Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Israel: Front and Center

As we all wait for word about the future of the critical talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna, I want to share a few thoughts about my recent time in Israel, meeting with politicians, fellow Reform Movement leaders, and some of the talented individuals staffing our Israel programs this summer.

It was a busy, productive visit in the country we all love and support because numerous events in recent weeks have put Israel front and center in the work of our URJ and the Reform Movement.

As you know, the ARZA slate garnered 39% of the vote in last spring’s WZO elections. Seeking to leverage that victory (and the associated funding), a group of Reform Jewish leaders from around the world met in Israel recently to strategize about how to shape a more pluralistic Israel committed to a two-state solution that embodies the vision of Israel’s declaration of independence that our Jewish State “will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” We look forward to on ongoing conversation in the months ahead. Read more…

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: Read more…

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 see where he had led his people, the act of taking the Israelites across the border – and fighting for the milk and honey – was left to the next generation of leaders. Read more…

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 in life.

At my congregation, Kehillat Emet VeShalom (the only synagogue in Nahariya, Israel, affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism), we’ve been dealing with a unique version of this scenario. Looking at our community, we asked ourselves: What happens to olim (immigrants) who make aliyah (move to Israel) at an advanced age? Many of these olim live on low, fixed incomes and have difficulty learning Hebrew well. Our congregation saw that these challenges limited new residents’ ability to take part in Israeli society and that, despite the passage of time, they continued to struggle with difficulties adjusting to life in Israel.

Between 2002 and 2003, a large wave of older immigrants from Argentina settled in Nahariya. Our congregation stepped up to the challenge of working with these olim, as well as with veteran immigrants, to provide them with support and the opportunity to participate in Jewish social and educational programs that they otherwise could not afford or understand. We’ve also embraced new and veteran English-speaking immigrants from across the religious spectrum. Read more…

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…

5 Ways To Welcome Them Home: Building Bridges Between Camp and Travel Programs and Your Synagogue

The young people in your congregation spent the summer volunteering, experiencing joyous Judaism at camp and Israel, and traveling the world. We want to help you to leverage their incredible enthusiasm by welcoming them home in ways that elevate and celebrate their summer.

Read more…

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 America, including nearly 900 synagogues and 1.5 million individuals.

Messinger was nominated by the Board’s Special Nominating Committee, and her nomination will be formally presented to the full Board of Trustees at the URJ Biennial 2015 in Orlando, FL, taking place November 4-8, 2015. She will succeed Stephen M. Sacks, of Washington, D.C., who will have served the maximum allowable four years as Chair.

Messinger has served on the URJ Board for 15 years and in Reform Movement affiliated organizations in a wide variety of roles. A dynamic leader with a track record of sustained involvement and success, she will be concluding service as chair of the Reform Pension Board, which serves Reform Movement professionals and has a total portfolio of more than $1.2 billion. 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.

Read more…

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…