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 […]

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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 […]

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Participate in the URJ Leadership Institute: Study, Engage, and Converse With Scholars

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 concepts that we hope will inspire sacred action within congregations. Both virtually and in person at the URJ Biennial 2015, congregational lay and professional leaders have opportunities to study, engage, and converse with each other and with scholars who are well-versed in three topics:

Values Alignment

Developing a congregation’s mission, vision, and values isn’t a role only for executives in a vacuous, endless churn of emails and meetings. Allison Fine, author, a former temple president and an expert in harnessing the power of social media and social entrepreneurship, says responsible organizations engage in “matterness,” described as “the willingness…to listen and work with – not at – people, and to engage [them] on the inside and outside as creative problem solvers and ambassadors.”

Inviting a cross-section of members to share in developing a mission, vision, and values helps ensure that, once articulated, these organizational guideposts stand as the foundation of congregational activities and goals in which everyone has a stake. In such a community, leaders can engage members and seekers to maintain, enrich, and build toward the future.

Allison Fine recently led the first webinar in the series, “Making People Matter: More than Just Something We Say”; the webinar recording will be live in the coming weeks. If you would like an email of the webinar recording, please fill out this form.

Leading During Challenging Times

Change is the new constant, so it’s vital that leaders consider where their congregation is and where it wants to go. In order to succeed, those in charge have to notice the changes taking place within the community.

Adapting to a fast-paced, changing environment and leading others through that change are both challenging and rewarding. Finding a balance between the present and the future while acclimating to a new system involves a mindset and a skill set, both of which leaders must embrace. According to leadership experts Marty Linsky, Ronald A. Heifetz, and Donald L. Laurie, “Executives today face two competing demands. They must execute in order to meet today’s challenges. And they must adapt what and how things get done in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world. They must develop “next practices” while excelling at today’s best practices.” The ability to adapt is essential if congregations wish to remain relevant to the constituents they seek to engage.

Marty Linksy, co-founder of Cambridge Leadership Associates and one of the leading experts on Adaptive Leadership, will lead the second scholar session, “Leading in Challenging Times,” at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, November 5, during the 2015 URJ Biennial in Orlando, FL, as part of the Strengthening Congregations track.


Matterness and adaptive leadership compel us to consider what many of us have long known to be true: We can’t successfully exist in a silo. Leaders assume that if they cannot do it alone, they are weak or don’t have sufficient resources to be self-sustaining. In reality, collaboration allows congregations to multiply their resources in ways that are advantageous to all who seek to work together. Yet, as Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, president of the Wexner Foundation, says, “Collaboration itself has to have serious goals or it’s not worth it…The goal of collaboration is not collaboration…We have to look for greater results as a result of doing our work together.”

Indeed, it takes imagination and creativity to work successfully with congregations in ways that build on each other’s strengths, support each other in weak areas, and enable both to share resources. Such change requires courage to believe that communities are stronger together, and trust that both will thrive when they work collaboratively.

Rabbi Jay Moses of the Wexner Heritage Program will conclude the scholar series with his online session “Collaboration Won’t Kill Us… but Failing to Collaborate Might!” on January 13th, 8 p.m. ET. Sign up for his session here.


For more information about these and other Leadership Institute initiatives, visit the Leadership and Governance group in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum.

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…

This Month in The Tent: Policies and Ideas for Your Congregation

As 5776 gets into gear, congregational leaders are asking lots of terrific questions in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum. In response, those leaders with relevant experiences, practical information, and useful suggestions are sharing their expertise.

These topics, in particular, are fueling interesting dialogue:

  • Does your congregation have policies about its membership roster? Can members access it for professional networking, marketing, or other purposes? Is it off-limits, or is it printed and distributed to congregants? Check out the conversation to learn more.
  • Are you looking for something other than the president’s Kol Nidre appeal to kick off this year’s giving? Or perhaps you’ve found an especially effective annual appeal technique that other congregations might replicate. Join the conversation to share your experience.
  • If your congregation streams worship services, are you aware of the associated copyright clearance issues related to worship music? Learn how other synagogues manage this challenge.
  • What are your congregation’s policies regarding children in the synagogue preschool? Do their families have to be members? Chime in on the conversation.

During this busy High Holiday season, feel free to come on into The Tent to join the conversations and explore the wealth of resources and information available around all aspects of congregational life. For additional support, contact the URJ Knowledge Network team.