The 7 Vital Signs of a Healthy Congregation

by Ron Wolfson As one who has worked in the field of synagogue transformation for more than 20 years, I am often asked, “What are the vital signs of a healthy congregation?” Here are seven vital signs I look for in taking the pulse of a community: A welcoming website: If a congregation’s online presence […]

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Succession Planning: An Integral Piece of Your Leadership Portfolio

by Alan Zeichick In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, God instructs Moses, “Ascend these heights of Abarim and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was.” Although Moses had a marvelous opportunity to […]

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Engaging and Enriching Older Immigrants to Israel

by Sharon Mann Congregations are always thinking of new ways to attract and interest younger members. While this is, of course, essential, it is perhaps just as important for congregations to consider what they are doing to engage and enrich older members who want to remain connected as they deal with circumstances that arise later […]

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Daryl Messinger Will Become First Woman to Chair the URJ Board of Trustees

Daryl Messinger of Palo Alto, CA, has been nominated to serve as the next Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). Messinger will become the first woman to hold the top lay leadership position in the URJ, which represents the largest and fastest growing constituency of Jews in North […]

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Managing Change, the Only Constant in Today’s World



This is the time of year when many congregations prepare to welcome new rabbis and other senior staff members to the temple family. With this period of change comes many emotions – excitement, anxiety, curiosity, sadness at the departure of a long-time beloved rabbi or other staff member…

In our work with the URJ’s Strengthening Congregations team, Rabbi David Fine and I interact with Reform congregations all around North America that are in the midst of change. Whether it be a clergy or senior staffing change, a synagogue merger, an emerging collaboration between multiple synagogues, or any of the other myriad changes that are so much a part of today’s world, the only constant seems to be change.

As congregational families, how do we manage feelings of disruption and discomfort in this world of constant change? Read more…

Coming Out in a Jewish Community: How Our Congregation Embraces LGBTQ Teenagers



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 day, I came to my temple, Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA, for a meeting of our youth group. I was greeted at the door by Cantor Doug Cotler, the man I have known my whole life, with a warm hug and friendly “I’m proud of you,” and by Rabbi Julia Weisz with a smile and great warmth. Rabbi Paul Kipnes was even more accepting than anyone. His kind and heartfelt acceptance expressed not only his embracing personal views, but also the wide-open arms of the Jewish community. Read more…

Motivated and Ready to Work: Mechina Prepares NFTY’s Leaders for the Year Ahead



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.

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Picture Yourself at the URJ Biennial: Enter Our Photo Contest!



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 Orlando! Simply submit amazing photos that show your congregation’s Jewish and social engagement for a chance to win a new digital camera for your congregation and to have your photos featured at the Biennial.

Speaking of bonuses, register for the Biennial by September 10th and you’ll be eligible to win some other, very cool prizes to enhance your Biennial experience, including hotel upgrades, meet-and-greets with Reform Movement leaders, gift cards, and more.

Learn about Delegation Pricing Incentives that will enable more representatives from your congregation to attend than ever before; plus, find out about the exciting programming and performances in the works, the brand-new Biennial Camp for children in pre-K through 8th grade, and much more.

We’re looking forward to a picture perfect Biennial… and we hope you are, too!

Why We Closed Our Synagogue’s Preschool and Started Over from Scratch



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 on our early childhood task force, which explored ways to expand the school and reach target families, many of whom were sending children to other area programs. Read more…

Join a Shabbat of Solidarity with the African-American Community



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 killed at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, leaders of the Jewish community are asking their members to participate in this Sabbath of solidarity.

Among the suggested actions for rabbis, congregations, and organizations are to speak out in synagogues this Shabbat on the issue of racism in society and to express rejection of hateful extremism. All rabbis and congregations are encouraged to reach out to AME churches in their communities with expressions and demonstrations of support.

The call to action is consistent with the historic ties of the Jewish and African American community going back to the civil rights era.

Participating Jewish organizations include the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as the Rabbinic Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Hillel.

How to Participate

We encourage Jewish leaders to reach out to the local AME or historic black churches to express your sympathy, prayers, and concern. If your congregation does not already have a relationship with your local church, today is an opportunity to begin to build one. We must fight hate the best way we know how – through love and community building.

Many of our partners and friends throughout the Jewish community have joined this solidarity initiative in reaching out to their local AME church and in incorporating something into their Shabbat observance this weekend.

We also hope that you will share the statement that RAC Deputy Director Rachel Laser issued on behalf of the Reform Movement in response.

Liturgical Resources & Prayers

Pastoral Resources

Attempting to understand tragedies like this one is challenging, if not impossible. That is even more true when attempting to help children process such events. We hope you will find the following resources helpful.

Finally, we hope that you will join us in sending prayers and messages of support to the Emanuel AME Church community. The messages will be compiled and delivered to the church to ensure the families affected by this tragedy feel loved and supported.

Check out the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s website for more information about the Reform Jewish community’s on civil rights, hate crimes, and gun violence prevention.

5 Tips for Networking with Other Synagogue Leaders



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…

Reform Movement Mourns Victims of Charleston AME Tragedy



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…

Partners in Success



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…

9 Jewish Education Lessons from the Field



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…

This Month in The Tent: Preparing for the High Holidays



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…

Graduating Seniors: Let Them Talk, And You Might Like What You Hear



“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…

3 Ways to Build LGBTQ-Inclusive Communities



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…

Revolutionary: A Recipe for Delivering What Teens Want



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…