Mining Diamonds in the Land of Milk and Honey



By Anat Hoffman

Israel is not rich in natural resources: no oil ($50/barrel) or diamonds ($10,000/karat); only milk ($3.80/gallon) and honey ($10/16-ounces).

This means that human resources are our biggest asset. Israeli men and women are who stand between Israel and its enemies, and who can transform dessert into fertile land. Every Israeli is essential in the effort to meet our country’s many challenges. How then can Israel allow itself to silence, segregate, ignore, and discriminate against more than half (51%) of its human resources – Israeli women? Read more…

At URJ Camp Harlam, Creating a Community that Supports Everyone



by Cori Miller

I recently heard about a beautiful woman who was known for, well, being beautiful. She was accustomed to being stared at and was repeatedly told, by strangers and loved ones alike, just how beautiful she was. While flattering, this constant focus on her appearance left her feeling judged solely on her looks, with no one seeing past her beauty to learn about her intelligence, her experiences, or her other contributions to society.

As the woman grew older, she continued to receive acknowledgments of her beauty, but they were less frequent and less intrusive – until she developed ALS and was confined to a wheelchair. As in her youth, people stared at her – and as in her youth, it didn’t feel good. No one saw past her disability to learn about her intelligence, her experiences, or her true contributions to society.

With some disabilities, visibility can, at times, be valuable as a means to increase awareness and prompt important discussions about disabilities and inclusion. However, we have to be able to see past the disability to learn about the person behind it. We must learn to see disabilities as just one part of an individual’s identity without letting the disability define who she is or what she can do. Read more…

How PJ Library® Helped Our Congregation Engage Families with Young Children



by Marilyn E. Gootman

Congregation Children of Israel is a 150-family congregation in Athens, GA. As a small congregation, we were looking for creative ways to welcome and engage families with young children, one of our target membership demographics. The answer came in the form of PJ Library®, which enables us to offer book subscriptions to local families raising Jewish children ages six months to 8 years.

Our congregation joined the program in 2007, and it has been a huge success. The fact that we could now offer something to families with young children at no charge and with no strings attached proved to be an offer too good to refuse. Within a year and a half, our young family memberships grew by 66%, and ever since, young families have consistently represented a sizable percentage of our new members. At the same time, community members have grown to appreciate our success in engaging young families, and “PJ parents” have gone on to become congregational leaders, improving the overall congregational attitude toward young families.

Of course, joining the initiative didn’t come without challenges. The first was obtaining financial support to fund our congregation’s participation. As the synagogue’s PJ Library® coordinator, I approached congregants, non-members, the sisterhood, and the rabbi for donations; the Harold Grinspoon Foundation matched the funds we received. Although fundraising is still an ongoing challenge, it has gotten easier since our congregation received a PJ Library®-URJ-WRJ Partnership Grant – but more on that later. Read more…

Striving for a Self-Determined Quality of Jewish Life for Jews with Disabilities



by Shelly Christensen

“There comes a moment when you realize that what you’re advocating for is more than just accommodations. You’re really advocating for someone’s quality of life. That’s the moment you realize you won’t give up.” (Dyslexia Training Institute)

Sometimes Facebook produces surprises, like this quote I recently found while scrolling mindlessly through my news feed. These words, from the Dyslexia Training Institute, gave expression to the significance of the seventh annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) in February.

In 2009, the Jewish Special Education International Consortium held the first Jewish Disability Awareness Month in a handful of communities in the United States. Our intent was to elevate awareness that Jewish institutions were not providing meaningful Jewish experiences to Jews with disabilities. We saw JDAM as a way to come together to deliver a common message to our own community that there are indeed Jews who have disabilities, and many of them are invisible in Jewish life because of those disabilities.

Today, JDAM is recognized in Jewish communities across North America, as well as in Britain and Israel. The JDAM logo, a Magen David of intertwined blue and gold ribbons, illustrates how the inclusion of people who have disabilities must be woven into all aspects of Jewish life. Read more…

10 Ways to Celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness Month in Your Synagogue



With the start of February, so too begins Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Of course, there is nothing uniquely Jewish about disabilities, nor is there a greater need for inclusion in February than in any other month. So why observe Jewish Disability Awareness Month 2015 this February?

We encourage Reform congregations to observe and participate in this important, Jewish community-wide initiative because it is Jewish to cherish each and every life; it is Jewish to create communities where each person and family is able to learn, pray, find friends, feel a sense of belonging, and reach their full potential; it is Jewish to dispel prejudices and misconceptions that contribute to isolation, underemployment, and lack of human rights. When Reform congregations observe Jewish Disability Awareness Month together in February, we join with other Jews across North America to make February a month to rededicate ourselves to creating a truly inclusive Jewish community.

In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, we at the URJ offer a few suggestions to help congregations adopt further awareness and understanding of disabilities. Please feel free to adapt these ideas in ways that fit the needs and culture of your own community – and let us know what your congregation does that might be missing from our list! Read more…

This Month in The Tent: Planting Seeds for the Future



As Tu BiSh’vat approaches, The Tent, the Reform Movement’s communication and collaboration platform, offers resources to help you plant seeds that will bear fruit long into the future, enriching your congregation and the Jewish world.

  1. Engage young adults. Although young adults are the future of Jewish life, engaging them in congregational life can be a challenge. Our interactive, comprehensive resource guide, Strengthening Congregations: Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement, includes best principles of young adult engagement and a workbook with links to webinars and additional resources. With these tools, you can begin to engage young adults in your congregation!
  2. Program for young families. Engaging young families will strengthen your congregation today and for years to come, and Tu BiSh’vat provides opportunities to offer family-friendly activities to attract those seeking a sacred community. This review and discussion guide for The Apple Tree’s Discovery offers creative ways to engage kids and their parents in learning about Tu BiSh’vat.
  3. Learn fundraising essentials from the experts. Financial stability helps ensure strong congregations – now and for future generations. Tune into this webinar, The Best Principles of Development, to hear from Naomi Levine, Executive Director, and Richard Brown, Visiting Clinical Professor, at New York University’s George H. Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising, about ways to create a culture of philanthropy and execute a successful development strategy in your congregation.
  4. Make the most of The Tent. Register for an upcoming 30-minute TentTalk webinar – offered on Tuesday, February 17th or Thursday, February 19th – to learn the basics, as well as tips and tricks for using this powerful, collaborative tool. With access to information, resources, and experts on a wide array of topics and issues focused on synagogue life, you and your congregation will benefit today and for years to come. Don’t worry if you can’t make either session; all webinars will be recorded and archived online.

Death of Alberto Nisman: Justice Must Not be Delayed or Denied



The World Union for Progressive Judaism issued the following statement about news of the death of Alberto Nisman:

The World Union for Progressive Judaism joins the leadership of our Latin America region (WUPJ-LA) in expressing shock and horror as we learned the news of the death of Alberto Nisman, lead prosecutor in the search for the truth behind the bombing of the AMIA (Jewish Community Center) building in Bueno Aires over 10 years ago, which resulted in the death of 85 innocent victims and hundreds of individuals who suffered grave injury.  We stand with the Jewish community in Latin America in demanding a complete examination of the cause of his death. Read more…

Echoing Through the Generations: The Story of Sylvester Marx



On Sunday, June 6, 1915, Sylvester Marx was confirmed at The Temple–Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, OH, marking the culmination of the young man’s Jewish education. A special reception followed, and the entire congregation joined in celebrating Sylvester and his fellow confirmands on that beautiful spring day. Read more…

Building a New Model of Political Leadership: How Rabbi Stephanie Kolin Changed Our Community



by Steven Windmueller

With the announcement this week of the appointment of Rabbi Stephanie Kolin to the position of Associate Rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City, the progressive Jewish community has the opportunity to celebrate the evolution of Just Congregations, including its creation of Reform California, and the defining role played by its extraordinary leader, Rabbi Kolin.

The storyline here is not only about how one person can affect change but also of how a movement can be created, nurtured, and led by an inspiring leader.

In examining the rise of Reform CA as a new political force within this state, we can explore the impact of what religious leadership can mean in a 21st-century context. Rabbi Kolin, with her knowledge of community organizing, her Jewish prophetic passion, and an extraordinary degree of personal energy and integrity, also brought to the table a leadership style that empowered her colleagues and in turn engaged their congregational leaders.

For Rabbi Kolin, this was as much about “team” as it was about mission. From the outset, she framed the entire cause for building a new model of social engagement around the collective will, insights, and commitment of her partners. The team evolved, not only in terms of numbers but through a maturation process of shared learning. Several principles framed this enterprise: to organize, empower, and invest the collective energies and resources of our community in growing our political resources and connections in order to build partnerships and alliances with other state-wide actors. The outcome was to achieve a new vision of what California could be by taking the political steps to change the status quo. Read more…

Today Matters: Make It Count



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

“This is the day that the Lord has made – let us exult and rejoice on it.” -Psalms 118:24

During the years I taught Jewish history on our Movement’s NFTY-EIE high school semester abroad program, at the end of each semester I would ask my students this question: “What are the top five most important moments or dates in Jewish history?” With great consistency they would cite similar moments―the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the unification of Jerusalem as our fledgling nation’s capital under King David, the destruction of the Second Temple on the 9tn of Av 70 CE, and, in a jump to modernity, the outbreak of WWII and the establishment of the State of Israel. Those 10th-12th graders were always eager to “pass the test” and prove that they had a solid grasp on the 4,000 years of history we’d covered in a relatively short period. Read more…

Headlines from NFTY’s 75th Year



by The NFTY North American Board 

As NFTY’s 75th year comes to a close, we find our Movement at a crucial moment in time. While we honor our rich history, we also look toward our vibrant future with much anticipation, joy, and excitement. This year it has been our privilege to serve as the leaders of NFTY, and we want to share and celebrate ten important headlines from NFTY’s 75th year.  Read more…

What do Robotics Have to do With Israel and Judaism?



The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

What do robots have to do with Israel and Judaism? This was the question that twelve third and fourth grade students set out to answer this fall. This experimental robotics chug (elective) was part of a larger initiative to infuse the education program at Temple Shalom of Newton – called SHACHARIT – with offerings designed to examine modern innovations through the lens of Jewish tradition. Read more…

Values in Action: A Service-Learning Program for Teens



The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

Imagine a community service program for Jewish teens. To be fair, that is not such a stretch of the imagination. Now, however, imagine a community service program for Jewish teens that does not once teach about, or let alone mention, Tikkun Olam. This does require us to stretch our imaginations just a bit. Right now you are probably thinking to yourself, or asking out loud, “But Rabbi, how in the world can you have a Reform Jewish teen community service program without ever talking about Tikkun Olam?” The answer is simple: Teach teens an even broader scope of Jewish values which they can bring to life through their actions. That is just what we have done at Temple Har Shalom in Warren, NJ. Read more…

Youth Engagement in the Jewish Day School Recording Studio



The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

The Alfred & Adele Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School, just released our 2nd album of original Jewish music. Called, A Palace in Time, the album features 18 original musical compositions written by the school’s rabbi, Micah Lapidus, and performed by Davis Academy Middle School students and faculty. The album booklet contains 18 beautiful pieces of original Jewish art created by Davis Academy Middle School students. Read more…