The Scheidt Seminar: Shaping Leaders for a Sacred Task

“The Scheidt Seminar for Congregational Presidents and President-Elects seminar was one of the most meaningful professional development experiences of my entire career….Not only was this an inspiring leadership development experience, but it was a meaningful Jewish experience as well. By praying and studying together, my fellow presidents and presidents-elect formed a connection that links us […]

Read more

This Month in The Tent: Being a More Welcoming Congregation

Membership specialists and committee chairs will tell you the three tenets of congregational membership are recruitment, integration/engagement, and retention. In all three areas, one key to success is making people feel like your congregation is a place for them – in other words, being welcoming. What, specifically, can you and your fellow leaders do to […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more
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 […]

Read more

Counting Days and Making Days Count



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering-the day after the Shabbat – you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord. -Leviticus (23:15-16)

This is my favorite time of year. A time of renewal and rebirth. Spring is in the air and as The Song of Songs reminds us, the time of singing has come. It is now just after the beginning of Passover that we begin the count-up to Shavuot, when, according to our Biblical tradition, we bring our first fruits, and according to our Rabbinic tradition, we received Torah at Sinai. Read more…

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 hospitality” Rabbi Jacobs encourages, but many Reform congregations are rising to the challenge. These exceptional congregations excel at welcoming seekers and engaging prospective and current members – and the URJ is looking for the ones that do it best. Once again this year, we’ll honor eight congregations with Belin Outreach and Membership Awards for creative, original, and outstanding initiatives that promote audacious hospitality. From now through May 21, your congregation can submit an application for a 2015 Belin Outreach and Membership Award. Winning congregations will receive a $1,000 cash award and will be recognized at the URJ Biennial in Orlando, FL, in November.

Read more…

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 of important lessons and have seen many benefits. When it works, here is what congregations and participants can get out of the class. Read more…

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. Read more…

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

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…