Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Four Important Reasons Reform Jewish Leaders Should Attend the Biennial

With the High Holiday season behind us, I hope that every service and event was meaningful and beautiful for you and your entire congregational family. Now, take a quick breather and then consider these four important reasons to attend the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Focused, practical […]

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URJ Leadership Institute: Sessions for Leaders Before, During, and After Biennial

All leaders have to learn to navigate between their organization’s overarching vision and the day-to-day needs of the community they serve. Congregational leaders must also be able to move from the mundane to the holy, and from management to leadership. This fall, the URJ’s Leadership Institute is offering a series of three sessions about key […]

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Which Intensive Programming Tracks Will You Choose at the URJ Biennial?

Whether you’re a URJ Biennial veteran or this will be your first time attending, we can’t wait to see you in Orlando this November! Together, we’ll experience the best and biggest Reform Jewish gathering ever – the rousing song sessions, joyous Shabbat worship, incredible ruach, inspiring entertainment and musical performances, occasions to network with Reform […]

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URJ President Responds to Announcement By Palestinian Authority President

President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, released the following response to Wednesday’s announcement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: We are deeply disappointed by yesterday’s announcement from Palestinian Authority President Abbas that the PA will no longer abide by the terms of the Oslo Accord. For more than two decades, the Accords have […]

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Three Innovative Congregational Initiatives that Use Tech as an Engagement Tool

As liberal Jews in the modern world, we are not only willing to engage with the modern world, but we embrace it. Utilizing technology as a means of learning, sharing resources, and building community has not only influenced how Reform Jews develop and express their Jewish identity, but has reinvigorated it.

A number of Reform congregations selected as URJ Belin Outreach and Membership Awards winners and honorable mentions have created programs that are inspired by technology and use technology to make Judaism more accessible and relevant.

  • Bringing the virtual into reality: Congregation Emanu El in Houston, TX, created JED Talks, short for “Jews Exploring their Dreams” and inspired by the well-known TED Talks that have reshaped how people think about, discuss, and share big ideas. JED Talks, a monthly lecture series, creates opportunities for young professionals to come together in a Jewish context and meet with inspiring Jews in the Houston area, including an Olympic athlete, a celebrated harpist, a brewery founder, the head chef of a popular local restaurant, and the congregation’s new senior rabbi.
  • Using film as the foundation for learning at any level: The Temple—Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, OH, produced a video adaptation of an established stage play, “Both Sides of the Family,” about an interfaith family’s life and the questions and issues they navigate together. The film was accompanied by a companion guide, created to foster discussion about the nuances of Jewish identity-building in the religious school, family education, and adult learning programs.
  • Going viral for good: Temple Sholom in Cincinnati, OH, launched a video campaign called Sacred Marketing as a means of communicating the core message of their synagogue community in a fun, innovative way. Congregants wrote and starred in a series of 12 videos, with a keynote production titled “The Synagogue Revolution: a Musical!” The videos were a critical element of a major initiative to think differently about outreach and member engagement. Posted online and viewed more than 8,000 times, the videos helped the congregation double donations, reach the highest rate of new member affiliation in a decade, and bring in more young adults and baby boomers to services on an ongoing basis.

Creating meaningful opportunities for connection in our communities is critical, they be engaging on-ramps for those who have not been previously involved or new ways to help individuals and communities think more deeply about their own Jewish identity.

Congregations who willingly experiment with the resources and tools at their disposal successfully meet people where they are and continue to uphold the values that shaped Reform Judaism from its earliest moments – to fully embrace both our Jewish traditions and our modern world, and find ways for each to enhance the other.

The URJ’s Belin Outreach and Membership Awards – funded through the generosity of David Belin, z”l – are presented to up to 16 congregations for initiatives that demonstrate the concept of audacious hospitality by actively welcoming and integrating those new to Judaism, creating relationship-based engagement models, or engaging and retaining members with innovative practices. This post is the last in a series highlighting Belin Award-winning programs and the principles that guided their development. 

To learn more about audacious hospitality strategies and tools, attend the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2015, from November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. With 5,000 attendees from around the world, the Biennial is the largest Jewish gathering in North America. Learn more and register at urj.org/biennial.

A Conversation with Leadership Expert and Best-Selling Author Chester Elton

Best-selling author Chester Elton is one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership and employee engagement. His books, co-authored with Adrian Gostick, have been translated into more than 30 languages and sold more than a million copies. He has served as a leadership consultant to organizations and major companies, such as American Express, AT&T, and Procter & Gamble. He’ll also be a featured speaker at the upcoming URJ Biennial.

ReformJudaism.org: Toronto’s Globe and Mail anointed you “the apostle of appreciation.” Why do you put so much stock in showing appreciation and recognition in the workplace?

Chester Elton: When people feel valued, everything gets better. It’s one of our most basic human needs, and we get it in our personal relationships – but when we enter the workplace, we often leave it at the door. It’s so easy to be kind, to take a minute and remind someone that they are valued. What better way to do that than to give praise regularly with a handwritten note, a pat on the back, an invitation to lunch, or to send flowers to the house? I used to work for a guy who would say, “Recognition is like a drop of oil in the machinery of business; it makes everything move a lot smoother.” When it is not here, things just grind. Read more…

From the Director’s Desk: Teen Voices in Our Work

The three pieces we have assembled for you in this issue of the Journal of Youth Engagement have several elements in common that are worth highlighting. As youth professionals, Becky, PJ and Laura all point to the need to ensure that teen voices are being heard. Read more…

The Value of Our Teens’ Time

For a unique teen perspective on the pressure to achieve, check out “School” a documentary made by Sophia Anderson, Beth Am teen and the inspiration for this article.

This is the paradox of youth professionals everywhere:

We want to help our teens de-stress from their very busy lives by participating in enriching and restoring activities at their synagogue.  How do we get them here without making their lives busier or adding more to their already over-programmed schedules? Is that even possible? Read more…

Practicing Audacious Hospitality on Sukkot

I cherish the holiday of Sukkot. It beautifully encapsulates the quintessential magic of this bountiful time of year. We see that we can build a holy space with our own hands, and experience the pride, warmth, and contentment that welcoming people into our sukkah and wholeheartedly celebrating the holiday together engenders. Who will you welcome into the sukkah, and your congregation, this year?

Nearly two months ago, I joined the URJ as its inaugural vice president of audacious hospitality. Audacious hospitality is a bold, new, and multi-faceted URJ initiative that encompasses some of our tradition’s most treasured values—loving kindness, respect, and tikkun olam (repair of our world). It is all about putting the ideas of diversity, outreach, and inclusion into action in a framework that addresses both today’s Jewish communal needs and our highest aspirations. At the core of audacious hospitality is the belief that we will be a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community when we welcome and embrace the diversity that is the reality — and future — of modern Jewish life. Read more…

Conversations with Engagement Innovators: Rabbi PJ Schwartz


  1. How have you engaged your community around youth? We have always had a successful and vibrant youth program, and it continues to grow. Because youth engagement is a passion of mine, I am very involved in programming, both formally and informally. In some sense, I have become a vessel between generations. Congregants know how much I love youth. They know that they can most likely find me in the Religious School lobby during weekday mornings, greeting our preschoolers, and in the afternoons my office might be filled with kids hanging out before Religious School. At the same time, they know that they can come to me for their own [adult] needs, as well.

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URJ Statement on Anti-Muslim Rhetoric in the Current Political Discourse

Celebrating the constitutional commitment to religious liberty for all, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, released the following statement today:

On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, I am honored to wish our Muslim brothers and sisters a blessed Eid al-Adha. This holy celebration, so central to the Islamic faith, falls this year at the same time as our own High Holy Day celebrations and reflects the many commonalities we share as Muslims and Jews.

Today we also send our condolences to the families of those who died, and pray for those who were wounded, on their holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

The ability of all people to openly observe the holidays of their faith is rooted in the United States’ historic commitment to religious freedom. Since our earliest days as a nation, Christians, Jews, Muslims and Americans of all faiths have found in the U.S. a haven from religious persecution. So it is with great heartache and pain that we have heard the rancorous language about religious tests for office and plain anti-Muslim rhetoric that permeates the current political discourse. Read more…

Our Second Annual Rosh Hashanah Sermon Round-Up

This was the year that Reform rabbis spoke about race. More than 200 rabbis participated the NAACP’s Journey for Justice, and it gave rise to some powerful sermons. (Read on for links to sermons by Eli Kramer and rabbis Biatch, Chasen,  Knight and Herzog Cohen, Miller, Perlman, Soffer, Spinrad, and Stein.) There were many more, but because there were so many, when I had a choice between two sermons from a rabbi, I chose the one on another topic.

The other leading topic was the Iran deal. Most rabbis who addressed this topic (see sermons from rabbi Blake, Feder, Groper, A. Hirsch, and Latz) focused as much on the nature of the debate in the American Jewish community as on the substance of the agreement itself.

Other sermons I particularly enjoyed: Read more…

The Ripple Effects of Peer-to-Peer Mentorship

When I recently asked a group of colleagues to help me think about examples from pop culture in which teens mentor other teens, we found it surprisingly difficult to come up with genuine examples.

In the movie Clueless (1995), Cher (Alicia Silverstone) becomes the self-appointed fashion mentor to a new girl at school in order to help propel said new girl up the social ladder. In the Broadway show Wicked, a similar dynamic is at play when Glinda and Elphaba overcome their dislike of each other and Glinda attempts to give Elphaba a makeover. We came up with a few similar examples, but none quite fit the bill. Read more…

These Shoes are Made for Walking: Our Collective Path in the New Year

TOMS Shoes have fascinated me for years. I am taken by the company’s business model and how it brought social entrepreneurship into every day vernacular. I am also grateful the shoes are priced reasonably, given my daughter wears them all the time and it makes us both feel good there is social benefit to the transaction.
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Three Congregational Programs that Prove We’re Stronger Together

In Jewish tradition, the theme of partnership is one that arises again and again: Adam seeks an appropriate partner from among God’s creations; Moses and Aaron are two brothers whose strengths and leadership skills complement each other; King Saul and King David both depend on Samuel the prophet to make them better rulers. Indeed, even our Reform Jewish values assert our belief that we are God’s partners in the work of tikkun olam, repairing the world.

In our ever-changing, interdependent world, congregations are increasingly looking outside themselves for partners in the community that can enhance their programmatic offerings and increase their overall impact.

A number of Reform congregations selected as URJ Belin Outreach and Membership Award winners and honorable mention recipients are working successfully with local partners to transform their congregations: Read more…

Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Fathers and Sons

The story of the binding of Isaac (the Akeidah) never fails to get inside us because death hangs in every verse. Will the boy die? Will the dad become a mourner? If this drama doesn’t give you chills, you probably aren’t listening. I know we’re supposed to be focusing on Abraham and Isaac, but I can’t stop thinking of my dad and me. Read more…

6 “Can’t Miss” Youth Engagement Opportunities at the 2015 URJ Biennial

These days, it’s tough to go five minutes without buzzing. Technology is everywhere, and with it comes a constant connection to everyone’s favorite: social networks. Here at the URJ, we are proud to offer programs and camps to form a different kind of social network. One where cell phones are replaced by laughter around a dining hall table and Facebook is set aside for an old-fashioned game of cards. Read more…

Learning Their “Truths” – Talking to Kids About Camp

Several weeks ago, I had the honor to learn with teen leaders from two of our NFTY regions. I asked them to share with me their truths – the things they have learned about themselves and the world, that are central to the way they live. Truths can be found in questions like: What do you stand for? What do you value? What are your boundaries? Who are you aspiring to become?  Read more…