Relational Judaism: How Building Community Helped Us Change Our Dues Model

By Dani Robbins My career has taken me to multiple cities in several states, and each time I’ve moved, I’ve looked for a new religious home by calling around to local synagogues. I found it off-putting, however, when the people on the other end talked to me about money before they welcomed me or invited […]

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Unconditionally Loving Israel and Jewish Values

This speech was given tonight at the JStreet Conference in Washington, D.C. We gather at a pivotal moment in the history of Israel. It is precisely at such a time that the North American Jewish community is in desperate need of an open, honest and serious conversation about the Jewish state. I believe that this […]

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Show Us Your Audacious Hospitality: Apply for a URJ Belin Outreach and Membership Award

“Audacious hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so people don’t feel excluded. It’s an ongoing invitation to be part of community – and a way to spiritually transform ourselves in the process.” – Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism It’s not always easy to offer the sort of “audacious […]

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Why My Congregation Hosts “A Taste of Judaism®” Classes – and Yours Should, Too

by Rabbi Marc Katz Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of hosting A Taste of Judaism® classes at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, N.Y. The first time was at a local restaurant; the second was in the synagogue building. Over the course of teaching this class, I have learned a number […]

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Making Change Where it Counts: Voting for the Prophetic Ideals of Liberal Judaism in Israel



by Rabbi Jack Luxemburg

“And Moses assembled the entirety of the Jewish people …” (Exodus 35:1)

Whether a Tabernacle in the desert or at the Temple in Jerusalem, vast numbers of our people would gather to celebrate and experience Jewish life on a grand scale. This past February, I had a somewhat comparable experience. It was exhilarating (occasionally frustrating), and confirmed the critical importance of Reform Judaism having a strong, purposeful presence on the world’s Jewish and Zionist scene. Read more…

Four Questions to Ask Ourselves When It Comes to Youth Engagement



After spending time with more than 3,000 teens – as well as many youth professionals and other stakeholders – at the 2015 NFTY Convention and Youth Summit, I am more convinced than ever that everybody is a winner when it comes to youth engagement.

I don’t mean that we all get little plastic trophies to keep on our shelves, nor do I mean that we will divide and distribute the prize so that we each get a bit of cake or a trinket. What I mean is that it is in the interest of the entire Jewish community to engage our young people and to build a strong youth community. When we delve deeply into the “why” of youth engagement, we find that doing so creates profound meaning for teens, their parents, and their families, for the professionals who work with them, for their congregational communities, and for the larger Jewish community.

The reasons to allocate time and resources to build a vibrant Jewish youth community aren’t complex, but those of us who are passionate about youth engagement don’t always state our case simply enough. With Passover approaching, I came up with four questions – and their answers – that may help us make our case.

  1. Why is involvement in quality Jewish teen experiences different from many other activities for teens? These experiences are different because being involved in quality Jewish experiences enables teens to find their place in a crazy world. They also surround teens with caring adults who understand what they need to develop and thrive.

    Jewish communities also provide opportunities for teens to develop leadership skills and to build healthy relationships with others. Through their involvement, they learn valuable lessons about community-building and lasting friendships – in a safe environment in which they can take risks and be cared for when things get challenging. In so doing, teens not only figure out who they are and how to act, but also become empowered to take action in the world.

  2. Why should I shlep my child to this activity? I believe most parents want to raise children who will take good care of themselves and the world around them. They want to raise children who will make good choices in life, children who will respect their bodies, their friends, and the world. It is also true that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but we don’t live in villages, and in the communities where we do live, many of us don’t have extended families or deep-rooted friendships. The Jewish community is our modern-day village, and being involved can help fill the gaps that are part of our modern lives.

    Parenting advice changes often, and the hot new approaches to parenting teens come and go – but Jewish wisdom can be enormously helpful as we set the course for how we parent. The teachings of our faith can help us navigate our kids’ teen years, and we are wise to take advantage of the time-honored wisdom in our heritage to make our lives as parents – and our kids’ transitions to adulthood – smoother and more meaningful.

  3. Why should we ensure that working with teens is a sustainable career path? The magic of youth communities is created by the professionals who work in them, and for many, working with Jewish youth is a calling. Some do it because they were profoundly affected by a youth professional when they were teens; others do it because they did not experience the effect of a caring adult in their teen years and want to give others what they missed. Never in the spotlight, youth professionals work behind-the-scenes to create opportunities that enable teens to thrive.

    Without opportunities and pathways to grow and thrive, these valuable professionals stagnate, and the entire community losses. Undoubtedly, youth professionals can find other work that pays more and demands less, but they are a unique, dedicated, and talented crew who make a deliberate choice to serve our communities; the least we can do is support them by providing resources to enable them to do their jobs as well as possible. By supporting and investing in these professionals, we allow them to sow seeds that will bloom in our community for years.

  4. Why should our community dip into our budget for youth? Our sacred Jewish communities need our teens, with all their energy, vitality, and creativity. If encouraged and engaged, these teens can contribute meaningfully to the synagogue community and to the larger community – teaching the young, helping the elderly, feeding the hungry, and so much more. By investing in youth, we ensure a vibrancy in our Jewish communities that we cannot attain in any other way.

Just as we annually retell the story of our Exodus from Egypt, so, too, must we continue to raise our voices and tell our own stories in all our communities. We must tell the stories of healthy growth and development of our teens, and the efforts expended by their parents and youth professionals to create healthy activities and environments in which young people can grow, thrive, and give back to the larger congregational community. Indeed, investing in our youth is an opportunity with no downside, and when we do so, everybody’s a winner.

This Month in The Tent: Useful Mission Statements



A congregation’s mission statement is often one of its founding documents, setting forth a vision for the congregation and serving as a guiding document as leaders manage the sacred. Yet a lot can happen in 15, 50, or even 100 years, and so congregational leaders may wish to periodically revisit the synagogue’s mission statement as a regular part of strategic planning.

When reviewing your congregation’s mission statement, keep in mind that effective mission statements:

  • Express the core values of the synagogue, including who the members are, which member needs the synagogue is attempting to fulfill, and how the synagogue plans to conduct its business
  • Articulate attainable goals
  • Provide a template that leaders and others can use to make decisions

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Reform Youth Leaders Debrief AIPAC Conference



By Debbie Rabinovich, Andrew Keene, and Jeremy Cronig

American Jews are extremely passionate about Israel. Regardless of sect, political affiliation, or region of the country, 16,000 people came to Washington, D.C., for the AIPAC Policy Conference for the sole purpose of advocating for Israel. The enormity of this event was a physical representation of the care that American Jews have for our homeland. This was remarkable, and it was also clear that Israel unites people outside the Jewish community as well. AIPAC draws on a diverse audience, from college students to retirees, people of the Jewish, Christian, and African American communities, as well as policymakers, law enforcement officials, and community leaders, all of whom gather to support Israel uniquely. This blend of voices elevates the fact that Israel means something different to every person: for some it is an ancestral homeland and for others it is a place of budding innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more…

Kindling the Flame of Education in Our Students



by Emily Messinger

Philosophers – Jewish and otherwise – have long shared their individual insights into the philosophy of education. For educators, such insights can teach us about our students, how we relate to them, the challenges we offer them, and the ways we shape them into the best they can be. Read more…

Life As A Youth Summit Intern



by Rachael Harvey

As an individual who is passionate about the Movement and youth engagement, the Youth Summit marked the next big step towards my intentional career path of becoming a Jewish professional. I had never been to a Youth professional conference before, or even a NFTY Convention. Overall, I was not sure what to expect from this conference. However, I did know that this was something I was meant to do. Being an inaugural Youth Summit intern this year was exactly what I needed to immerse myself in the Movement that has contributed so much to my Jewish learning, education and leadership development. Not only did this experience contribute further to my value for the Reform Movement and its forward-thinking Campaign for Youth Engagement, but I also was able to directly contribute to this progression by working through a professional lens.

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Green Eggs and Hamantaschen: Creative Purim Gift Bags Bring a Community Together



by Betsy Zalaznick

Purim at Or Chadash, in Flemington, N.J., includes many of the usual traditions: putting on a Purim spiel (play), using boxes of pasta as gragers, baking hamantaschen with our students, reading the Megillah, and hosting a spectacular carnival that features Esther’s Salon, Mordecai’s March Madness, a photo booth, and plenty of prizes and food. Read more…

On 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the RAC Talks Civil Rights



As the newly appointed director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, I am inspired by the storied history of our role in the critical social justice battles of our time. In fact, the RAC was founded at the height of the Civil Rights Movement to provide an outlet for Reform Jews to express their deep commitment to equality and justice in our society.

Next weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which was one in a series of Selma-to-Montgomery marches demanding voting rights for African-Americans. Like Reform Jews 50 years ago, my colleagues and I will be in Selma – alongside President Barack Obama, Rep. John Lewis, a number of congregational and community leaders and civil rights activists. Read more…

We’re Youth Educators, Not Youth Workers



by Rabbi Melissa Zalkin Stollman

What went on at the Youth Summit? Yes, learning. Yes, networking. Yes, collaboration. But so much more. Experimentation. Visioning. Celebration. Inspiration. In addition to watching NFTY teens celebrate and pray together, we too needed this opportunity to join as a community.

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This Month in The Tent: Preparing for Passover



As your congregation prepares for Passover, find terrific holiday resources throughout The Tent, the Reform Movement’s communication and collaboration platform. In The Tent, you’ll find ideas, materials, and opportunities for clergy and lay leaders to share expertise and experiences about all facets of congregational life.

This year, Passover begins on Friday, April 3. Because it falls on Shabbat, congregational leaders in the Tent are talking about how the timing affects worship services that evening. Join the conversation, and then check out these holiday resources:

  • Passover Print Ads: The URJ offers a variety of customizable print-ready ads you can use (in your bulletin, email newsletter and on your congregation’s website and Facebook page) to promote your congregation’s Passover events. Preview the ads (ordering information is on the last page), and then head to the Communications group’s file library to view ready to use ads and banners (look for the yellow star by the file name), including these Shalom Sesame badges.
  • Social Action Seder: Want to infuse your home or congregational seder with modern symbols or a social action spin? Take a look at these suggestions from the RAC.

Budget Planning Tools: In addition to Passover planning, you may also be preparing your congregation’s budget. If so, keep your copy of Food for the Spirit: Synagogue Budgets close at hand. It contains information about budget timelines and financial reports, as well as several sample budget planning tools, created and shared by URJ congregations. This cash flow/audit template, designed to assist leaders in creating a balanced budget, might also be useful. Have a question about what’s happening in other congregations? Visit the Finances group and ask your fellow congregational leaders.

Join the conversation and access these and other great resources in The Tent.

Understanding Teen Brains, Creating Jewish Adults



Imagine it.  A group of teens, sitting together, talking Torah, or current events, or tzedakah.  It’s what we all hope for, aspire to, in youth group.

Imagine it.  A group of adults, sitting together, talking Torah, or current events or Tzedakah.

Oddly, the first scene is one we do imagine.  And the second scene feels less likely.  Or not our responsibility.

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The Joy of Generational Leadership



by Dr. Madelyn Mishkin Katz

It’s the summer of 1983. I’m a 28-year-old student at Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) preparing for a career in Jewish education, and spending my summer on staff at URJ Camp Swig (presently URJ Camp Newman) in Saratoga, California.

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Striking the Balance Between Formal and Informal Learning



By Adam Organ

During NFTY Youth’s text study, Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of HUC-JIR (and former Regional Board member of NFTY-NAR, former trip leader for NFTY in Israel, and former Regional Advisor of NFTY-MAR) lead a discussion titled “The Study of Torah is Equal to Them All,” based on the teachings of RaMBam (Maimonides). The conversation focused on the obligation of every person to not only study Torah, but teach, too. After ruminating on the D’var Torah, I came away with some thoughts and ideas that apply to professionals who work with youth.  Below are some pieces of text followed by a Jewish youth professional analysis:

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Why BBYO is Our Partner



by Rabbi David E. Levy

12 years ago, as we prepared to send our long-struggling NFTY chapter off into the sunset, Todd Markley, our Rabbinic Intern, now Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA, said: “Mercaz is our Youth Group.” WRT has enjoyed a long history of engaging our teens in our educational program, Mercaz, meaning “Center,” a community hub where our teens can “center” themselves during their over-programmed and often stressed-out lives. We still retain 40% of our teens after B’nei Mitzvah, engaging them in an educational program that includes a range of elective classes including: Jewish Cooking, Holocaust studies, and deep engagement with classical Jewish texts.    While this exceeds the Reform Movement’s average (25% retention) for post-B’nei Mitzvah engagement, I believe we can do a lot better, and our present work reflects this hope. Read more…