On the bimah during his confirmation, twelfth grader Sean Cooper recounted his coming out experience: When I came out as a homosexual, I posted a picture to Facebook with my father, with the caption “….”. While some may have previously inferred my sexual orientation, that post was my first official public coming out. The next […]Read more
Ready, set, snap! Want to see yourself on the big screen during URJ Biennial 2015? Here’s your chance to share your congregation’s best moments with 5,000 Reform Movement friends. Do you have beautiful photos that demonstrate the vibrancy of your community? Enter the Biennial 2015 Photo Contest for a chance at a starring role in […]Read more
by Rachel Stein As a former preschool teacher and director, I was enjoying my role as a parent and lay leader on the “other side” in our preschool at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL. As my two boys happily made their way through our small preschool, I chaired the parent committee and volunteered […]Read more
In an extraordinary display of unity, a broad cross-section of American Jewish organizations – including the Reform Movement – joined together to declare this coming Shabbat, June 26th, to be a Shabbat of solidarity with the African-American community. In light of the horrific act of violence in Charleston, S.C., last week, where nine people were […]Read more
The past several months have been very profound; the Charleston Church shooting, the attack on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore on the heels of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, the ruling by the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states, just to name a few. Our children’s world is shaped by a mix of crisis and opportunity. After attending NFTY’s Mechina, the four-day leadership training event for regional leaders held at URJ Kutz Camp, I remain hopeful. I’m hopeful because I got to meet, study and pray with amazing teens who are ready and willing to wrestle with the important issues of our time and the Reform Movement has what to offer to help them with that important task.
by Luisa Narins
Stranger danger! We have been taught to embrace this phrase since we were children, but how does it affect our relationships as adults? Strangers can be inherently dangerous, and it is difficult to open up and meet new people. I moved to the United States for college with no family around me. I had to rely on meeting strangers and making them friends and maybe even family.
My training in business also enforced networking as a key ingredient to successful leadership. Creating, keeping, and growing relationships is an asset in the business world. This translates to any type of business, including not-for-profit organizations. In order to spread your message, you need to have connections. But where to begin?
Here are five crucial tips for networking at Jewish events and beyond: Read more…
In response to the tragic killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina last night, Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We are heartbroken by last night’s attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those whose lives were taken, those who were injured, and with the entire community that has been traumatized by this violence. For all congregants – from the youngest children in religious school, to young professionals engaged in religious life, to long-time stalwarts of the community – houses of worship are places of safety, comfort and inspiration. For the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to have become last night a place of such horror tears at the heart of every person of faith and goodwill. Read more…
What might it look like to transform a summer camp into a year-round center for youth engagement?
That was the question on all of our minds when I joined the staff of URJ Camp Newman last July. Our team began to explore this idea through community conversations and experimentation. A year later, we’ve uncovered the key component to achieving this transformation: Partnerships. Read more…
by Michelle Shapiro Abraham
Director of program development for the URJ’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, Michelle Shapiro Abraham, is a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. Here, she draws on her extensive experience to offer this sound advice to educators and congregational leaders.
Every day I feel honored and humbled by the blessing of my work. Creating youth engagement opportunities for the URJ takes me from synagogues, classrooms, and offices, to camps, retreats, conferences, and preschool programs. The settings are varied but the goal is the same. Our purpose as Jewish educators is to connect, empower, and partner. To do this, we need to think beyond and between the traditional boundaries of formal and informal, children and adults, school and camp, and simply look for the best ways to touch minds, souls, and hearts. Read more…
The High Holidays are on their way, so before you head out for summer break, visit The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum, for a full list of tried-and-true High Holiday preparation suggestions, including these and other tips.
- Tickets: Provide all relevant information, including (as applicable) pricing policies for members and guests, distribution methods, availability, and special offers for students and military personnel.
- Seating: Describe policies concerning saving seats, as well as accommodations for those with special seating needs.
- Parking: Describe availability, use of shuttle buses, special arrangements that have been made with local law enforcement officers or neighbors, and considerations for people with wheelchairs and strollers.
- Security: Explain the security procedures, including what type of identification, if any, will be required to enter the building, and what parking decal must be displayed in vehicles.
- Special Situations: Describe how to obtain hearing devices, large-print or Braille prayer books, and where to stow strollers.
- Children: Delineate between worship service attendance and childcare/babysitting policies.
The Tent also has High Holiday resources to help ensure that everything runs smoothly at your congregation throughout this busy season: Read more…
“I am the only Jew in my high school of more than 3,000 students.”
“I was the only kid who missed school for high holidays each fall.”
“My friends ask why I eat unusual foods and if I have one of those little beanie hats.”
These were some of the first words spoken when our high school seniors stepped on the bimah to lead a portion of our Friday night Shabbat services. At the service, each senior gave a short reflection on the value of Judaism and being part of our congregation. Read more…
Already this month, we have celebrated inclusion in its many forms: making congregations accessible to those with disabilities, highlighting women’s stories in the Torah and Talmud, breaking the Jewish glass ceiling for women, and of course, celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month. Women of Reform Judaism was ahead of its time and the entire Reform Movement in 1965, when it publicly supported the decriminalization of homosexuality. Since then, WRJ has not stopped speaking up for LGBTQ people and their rights as citizens and as Jews – and the entire Reform Jewish Movement has now joined in.
As a young, queer Jew growing up in a Reform synagogue, I didn’t know that these resolutions were being made – that the women in our temple sisterhood were a part of a larger movement to support LGBTQ rights. But I never worried about acceptance in my community. Our small post-confirmation class with the rabbi frequently discussed Reform & Conservative Judaism’s support of same-sex marriage. Our adult youth group advisors were a lesbian couple who were married by our rabbi. I knew that if and when I came out, it would be okay.
We all know that the Reform Movement supports LGBTQ Jews, but how can congregations, sisterhoods, and brotherhoods put this audacious hospitality into practice? Here are some ideas: Read more…
Social action and civic engagement are central to the formal and informal education experience at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois. From elementary through high school, students are immersed in the exploration of systemic inequality and Jewish social responsibility. As such, the question for high school students in the Beth Emet youth group (BESSY) is not, “Should we engage in social action?” but rather, “How best can we pursue social action in a way that is both meaningful for us and impactful for our community?” Recently, BESSY designed and led a workshop for the local Evanston teen community focused on gender and sexuality. More than 40 teens attended, and in the weeks since, teens have been asking for more of this kind of opportunity. Here’s a look into our recipe for success, and the key questions we are asking moving forward. Read more…
Calling all congregational leaders! Are you interested in ways to enhance the day-to-day operations of your sacred institutions, improve efficiencies, and reduce expenses? Through the Union for Reform Judaism’s Congregational Benefits and Services program, URJ member congregations have access to meaningful discounts on a number of products and services at discounted prices. These deals, available only to congregations affiliated with the URJ, were arranged with our congregations’ needs in mind and are yet another wonderful benefit of membership with the URJ.
Amy Asin, vice president of strengthening congregations for the URJ, has an op-ed in eJewish Philanthropy aptly titled “Strengthening Congregations,” highlighting the many ways the URJ is helping its 900 congregations across North America grow and flourish. Asin writes,
A lot of attention is paid these days to innovative start-ups in the Jewish world. And much of this attention is well-deserved. The energy and creativity being unleashed are both extraordinary and critical to the present and future of Jewish life in North America, and, likely, worldwide. But too often, it is similarly assumed that because established institutions are, well, established, they are not innovating internally. Frankly, that’s not the case.
At the URJ, we spend our days engaging with congregational leaders representing the 900 congregations of the URJ, and I can tell you that there is significant innovation happening in synagogues across North America. The conventional wisdom has shifted. No longer are congregations waiting for the conveyor belt to deliver them new members. They realize that existing solely to sustain their institutions is not a long-term prospect for growth or even for survival.
Instead, they now see that they must innovate, by transforming the way that they create sacred community and meaningful Jewish experiences to have impact on the participants and the world around them. More and more URJ congregations are experimenting, some of them on their own and some in partnership with other congregations. And it’s happening in all sizes of congregations with different demographic profiles, all over North America.
The Reform Jewish Movement was the clear winner in the critical World Zionist Congress election, according to results released today.
The ARZA slate, representing the Reform Movement, secured 56 seats out of a possible 145, winning nearly 40 percent of the votes cast in the United States – more than the amount of the next two slates combined.
The World Zionist Congress, the democratic body of the Jewish people worldwide, will meet this fall for the first time since 2010. It determines how agencies within Israel allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for religious services and civil society projects.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of Union for Reform Judaism, said of the election results,
“This overwhelming victory testifies to the power of the Reform Movement to mobilize as active partners in Israel’s present and future. As the largest and fastest-growing constituency of Jews in North America, Reform Jews recognize and value the importance of our voice in world Jewish affairs. We are mindful that our success in these elections comes at a critical moment for Israel, and we will use our influence to affect change through the vital work of the World Zionist Congress.”
We at the URJ are proud to announce that Michelle Shapiro Abraham, our director of program development for the Campaign for Youth Engagement, is the recipient of a 2015 Covenant Award for her work creating change and driving impact in Jewish education. Abraham joins 74 other Jewish educators honored by the Covenant Foundation since the award was established in 1991. Mazal tov, Michelle!
In her role for the Campaign for Youth Engagement, and before that as a consulting partner, Abraham creates unique programs and experiences that transform the lives of thousands of Reform Jewish youth, teen leaders, camp staff, and congregational educators. Working in partnership with youth and camp leadership, her achievements at the URJ include:
- Directing Service Corps Fellows, placing college-age camp staff in congregations year-round to lead innovative camp-inspired programs, an effort which has contributed to 700 new camp enrollments.
- Supporting and developing Olim Fellows, a two-year staff fellowship focusing on leadership skills for five URJ camps that takes place year-round and includes two retreats annually.
- Overseeing the launch of NFTY678, an expansion of NFTY programming to involve younger participants (6th-8th graders), resulting in a 15% increase in NFTY registration last year.
- Designing Jewish values-based curricula customized for URJ specialty camps, including 6 Points Sports Academy and 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, which now boasts a 70% return rate.
Early last month, the URJ hosted its very first “YamJam in The Tent,” a live, moderated Q&A session in the URJ’s online collaborative social media platform, The Tent. URJ moderators posed questions, and everyone in virtual attendance has the opportunity to respond to share information and expertise.
Our first YamJam focused on the different ways congregations welcome new members, and I had the incredible honor of hosting it with friends and colleagues from Program and Engagement Professionals of Reform Judaism (PEP-RJ) and the National Association of Temple Administration (NATA). We were all a little nervous before the event began; we had never done this before, and we didn’t know if anyone would even show up! Participation in these live Q&As doesn’t require a reservation, so we were just going on faith that people would show up and share their experiences.
And they did! Read more…