s only polite to stress what we have in common. We are all on the same side.

      A caution for “if you ring a synagogue doorbell, no one will question your being Jewish.” I wish that were always true! Jews of color or Jews with unusual last names may get more scrutiny, which isn’t fair or right but in a time of rising anti-Semitism, people are more likely to be suspicious. The best advice I can offer under those circumstances is to offer your Jewish bona fides: “My Hebrew name is —” “I am a member of — congregation in —.” “Rabbi — is my rabbi.” Don’t mention being a convert to Judaism (tends to trigger questions about what flavor of Judaism you converted to, which may raise unwanted issues.)

      You’ve given me a whole new idea for a blog post. Merci, Jacques!

      1. True Rabbi!
        I forgot those slight details… Especially with the colour issue and the last names… Apparently, for some, Jews keep to the cliché of bearing Jewish names…
        This is sound avice you give!
        One more thing about unwanted issues: some synagogue members may ask you about your parents, upbringing, even genealogy. So, if a convert, back to Rabbi Adar’s advice, and stick to it!

  4. All of my travel outside of the US was in the 70’s-90’s, so a bit dated. What I did experience was that often synagogues were closed. For example, the one in Zurich was closed on Shabbat. Argh. So, a resource for contacting a congregation ahead of time, is super important. BTW, the synagogue in St. Thomas (Virgin Islands) is delightful and fascinating. Sand on the floor of the sanctuary. Children play in the sand at services! Calling/emailing ahead is also a great idea when traveling in the US. There are some amazing historic Temples (Wilmington,NC, Brunswick,SC, Charleston,SC, for instance, but they are not always open.

    1. I am constantly cleaning spam off the comments section. People have become very clever about avoiding the spam blockers. I think I’ve got it cleaned up now. Shabbat shalom!

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