We’ve Moved…Come Visit Our New Site

The Union for Reform Judaism recently launched URJ.org, a terrific new website. In addition to all the great blog posts that previously lived here on RJ.org, the new site is full of news, information, and blog posts about all facets of congregational life — and how you can enrich and strengthen your own synagogue. The […]

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

How to Ensure Reform Voices and Values are Heard Throughout the World

Shalom from Jerusalem! I arrived on Sunday – together with many other Diaspora Jewish leaders – for the 37th Zionist Congress – often referred to as “The Parliament of the Jewish People.” Especially as our hearts break as our people are viciously attacked throughout this beloved land, taking us further and further from the peace […]

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The Future of Reform Judaism: How Can We Lead in Challenging Times?

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. The series began with Allison Fine’s session about “matterness” and values alignment. The second session is hosted by Marty Linsky, who will discuss leading in challenging times at the URJ Biennial […]

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When Less is More: The Role of the Synagogue Executive Director

Job descriptions are important. They outline and shape the work to be done. In a temple, job descriptions ensure that lay and professional leaders understand responsibilities and roles. When I was an executive director, my job description was four pages long. Although routine and mundane tasks were explained in great detail, there were many things […]

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Celebrating American Thanksgiving in Israel during the past 40 years

Kiddush by Ron Shabbat Thanksgiving 2014Reminiscing about Thanksgivings past and our first celebration as a young couple living in Kiryat Nordau, Netanya found us hosting Israeli cousins who had been exceedingly kind in welcoming us as new olim.  They joked for many years after about ‘Tanksgiving’.

Working with NFTY and with Indiana University students at Hebrew University, I came to understand that this all-American holiday could be a sad time, prompting homesickness among those far from family in a place where the holiday isn’t celebrated.

During one of the last years of NFTY in Israel’s CAY program (College Academic Year in Israel), then based at Kibbutz Tzora, I was asked to join at their student-led Thanksgiving dinner.  I was so warmly received and enjoyed the give and take among the group, who enthusiastically described their procurement of the necessary supplies, planning and prep for the feast.  One student’s mom had sent pumpkin table decorations (subsequently willed to me which and enjoyed every year), while another shared her experience of ‘catching’ the turkey, which then had to be slaughtered.  Tzora raised turkeys at that time, but this lovely student was herself a long-time vegetarian, doing her duty to her fellow students even if personally distasteful to her.

One year, I found myself with NFTY students enjoying a Thursday night Thanksgiving dinner, our Erev Shabbat hosts unexpectedly served a sumptuous Shabbat Thanksgiving repast with all of the trimmings, and the follow night we were hosting students and friends in our home for the same……three in a row!

By the way, one might note Israel’s  high rate of per-capita consumption of turkey products.  We enjoy turkey hot dogs, pastrami, salami, shwarma and shnitzel to name just a few, yet a whole roasted turkey remains relatively unknown.

Terry & The Turkey Shabbat Thanksgiving 2014Our bird is always ordered in advance from Achmed, the long-time, skilled, and very kind Arab butcher at our local supermarket, which caters to English-speaking Israelis, diplomats and ex-pats.  I was sad when ordering the bird earlier this week to learn from his successors that Achmed  had retired.  I would have wanted to say goodbye to him and personally wish him good luck.  I then told these young men that I had been ordering a turkey from Achmed every year since he had been working at this store.

One year a three-day Muslim holiday fell just before Thanksgiving.  I came by early to pick up my bird and Achmed whispered and pointed under the counter, explaining that because of the holiday, the slaughterhouses preparing whole turkeys were closed and that he had only received 20 of the 70 birds ordered.  I got mine and he safeguarded those set aside for the U. S. Consulate folks.  Here I am, an ex-pat American Jew, now an Israeli dependent on the Muslim Arab butcher for her kosher turkey essential to hosting homesick American students for Thanksgiving dinner in Jerusalem.  Achmed and friends always yielded their knives with peace and love, happy to supply what their American customers liked to order.  We love this store for many reasons, one of which is the apparent respect and fair treatment of this store’s long-time Arab employees.   We’ve become attached and depend on them when seeking out the finest vittles for our holiday tables.

Shabbat Thanksgiving 2014Having ourselves come to Israel from another land and culture and growing to love Israeli culture and customs, it never occurred to us that our Israeli friends and family would find our Thanksgiving celebrations exotic or enticing.  Yet, our daughter Ayala’s close friend Sivan had never seen a whole roasted turkey until her first Thanksgiving with us many years ago.  It’s since become an annual tradition to photograph Sivan with the bird pre-carve.

We were privileged to bring my 85 year old mother to Israel in 2007 where she was well cared for in a local nursing home, departing peacefully from us at the age of 90.  Granny reminded everyone that ‘she was just a plain old American girl’ and looked forward each year to Thanksgiving.  Being wheelchair-bound, unable to access the steep stairs to our home, we invited her favorite caregivers to join her at a local hotel which annually hosts a sumptuous feast.  When that was no longer possible, we brought her our home cooked goodies to the nursing home.

Since the day of our aliyah, I have held firm to the notion that we are privileged to live at a time in the history of our people when we have our own democratic state.  With all of the challenges and blemishes, our Israeli Thanksgiving dinners remind us of the deep and lasting relationship between the United States and Israel, of Israelis and Americans and American Israelis, and that we have been chosen to be among those fortunate enough to have made Israel our home, the only true democracy in this part of the world and that as dual U.S./Israeli citizens we continue to find meaning in the story and celebration of Thanksgiving.



Terry Cohen Hendin, M.S.W., a  member of Jerusalem’s Kehilat Kol Haneshama and the Israeli Reform Movement  was Office Administrator and Director of Student Services for NFTY in Israel  1991-2007.  A graduate of HUC-JIR School of Non-Profit Management, Terry holds an Honorary Doctorate from HUC and currently works as Israel Volunteer Coordinator for Skilled Volunteers for Israel. She made aliyah with her husband Ron in 1975, happily celebrating American Thanksgiving in Israel for the past 40 years.  Their daughters, Keren and Ayala live in Jerusalem.

This article is dedicated to the generations of NFTY students and staff hosted at the Hendins’ Thanksgiving table and to Terry’s  late mother, Audrey Cohen who was a long-time member of Temple Beth-El in Hammond, Indiana.

The Odd Couple: Reform Judaism and Zionism

by Rabbi Daniel M. Bronstein, Ph.D.

Making sweeping historical generalizations is easy. Lots of people make them, even the best of historians.

Broad statements can be a “necessary evil” when one is faced with limited time or space to make an historical point. But generalities can easily mutate into over-simplifications that ultimately obscure – if not distort – historical narratives of particular moments or communities.

For example, we Reform Jews are sometimes the unwilling recipients of generalizations about our politics and religiosity. Sometimes, though, we are guilty of the same sin.

Some were surprised by the Reform Jewish community’s recent response to the Obama administration’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement, intended to regulate Iran’s use of nuclear power. Voicing a lack of “unity of opinion among the Reform leadership,” the Union for Reform Judaism declined to either support or oppose the initiative. Read more…

How We Planned the Temple Event That Won Us a Prestigious Programming Award

by Alexis Rothschild

This year, the sisterhood of Temple Sholom in Vancouver, BC, Canada, is celebrating our 50th anniversary. We are proud to be receiving a silver Or Ami “Light of My People” Programming Award, which will be recognized at the WRJ Assembly 2015, held Nov. 4-8 in Orlando, FL (concurrently with the URJ Biennial 2015). For the past six years, we have won awards both on the WRJ District and international levels.

We’re proud of our innovative programming and the broad range of women it helps bring to and involve in sisterhood. From ongoing programs like Book and Bagel, Rosh Chodesh Renewal, and Tikkun Olam Gogos supporting the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, to single events like presentations on human trafficking and death, our programs represent the breadth of interests in our diverse community.

Our programming arises from the interests and passions of our members. A couple of year ago, one of our members brought her strong interest in the issue of death and dying to sisterhood with her desire to have a community discussion. She was willing to take the lead on the program and work with the existing Sisterhood Social Action Committee. Six members of the Social Action Committee organized the event; more than 25 additional women volunteered toward the success of the program. It took us more than two years to plan the event. Read more…

URJ Calls for an Immediate End to Violent Attacks in Israel

In a press release issued today, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs issued the following statement:

The growing number of violent attacks on Jews and Jewish sites in Israel must end. Continuing on this course puts Palestinians and Israelis on the precipice of a conflagration that will end only with greater bloodshed. Today’s arson desecrating Joseph’s Tomb was just the latest in a string of incidents targeting Jewish people and property, destroying families, and vandalizing holy sites. Such actions lead both sides ever further from peace. President Abbas must take the steps necessary to halt these attacks immediately, including refraining from fanning the flames of violence with rhetoric. Israeli leaders – including Prime Minister Netanyahu – must take the steps necessary to ensure the safety and security of Jewish Israelis, without alienating Palestinians who reject acts of violence. As Shabbat starts, we join with Jews around the world in praying for a week of peace to come.

When It Comes to the Middle East, It Can’t Be All Black and White

by Kendra Gerstein

As a community, we feel deeply the recent acts of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is painful to see these senseless attacks being repeated day after day. Many of us feel both angry and sad as these events continue to unfold. As fears and tensions rise, the outcry is getting louder and the filters that keep discourse civil are being peeled away.

This week, I am in Israel attending the World Zionist Congress, where I am proud to be an ARZA delegate representing the Reform Movement. The World Zionist Organization is the umbrella group for Zionist organizations of a wide range of political leanings and affiliations.

It is easy to think of your own thoughts and views as center. That is until you meet the people who are either to the right or left of you and you realize how far away you might be from them. When I attended the pre-congress meeting in New York a few weeks ago, I had a chance to meet many of the delegates from other parties. I was surprised to learn that the conservative movement’s party is called “Mercaz” or “center.” How can this be? I thought. The very name of the movement suggests that they must be much further to the right that I am… right? Using my own social media feed as a litmus test, I find myself positioned safely in the middle. Read more…

This Month in the Tent: A One-Stop Source of Ideas and Information for Congregational Life

With the High Holidays behind us, congregational programming is in full swing – and so is activity in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum.

Here’s a sample of the many interesting and engaging topics congregational leaders are chatting about in The Tent:

  • More and more congregations are using online forms and surveys to gather information from members. Read about the range of options, including which ones get a thumbs up from users.

Do you have a question or issue related to some aspect of congregational life? Post it in The Tent, where hundreds of your peers in synagogues across North America will see it – and will have creative, proven ideas, and suggestions to share. For additional support, contact the URJ Knowledge Network team.

The World Zionist Congress Begins This Week – and the Reform Movement is There!

I am sure that over the past couple of weeks you have watched the news coming out of Israel with grave concern. These new terror attacks are both difficult to deter and impossible to predict: One Israeli friend of mine commented, “It feels like 2002 all over again, except all the lessons we learned about suicide bombers aren’t helpful in preventing someone stabbing you in your neighborhood.”

It is no doubt a trying time for the people of Israel, for the Palestinians, and for all of us who feel emotionally connected to the situation.

Much has been discussed about the failures of leadership on both sides and about how this current outbreak of violence is an indication of the feelings on the Palestinian street – especially among the younger generation – and that the current status quo is unsustainable. This is worrisome and only reinforces the need for a real commitment by all parties to revive serious peace negotiations. Read more…

Tikkun Olam at the URJ Biennial

The URJ Biennial 2015 has been designed to present content in new and innovative ways, and we’re proud to share that the Religious Action Center of Judaism has coordinated the tikkun olam track – an outstanding series of more than 30 social justice workshops!

Join us throughout the course of the Biennial as we learn from social justice leaders from across our Reform Movement and around the world. These presenters will highlight dozens of topics ranging from anti-Semitism in Europe to transgender inclusion, Jewish genetic diseases, and techniques for engaging youth in social justice priorities. Each workshop is designed to offer programming ideas and opportunities for you to return home with, and we promise you’ll return inspired to create a more just world. Read more…

Download the Free URJ Biennial 2015 App for Easy Scheduling!

It’s here, it’s here! The URJ Biennial 2015 app launched this week in the AppStore and on Google Play. Download it to your smartphone or tablet, then log in using your registration confirmation.

Once the app has downloaded to your device, access all the personalized features by logging in with your name and your Biennial registration confirmation number (found in your registration confirmation email).

The app makes event scheduling simple. You can use it to search for speakers, performers, exhibitors, and more, filtering your schedule by track, sessions, plenaries, worship, etc. Mark the sessions and speakers that you don’t want to miss! Read more…

Israel’s Latest Terror Wave: The Global Reform Movement Responds

A rash of stabbings and other terror attacks on Israeli citizens have increased alarmingly over the past few days.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism, proudly headquartered in Jerusalem, condemns these acts. The cruelty of those who attack innocent civilians and children on their way home from school seems to know no limit.

The WUPJ mourns with the families and loved ones of the victims of these latest terrorist attacks.

During dark times like these, there is a powerful urge to hate and to inflict collective punishment on “the other.” However, we cannot let extremists set the agenda for the rest of us. There will only be peace once the fundamentalists no longer perpetuate this cycle of hate. Read more…

8 Principles that Drive Strong Congregations

All congregational leaders are looking for the magic formula to success, the one that will ensure that their members are happy, engaged, and Jewishly fulfilled, and that their budgets are balanced. Though there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a few tried-and-true organizational approaches to strengthening congregational life – and we at the Union for Reform Judaism are happy to share what we’ve learned by working with you.

The URJ recently published the results of our initial round of Communities of Practice, which focused on three key areas of congregational life: engaging young adults, families with young children, and reimagining financial support. With our second round of Communities of Practice now underway, we are launching new Leadership Institute initiatives and preparing for learning sessions at the URJ Biennial 2015. Through this work, we’ve identified several themes that are vital to congregational success – and we’ve compiled a few of those not-so-secretive secrets here. Read more…

How to Organize a Hanukkah Bazaar

by Kay Schachter

Hanukkah, which begin at sundown on December 6th, seems far off – but it isn’t too early for your congregation, sisterhood, or brotherhood to start planning a Hanukkah fundraiser.

A Hanukkah bazaar is a great fundraiser; it also gets your congregants thinking about their Hanukkah shopping and can give an early boost to your congregation’s Judaica shop holiday sales figures (if you have one). Lastly, it’s a wonderful opportunity to involve your temple family. Use a Hanukkah bazaar as your kickoff to the holiday! Read more…

Small but Mighty

“When you grow up, you’ll understand.”

Have you heard this sentiment recited to young people by parents, and perhaps teachers who didn’t know the answer to a probing question, or were simply hesitant to approach it? It framed generations, in a way. Set boundaries. But in a time when we have just recently witnessed a 17-year-old becoming the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to date – I’d say the sentiment has expired. Read more…

Emerging Reform Summer Camp Affirms the Jewish Future in France

By Rabbi Tom Cohen

The terrorist attacks in Paris last January suggested to some French Jews that they try to find a safer haven elsewhere. For many others, however, these traumas have only reinforced the desire to continue building a proud Liberal Jewish community in France that is faithful to the prophetic dream of being a light unto the nations.

Even before that tragedy, in 2014, my wife and I had established a Jewish summer camp. Its seeds were planted many years earlier at URJ Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), the Union for Reform Judaism’s camp in Oconomowoc, WI.

In her youth, my wife Rabbi Pauline Bebe spent a joyful and memorable summer at OSRUI. Upon her return home to Paris, she dreamt that one day she would be able to share that experience with other French teenagers. Read more…