Stimulating Creative Thinking in Our Congregations
The URJ is proud to announce the 20 Reform congregations across North America that will receive a prestigious Incubator Grant. Incubator Grants provide up to $5,000 in seed funding for innovative projects to actively engage more people in Reform synagogue life. This year’s call for proposals stimulated creative thinking in three main areas: creating a culture that supports and encourages conversion; retention and engagement of post b’nei mitzvah teens and their families; and engagement in synagogue life. More than 300 URJ congregations have applied over the first two years.
The selection committee had a very difficult task in selecting the grant recipients. We were truly inspired by the shared motivation to better engage people in synagogue life, demonstrated by all of the congregations that applied. Many applicants found the grant application process itself to be beneficial in stimulating creativity in their congregations, impacting even those whose projects were not funded and significantly broadening the positive impact of the Incubator Grant process.
One of last year’s applicants, Rabbi Marci Bloch from Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, Fla., told us, “Because we brainstormed so much, we are launching a couple new programs this year…all of the discussions were helpful in thinking about how we can build great connections with our families.” Rabbi Bloch’s congregation continued innovating, applied again in 2012, and has received funding.
The URJ will collect information from all grantees and share noteworthy practices with member congregations. Here are a few highlights from some of the grant-winning programs:
- Youth Conversion Curricula
Congregation Simcha Sinai, Harker Heights, TX
When a whole family seeks conversion together, one class does not fit all. Simcha Sinai will respond to the needs of young people in Central Texas whose families seek conversion by creating distinct conversion curricula for pre-teens, teens, and college-age students.
- Derekh: Supporting the Conversion Journey in Community
Shir Tikvah Congregation, Minneapolis, MN
A nine-month program that will provide social and educational support for those who are exploring Judaism or are actively engaged in the conversion process. Additionally, this program will support the transition of program participants into ongoing congregational engagement.
- Shabbat Playdate
Temple Emanu-El, Sarasota, FL
Every month, young Jewish and interfaith families with children up to age six will be invited to a fun and meaningful Saturday morning Shabbat experience. Half of the sessions will take place on the synagogue campus, with structured playtime on the preschool playground, the other half of the sessions will be held off-site, where in addition to the service and play time, an experiential activity will weave together the location and the lesson, such as a Tu B’Shvat playdate at a botanical garden.
- Connecting the Sandwich Generation
Temple Israel, Dayton, OH
Temple Israel will tap into nostalgia to rekindle social connections among congregants. By creating an online photo album of old consecration and confirmation pictures, Temple Israel will build a virtual community for baby boomers, many of whom are caring for their aging parents. Once online connections have begun to form, they will create real world opportunities to reinforce those connections as a source of advice and support.
The grantees include URJ-member congregations of varied sizes and regions. See the full list of winners and their programs here – and join us in wishing a hearty mazel tov to all of the grant recipients! We look forward to seeing their proposed programming come to life.