What My Vacation Taught Me About Audacious Hospitality

by Frieda Hershman Huberman Vacation enables us to reflect, rejuvenate, recharge our batteries, and look at life from a fresh perspective – and sometimes, it’s the actual vacation experience itself that becomes a learning opportunity. While on a short getaway this summer, I gleaned new insights on audacious hospitality, one of the Reform Movement’s top […]

Read more

Reform Jewish Movement Response to Iran Deal: Address Important Concerns, Focus on the Day After

Following extensive consultations with experts from across the political spectrum in both the United States and Israel, and thoughtful conversation with North American Reform Jewish leaders, the Reform Jewish Movement today issued a leadership statement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The statement – released today by the leaders of the Union for […]

Read more

13 Ways to Make Your High Holidays Services Accessible to Everyone

A sweet new year begins with audacious hospitality, making sure everyone feels welcome in the Jewish community. As part of High Holiday preparation, congregations can take a number of simple steps to help create an accessible and sacred space for people of all abilities so that everyone can fully participate. Ask people what they need. […]

Read more

4 Ideas for Engaging Families with Young Children in Jewish Life

Every new parent understands the pressure and stress associated with finding the best ways to create a rich and fulfilling future for their children. Faced with societal expectations, money constraints, and more programmatic opportunities than ever for their young ones, Jewish life may not always make it to the top of the priority list. As […]

Read more

Audacious Hospitality: A New Initiative for Spiritual and Social Empowerment



Two weeks ago, I joined the URJ as its inaugural vice president of audacious hospitality. Upon hearing my job title, people immediately inquire about the meaning of “audacious hospitality.” It is a bold, new, and multi-faceted URJ initiative that encompasses some of our tradition’s most treasured values – lovingkindness, 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. Read more…

The Loss of “Matterness” in Synagogue Life: An Interview with Allison Fine



Allison Fine, past president of Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, N.Y., is the co-author of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change (with Beth Kanter); author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age; and, most recently, author of Matterness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World.

You have said that synagogues need to do things differently than in the past in order to retain and attract members.

Congregational leaders need to rethink the decades-old model of synagogues as top-down hierarchies churning out life-cycle events and programs for their membership. Synagogues are overflowing with wonderful people, but the structure – and, therefore by definition the processes and systems – demand caution and control. In this risk aversive environment, congregations suffocate creativity and lose opportunities to experiment with new ways to engage their communities. Read more…

How We’re Creating Vibrant Jewish Life in Israel and Around the World



by Rabbi Nir Barkin

The Book of Deuteronomy, my favorite, begins with this passage as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land:

These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. – Through the wilderness, in the Arabah (desert)…in accordance with the instructions that God had given him for them, Moses undertook to expound this Teaching…

What is it about this opening statement that allows me to connect to it as a 21st-century Reform Jew, for whom the fate of the Jewish people is crucially important? Read more…

This Month in The Tent: Resources for the High Holidays and Beyond



With Tishah B’Av behind us, Elul and Rosh HaShanah can’t be far off!

As congregations gear up for the start of 5776 and a new year of activities, programming, and policies and procedures, these conversations in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum, may prove particularly helpful in planning for the High Holiday season and beyond.

  • If your congregation is looking forward to using Mishkan Hanefesh, the new machzor (High Holiday prayerbook) this year, you may also be seeking ways to put your no-longer-needed copies of Gates of Prayer to good use. Chime in on the conversation to find a new home for your congregation’s used prayer books.
  • Many congregations offer online credit card payments as a convenience for members. To learn how other communities deal with the processing fees associated with this payment option, visit the conversation in the Technology group.
  • No doubt, your congregation will be welcoming new members in the weeks ahead. If you’re interested in exploring the possibility of offering a “pay what you can” dues structure, you can learn what other congregations have experienced when implementing such a policy.

When questions or challenges arise as you plan for the coming year, make The Tent your first stop for answers. It’s the best place to pose questions, share resources, and compare notes with other congregational leaders who, like you, are dealing with an array of topics and issues around synagogue life. For additional support, contact the URJ Knowledge Network team

Returning to One Another: Five Holiday Resources for Teens



As we prepare to celebrate the Jewish holidays, we get ready to journey through an arc of communal and personal experiences. As an educator who is fascinated by the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I also find this month-long period an interesting dance between introversion and extroversion. Read more…

Celebrating Rosh Chodesh in Your Congregation



by Annice Benamy

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings; and they will be a memorial for you before your God.  I am the Lord your God.” —Numbers 6:6

What is Rosh Chodesh?

Rosh Chodesh means “head of the month.”  When the new moon appears, the first of each Jewish month begins. In contemporary practice, Rosh Chodesh celebrations begin the Shabbat before the new month with the Rosh Chodesh prayer at the conclusion of the Torah reading. This special prayer articulates our hopes for the month including peace and prosperity to success in business, good health, and righteousness.

This is a day associated with women’s renewal and celebration. Rosh Chodesh has been an occasion for Jewish women to gather for learning, ritual, and spirituality programs. Many sisterhoods and women’s groups have created monthly Rosh Chodesh groups to offer women an opportunity to observe the new moon in song and prayer. Some groups have focused on women’s programs, holidays, and Torah study. Read more…

Comedy, Disability, and the Inclusive Synagogue: An ELI Talk



Pam Schuller is my hero.

She’s not just my hero because she’s one of the outstanding Reform Jewish youth professionals who works day and night to connect with so many of teens and congregations in NFTY’s Garden Empire Region (which includes central and northern New Jersey and New York’s Rockland and Orange counties).

She’s not just my hero because she dressed as a peach at NFTY Convention, dancing and sharing a great schtick.

No, Pam is my hero and my teacher because of her deep and profound commitment to strengthening our communities through helping us be truly welcoming, inviting and inclusive.

Pam is my hero because she understands, through personal experience, that our communities are stronger when they are diverse, accepting, and embracing of all of their members. Read more…

The Ripple Effects of Meaningful Peer-to-Peer Mentorship



By Rabbi Laura Novak Winer

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.

Where are the examples of true peer-to-peer mentorship – peers helping each other learn and grow into their best selves? Are there times when adolescents can be there for each other to create healthy bonds and build relationships with each other for the sake of positive, worthwhile connections and enrichment?

Yes, there are! We may not see it in pop culture, but it’s happening in our Jewish communities. Read more…

Get Your Teens To Teach Torah



At 17-years-old, Joseph is one of the only identified teenagers in the Torah. Joseph is a complicated teen with a fierce rivalry with his brothers and a love of clothing. Joseph’s dreams, which tradition believes came from God, lack any mention of the divine and have no connection to sacred text. That Joseph’s story was taking place in the 37th chapter of the 1st book of that sacred text might have been a reason. Read more…

8 Great Reasons to Attend the Biennial



by Jan Marion, Raymond Capelouto, and Luise Mann Burger

With an eye on the quickly approaching September 10th early bird registration deadline, we’re delighted to offer eight excellent reasons for you and your fellow congregational leaders to attend the URJ Biennial 2015 from November 4-8 at the award-winning Marriott World Center in Orlando, FL:

  1. The best board leadership training, bar none: Programming from Wednesday through Friday will be targeted specifically for you, our congregational leaders – whether you’re a current or up-and-coming lay leader, professional, clergy, or youth leader – with remarkable learning opportunities at every turn. Many synagogues use the Biennial as a cost-effective opportunity for a leadership or board retreat.
  1. Networking, networking, networking: In every setting, you’ll be rubbing elbows with leaders from other congregations throughout North America, many of whom face the same challenges you do – and perhaps have some workable solutions to share. With distinct learning tracks, you can customize your Biennial experience to address your congregation’s specific needs.

Read more…

5 Innovative Ways to Engage Young Adults in Jewish Life



It’s no secret that engaging millennials in congregational life requires innovative and creative thinking. While former generations of American Jews engaged in congregational life in traditional ways, today’s Jewish young adults in their 20s and 30s want to craft their own Jewish journeys.

The Union for Reform Judaism has been partnering with congregations across North America to innovate young adult engagement as a part of its Communities of Practice work. The full results of this work can be found in a new resource, Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement. Here, we highlight five of the best principles of young adult engagement: Read more…

Sliding into Fall: Successful Transitions



With the end of summer approaching and the high holidays just around the corner, it can feel like a moment of transition from our extraordinary summer lives – vacation, camp, and family time – to our ordinary lives – work, school, and busy schedules for everyone.  But, there is actually something holy in these moments of transitions.  As Jews, we celebrate the transition of moments in time: lifecycle events mark the transitions from who we were to who we will become, the transition in and out of Shabbat, and even the transition between day and night.  This moment in time, right now, is similar.   And our Judaism informs us that this is the season to begin thinking about how we manage, celebrate, and create holiness in our lives, not just during the summer, but year round.  The month of Elul, beginning this Sunday, reminds us that we must honor this past season and year and bring those experiences forward with us into the new season and New Year.     Read more…

6 Ways to Make Everyone Feel Comfortable at Worship Services



How can congregations make their worship experience welcoming to prospective members and visitors? Attendees addressed that question in a recent workshop at the URJ’s Had’rachah Seminar, where lay leaders of small congregations gathered to learn to lead worship services and certain lifecycle events in order to strengthen their congregations.

Though Had’rachah participants came from congregations with either one clergy member on their staff or no clergy at all, the suggestions that stemmed from their discussion can benefit congregations of every size in making their worship services more welcoming. Here are six ways your congregation can make sure all attendees feel comfortable and included during worship services: Read more…

Honoring Congregations that are Leading the Way on Disabilities Inclusion



The Reform Movement is exceptionally proud of Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, senior advisor on disabilities issues at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who was recently presented with the Thornburgh Family Award in recognition of her years of service on behalf of people with disabilities. As the inaugural recipient of this award, Rabbi Landsberg was honored on July 26, 2015, the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a letter read at the interfaith service at which she was honored, President Barack Obama wrote to Rabbi Landsberg, Read more…