5 Innovative Ways to Engage Young Adults in Jewish Life

It’s no secret that engaging millennials in congregational life requires innovative and creative thinking. While former generations of American Jews engaged in congregational life in traditional ways, today’s Jewish young adults in their 20s and 30s want to craft their own Jewish journeys.

The Union for Reform Judaism has been partnering with congregations across North America to innovate young adult engagement as a part of its Communities of Practice work. The full results of this work can be found in a new resource, Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement. Here, we highlight five of the best principles of young adult engagement: Read more…

Sliding into Fall: Successful Transitions

With the end of summer approaching and the high holidays just around the corner, it can feel like a moment of transition from our extraordinary summer lives – vacation, camp, and family time – to our ordinary lives – work, school, and busy schedules for everyone.  But, there is actually something holy in these moments of transitions.  As Jews, we celebrate the transition of moments in time: lifecycle events mark the transitions from who we were to who we will become, the transition in and out of Shabbat, and even the transition between day and night.  This moment in time, right now, is similar.   And our Judaism informs us that this is the season to begin thinking about how we manage, celebrate, and create holiness in our lives, not just during the summer, but year round.  The month of Elul, beginning this Sunday, reminds us that we must honor this past season and year and bring those experiences forward with us into the new season and New Year.     Read more…

6 Ways to Make Everyone Feel Comfortable at Worship Services

How can congregations make their worship experience welcoming to prospective members and visitors? Attendees addressed that question in a recent workshop at the URJ’s Had’rachah Seminar, where lay leaders of small congregations gathered to learn to lead worship services and certain lifecycle events in order to strengthen their congregations.

Though Had’rachah participants came from congregations with either one clergy member on their staff or no clergy at all, the suggestions that stemmed from their discussion can benefit congregations of every size in making their worship services more welcoming. Here are six ways your congregation can make sure all attendees feel comfortable and included during worship services: Read more…

Honoring Congregations that are Leading the Way on Disabilities Inclusion

The Reform Movement is exceptionally proud of Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, senior advisor on disabilities issues at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who was recently presented with the Thornburgh Family Award in recognition of her years of service on behalf of people with disabilities. As the inaugural recipient of this award, Rabbi Landsberg was honored on July 26, 2015, the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a letter read at the interfaith service at which she was honored, President Barack Obama wrote to Rabbi Landsberg, Read more…

10 Ways to Welcome Teens at the High Holidays

Looking for innovative opportunities to engage your teens around the High Holidays? These 10 ideas come directly from the source – youth professionals across North America.

Read more…

Tishah B’Av, the Grateful Dead, and the Power of Our Youth Work – Let’s continue it at the Biennial

“Wave that flag, wave it wide and high. Summertime done come and gone, my, oh, my…” –The Grateful Dead, “U.S. Blues”

A few weeks ago, the Grateful Dead held their last concert celebrating 50 years. I, like so many of you, was a fan of the Dead. I think I was attracted to them because I was a seeker in search of creating a more humane and just world, and the Grateful Dead allowed me to leave the conventional world behind in search of a sound and spirit that captured the possibilities of how alluring and joyful life could be.

Read more…

How to Effectively Manage a Board or Committee Meeting

by fredi Bleeker Franks

Mazel tov! You’re in charge of the next meeting of your congregation or sisterhood. Before panic sets in, take a deep breath and read on for some great suggestions and things to consider to help you win friends, influence people, and run a great meeting.

  • Consider your physical setting: Think about the work your group will be doing and consider not only the space you will be using, but also the setup of the room. Depending on what you’re doing, the space should be structured enough to conduct the business you need to, but informal enough to be welcoming and inclusive.
  • Appoint a parliamentarian: Having someone else be mindful of the rules relieves you of that role. Just make sure he or she is familiar with Roberts Rules of Order!

Read more…

Rabbi Rick Jacobs

4 Surprising Ways Camp Connects Us All

Sports, games, art and science projects. Swimming, hiking, climbing. Laughing, learning, sharing. It’s these activities, and more, that transform summer camp into one of the strongest links in the Reform Movement’s chain of connections. In fact, summertime for the URJ is like one huge game of connect-the-dots. Connecting current campers with alumni. Connecting clergy with worshippers. Connecting songleaders with singers. Connecting students with teachers. Connecting our Jewish past to our Jewish present and future.

In the last few weeks, I’ve spent time at several of our overnight camps – URJ Kutz Camp, URJ Greene Family Camp, and URJ 6 Points Sports Academy – and I’m headed to GUCI this weekend and to URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in early August. Being at camp is a joy. It’s a reminder of what was most special to me as a camper – feeling for the first time a brand new excitement about Shabbat, the Birkat HaMazon, and standing up for social justice. Read more…

Sacred Giving: How Reform Congregations are Reimagining Financial Support

Nearly every congregation today faces the challenge of trying to increase or stabilize revenue, so it’s no surprise that in the last few weeks alone, the Jewish press published three separate pieces on the subject:

And that’s not all. Read more…

This Month in The Tent: No Summer Slowdown Here!

Much of the world slows down during the summer, and even synagogues aren’t the hustling, bustling places they typically are during the rest of the year. Nonetheless, conversations continue unabated in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum.

Many of the current discussions focus on planning for 5776, with these conversations proving especially popular: Read more…

Coming Full Circle: The NFTY in Israel Tikkun Olam Experience

by Sharon Mann

The phrase “what goes around, comes around” came to mind recently as I remembered back five years to the time I saw my daughter, Ayelet, off on a flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto, Canada. She was headed to URJ Camp George, a Reform Jewish summer camp where she would spend the summer as a camper, part of an Israeli youth delegation from the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

Now, she’s graduated from Mechinat Gal’s Pre-Army Academy, a post-high school Israeli gap year program that emphasizes volunteer work, leadership training, and enrichment studies. As a staff member at The Hannaton Educational Center, she’s come full circle, welcoming North American teens from NFTY in Israel to her home, eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). At Hannaton, the teenagers participate in a tikkun olam chavaya (repairing the world experience) that includes hands-on volunteer work as they learn to make a positive contribution to Israel and the world. Read more…

Reform Jewish Movement Responds to Proposed Nuclear Agreement with Iran

In response to today’s announcement by the P5+1 and Iran, leaders of the Reform Jewish Movement issued the following statement:

This morning, after extensive negotiations conducted under intense international scrutiny, P5+1 negotiators, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, announced that they have reached an agreement with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. We in the Reform Jewish Movement remain committed to our belief that the United States and its allies must do all that is possible to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as to protect and enhance U.S. security and the security of our allies—particularly Israel—and promote stability in the entire Middle East. Read more…

Looking Back at Kutz@50… and Then Looking Forward

By Rabbi Michael A. White

I recently returned from a magical week as a faculty member at the URJ Kutz Camp, the Reform Movement’s teen leadership institute at the foothills of the Catskills in Warwick, N.Y. My week at Kutz brought back memories of my first visit some 37 years ago.

Nearly four decades ago, one of my high school classmates convinced me to attend a regional youth group event at Kutz, and off I went. Until that weekend, Shabbat, to me, meant sitting in a hard pew while listening to organ music. Shabbat at Kutz camp was refreshingly different, to say the least!

During Shabbat at Kutz that first year, we ate greasy chicken and delicious doughy challah. Services were energizing and informal, led by a cool guy with long hair, a mustache, and a guitar. We draped our arms around each other’s shoulders, and we sang our hearts out. We talked through the night. And just before we left, one of the leaders of the Reform Movement, Al Vorspan, challenged us to fight to end apartheid in South Africa, for women’s rights, for Israel. He told us that we were the future, that we could make a difference, and that we could heal the world.

That first weekend at camp, I became a committed, enthusiastic Reform Jew. Read more…

How Our Teens Built an Active Presence at Our Temple

by Kara Liu

Youth engagement is about more than just teens. Rather, effective youth engagement is a whole organism made up of parents, leaders, and the young people themselves.

That’s the main takeaway from my experience at a recent day of professional development at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, organized by Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, director of youth engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism. At the seminar, I came to fully appreciate the network of colleagues who are doing youth engagement work – and I learned that I, too, am a bridge connecting all the entities of youth engagement to my temple family and our youth group.

Three years ago, my congregation set out on a journey to try to create an active teen presence, something our community had been missing. As a part of this effort, we sent our new ninth grade class to a regional NFTY kallah. At the event, our excited teens made new friends, experienced NFTY’s shared history and culture, and immersed themselves in the joys of Reform Judaism. They were a little bit lost when they arrived, but by the end of the weekend, the teens knew one thing: They wanted to bring the magic of NFTY back to our synagogue.

That’s how our youth group began. Read more…