10 Ways to Welcome Teens at the High Holidays

Looking for innovative opportunities to engage your teens around the High Holidays? These 10 ideas come directly from the source – youth professionals across North America.

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Tishah B’Av, the Grateful Dead, and the Power of Our Youth Work – Let’s continue it at the Biennial

“Wave that flag, wave it wide and high. Summertime done come and gone, my, oh, my…” –The Grateful Dead, “U.S. Blues” A few weeks ago, the Grateful Dead held their last concert celebrating 50 years. I, like so many of you, was a fan of the Dead. I think I was attracted to them because […]

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How to Effectively Manage a Board or Committee Meeting

by fredi Bleeker Franks Mazel tov! You’re in charge of the next meeting of your congregation or sisterhood. Before panic sets in, take a deep breath and read on for some great suggestions and things to consider to help you win friends, influence people, and run a great meeting. Consider your physical setting: Think about […]

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

4 Surprising Ways Camp Connects Us All

Sports, games, art and science projects. Swimming, hiking, climbing. Laughing, learning, sharing. It’s these activities, and more, that transform summer camp into one of the strongest links in the Reform Movement’s chain of connections. In fact, summertime for the URJ is like one huge game of connect-the-dots. Connecting current campers with alumni. Connecting clergy with […]

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Sacred Giving: How Reform Congregations are Reimagining Financial Support

Nearly every congregation today faces the challenge of trying to increase or stabilize revenue, so it’s no surprise that in the last few weeks alone, the Jewish press published three separate pieces on the subject:

And that’s not all. Read more…

This Month in The Tent: No Summer Slowdown Here!

Much of the world slows down during the summer, and even synagogues aren’t the hustling, bustling places they typically are during the rest of the year. Nonetheless, conversations continue unabated in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum.

Many of the current discussions focus on planning for 5776, with these conversations proving especially popular: Read more…

Coming Full Circle: The NFTY in Israel Tikkun Olam Experience

by Sharon Mann

The phrase “what goes around, comes around” came to mind recently as I remembered back five years to the time I saw my daughter, Ayelet, off on a flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto, Canada. She was headed to URJ Camp George, a Reform Jewish summer camp where she would spend the summer as a camper, part of an Israeli youth delegation from the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

Now, she’s graduated from Mechinat Gal’s Pre-Army Academy, a post-high school Israeli gap year program that emphasizes volunteer work, leadership training, and enrichment studies. As a staff member at The Hannaton Educational Center, she’s come full circle, welcoming North American teens from NFTY in Israel to her home, eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). At Hannaton, the teenagers participate in a tikkun olam chavaya (repairing the world experience) that includes hands-on volunteer work as they learn to make a positive contribution to Israel and the world. Read more…

Reform Jewish Movement Responds to Proposed Nuclear Agreement with Iran

In response to today’s announcement by the P5+1 and Iran, leaders of the Reform Jewish Movement issued the following statement:

This morning, after extensive negotiations conducted under intense international scrutiny, P5+1 negotiators, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, announced that they have reached an agreement with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. We in the Reform Jewish Movement remain committed to our belief that the United States and its allies must do all that is possible to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as to protect and enhance U.S. security and the security of our allies—particularly Israel—and promote stability in the entire Middle East. Read more…

Looking Back at Kutz@50… and Then Looking Forward

By Rabbi Michael A. White

I recently returned from a magical week as a faculty member at the URJ Kutz Camp, the Reform Movement’s teen leadership institute at the foothills of the Catskills in Warwick, N.Y. My week at Kutz brought back memories of my first visit some 37 years ago.

Nearly four decades ago, one of my high school classmates convinced me to attend a regional youth group event at Kutz, and off I went. Until that weekend, Shabbat, to me, meant sitting in a hard pew while listening to organ music. Shabbat at Kutz camp was refreshingly different, to say the least!

During Shabbat at Kutz that first year, we ate greasy chicken and delicious doughy challah. Services were energizing and informal, led by a cool guy with long hair, a mustache, and a guitar. We draped our arms around each other’s shoulders, and we sang our hearts out. We talked through the night. And just before we left, one of the leaders of the Reform Movement, Al Vorspan, challenged us to fight to end apartheid in South Africa, for women’s rights, for Israel. He told us that we were the future, that we could make a difference, and that we could heal the world.

That first weekend at camp, I became a committed, enthusiastic Reform Jew. Read more…

How Our Teens Built an Active Presence at Our Temple

by Kara Liu

Youth engagement is about more than just teens. Rather, effective youth engagement is a whole organism made up of parents, leaders, and the young people themselves.

That’s the main takeaway from my experience at a recent day of professional development at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, organized by Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, director of youth engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism. At the seminar, I came to fully appreciate the network of colleagues who are doing youth engagement work – and I learned that I, too, am a bridge connecting all the entities of youth engagement to my temple family and our youth group.

Three years ago, my congregation set out on a journey to try to create an active teen presence, something our community had been missing. As a part of this effort, we sent our new ninth grade class to a regional NFTY kallah. At the event, our excited teens made new friends, experienced NFTY’s shared history and culture, and immersed themselves in the joys of Reform Judaism. They were a little bit lost when they arrived, but by the end of the weekend, the teens knew one thing: They wanted to bring the magic of NFTY back to our synagogue.

That’s how our youth group began. Read more…

Kutz@50: A Gathering of the Generations

by Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur

It was truly a “standing at Sinai” moment.

Despite geographical challenges, limited financial resources, and a national holiday, more than 650 Reform Jews came from around the world last weekend to reconnect with URJ Kutz Camp, the sacred place so many of us have called home over the years. We numbered 350 alumni from the last 50 years of Kutz’s existence, plus 200 current high school participants and 100 dynamic, dedicated staff members.

It was a gathering of the generations unlike any other in our history.

In planning this milestone event, we made a deliberate and perhaps bold decision to hold our celebration during the regular camping season. Although this decision meant we might be limited in our ability to program – the expected attendance would double the camp’s population for the weekend – we felt it was crucial to bring Kutz’s past and present generations together. Read more…

Announcing the Hire of April Baskin, URJ Vice President of Audacious Hospitality

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, announced today that April Baskin will join the URJ’s executive leadership team as Vice President of Audacious Hospitality. Baskin’s role is crucial to the ongoing implementation of the URJ’s strategic 2020 Vision plan, and the final staffing decision within a realignment of executive roles that is structured around the 2020 Vision’s core priorities of strengthening congregations, audacious hospitality, and tikkun olam (social justice).

Audacious hospitality is the URJ’s focused effort to engage seekers – Jews who are unaffiliated, under-engaged, and, in some cases, uninspired – in the sacred work of creating a world of wholeness, compassion, and justice. Congregations and other Reform institutions can play an indispensable role in attracting and serving those looking for ways to connect with their Jewish identity.

As URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs put it recently, “No more than 50% of American Jews are members of synagogues at any one time. Unless we change our approach, there is little chance that Jews in their twenties and thirties will even enter the revolving door of synagogue affiliation. Hoping is not a strategy; the Jewish world needs new approaches for engaging the future. Together we will shape the strategies that will broaden and deepen our movement.” Read more…

Boomers in Transition: How Our Synagogue Meets the Needs of New Empty Nesters

by Fran Martin

It had the makings of a perfect storm.

In 2008, I joined Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia.

That same summer, at a synagogue get-together of BoomeRS – members who gather for social, spiritual, and educational opportunities at Rodeph Shalom and beyond – many in the group realized they all had children who were about to leave for college. Read more…

Reform Movement Responds to Israeli Religious Services Minister’s Disparaging Comments

Reacting to disparaging comments made about Reform Judaism by David Azoulay, the Israeli religious services minister, President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

It would be one thing if Minister Azoulay’s ignorant and myopic views of Reform Judaism were nothing more than this his own semi-coherent ramblings. The real danger is that he now sits at the cabinet table, and is in a position to turn those views into governmental policy.

That is why we applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu for his unequivocal rejection of Minister Azoulay’s offensive comments about Reform Judaism. We appreciate the Prime Minister’s strong and welcome words, while noting that the time may well come soon when he is forced to make clear that Minister Azoulay has forfeited his right to be a member of the government.

As we denounce hateful, divisive speech – and insist on accountability for those words – we also express grave concern about the government’s actions, such as the recent decision to repeal the conversion reform law passed by the previous government. The Reform Movement is committed to advancing justice, equality, and religious pluralism in Israel and around the world.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Israel: Front and Center

As we all wait for word about the future of the critical talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna, I want to share a few thoughts about my recent time in Israel, meeting with politicians, fellow Reform Movement leaders, and some of the talented individuals staffing our Israel programs this summer.

It was a busy, productive visit in the country we all love and support because numerous events in recent weeks have put Israel front and center in the work of our URJ and the Reform Movement.

As you know, the ARZA slate garnered 39% of the vote in last spring’s WZO elections. Seeking to leverage that victory (and the associated funding), a group of Reform Jewish leaders from around the world met in Israel recently to strategize about how to shape a more pluralistic Israel committed to a two-state solution that embodies the vision of Israel’s declaration of independence that our Jewish State “will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” We look forward to on ongoing conversation in the months ahead. Read more…

The 7 Vital Signs of a Healthy Congregation

by Ron Wolfson

As one who has worked in the field of synagogue transformation for more than 20 years, I am often asked, “What are the vital signs of a healthy congregation?” Here are seven vital signs I look for in taking the pulse of a community: Read more…

Succession Planning: An Integral Piece of Your Leadership Portfolio

by Alan Zeichick

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, God instructs Moses,

“Ascend these heights of Abarim and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was.”

Although Moses had a marvelous opportunity to see where he had led his people, the act of taking the Israelites across the border – and fighting for the milk and honey – was left to the next generation of leaders. Read more…

Engaging and Enriching Older Immigrants to Israel

by Sharon Mann

Congregations are always thinking of new ways to attract and interest younger members. While this is, of course, essential, it is perhaps just as important for congregations to consider what they are doing to engage and enrich older members who want to remain connected as they deal with circumstances that arise later in life.

At my congregation, Kehillat Emet VeShalom (the only synagogue in Nahariya, Israel, affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism), we’ve been dealing with a unique version of this scenario. Looking at our community, we asked ourselves: What happens to olim (immigrants) who make aliyah (move to Israel) at an advanced age? Many of these olim live on low, fixed incomes and have difficulty learning Hebrew well. Our congregation saw that these challenges limited new residents’ ability to take part in Israeli society and that, despite the passage of time, they continued to struggle with difficulties adjusting to life in Israel.

Between 2002 and 2003, a large wave of older immigrants from Argentina settled in Nahariya. Our congregation stepped up to the challenge of working with these olim, as well as with veteran immigrants, to provide them with support and the opportunity to participate in Jewish social and educational programs that they otherwise could not afford or understand. We’ve also embraced new and veteran English-speaking immigrants from across the religious spectrum. Read more…