A New Year, A New Vision
by Rabbi Jonah Pesner
Director, Presidential Transition, URJ
Founding Director, Just Congregations, URJ
As I write this update on the status of the URJ Presidential Transition, the summer is nearing its end. Our incredible Reform Movement camps have ended their successful seasons, our young people have returned from NFTY in Israel, and our high school leaders are gathering at summer kallot and institutes. Seeing our children engaged in Torah, prayer and deeds is a constant reminder of the importance of our shared, sacred task.
The Presidential Transition Team met for a day-long retreat this past summer. The role of the team is to provide feedback to Rabbi Jacobs and the URJ senior leadership to craft a vision for the URJ going forward. In addition, the team will solicit feedback from various stakeholders across the Movement. Though the team does not represent every constituency imaginable, the members understand they represent a greater whole. Over the months ahead leading up to Rabbi Jacobs installation, we will solicit more and more input from diverse constituencies of Reform Jewish life.
One week after the transition team meeting, the URJ Vaad also conducted a retreat. The Vaad (committee in Hebrew, often referring to a leadership group) is comprised of more than 20 members of the URJ senior staff who help the president shape policy. In the past, Rabbi Yoffie has gathered the Vaad for an annual retreat for visioning about the year ahead. This year, Rabbi Yoffie graciously invited Rabbi Jacobs to convene the Vaad in order to enlist them in working on his vision.
At both day long retreats, the teams engaged in discussions around several challenging topics. First, they conducted a robust debate about the current mission statement of the Union for Reform Judaism. In an exercise we hope to replicate more widely, team members read the mission statement in small groups and asked the questions: What inspires you? What is missing? What should our mission be? As Rabbi Jacobs crafts a shared vision for the next chapter of the URJ, it will be critical for our Movement to clarify the URJ’s mission and purpose, as well as its role alongside the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the other constituencies of Reform Judaism.
In addition, the transition team and the Vaad both discussed several possible themes of a renewed URJ vision. These included: The critical Campaign for Youth Engagement, launched under Rabbi Yoffie but that will continue with Rabbi Jacobs’ full support; he best ways for the URJ to support congregations to become ever more successful as the primary building blocks of a dynamic Jewish community; and new approaches to leadership development to build the Reform Movement and our congregations, among other themes.
The team and the Vaad also discussed overarching principles of the future vision, including a commitment to excellence, operating in partnership with our various affiliates, listening carefully to the needs of our congregations and communities, and moving to the cutting edge of technology.
In the weeks ahead, I will be conducting webinars with each of the four URJ district leadership teams in order to keep our lay leadership up-to-date on the transition. In addition, the URJ Executive Committee will spend an entire morning working on the emerging vision as well.
As always, we welcome your feedback as we move forward into the future with collective purpose. As we begin our personal and local preparations for the New Year, we invite your help in the renewal of the URJ as well.