Eight Ways Your Congregation Can Be More Welcoming for the High Holidays



The High Holidays are a special time in the Jewish calendar, a time when many unaffiliated Jews (those who are not members of a congregation) may feel the need to connect to the broader Jewish community. Even if they don’t attend synagogue throughout the year, the High Holidays may inspire these individuals and their families to find a congregation where they can attend services or special holiday programming.

There are several ways to leverage your congregation’s communications tools and human resources to make your synagogue more welcoming to unaffiliated Jews, especially leading up to the High Holidays. Read more…

NFTY in the early 2000s: Years of Change and Engagement



By Hope Chernak, RJE

The early 2000s provided many opportunities for teen voices and NFTY,the Reform Jewish Youth Movement initiatives to be implemented in the Reform movement. I joined the NFTY staff in 1999 and witnessed incredible moments during my eight years with NFTY’s teen leadership

The first time I saw firsthand how our teens could influence our Reform Movement was in 2001 when NFTY President Ashley Habas established teen task forces at Kutz Camp to work on NFTY programming. The topics covered globalization, teen issues, Israel, and life after NFTY (i.e., college life). The task forces presented the opinions of teens from across North America to the adult leadership of the Reform Movement, which impacted their decisions and shaped NFTY programming. At the same time, NFTY began to use online list servs; monitored by the regional officers, they collected the content to create a NFTY website which became a forum for all Temple Youth Groups to post and share resources. Read more…

An Update on “Stop the Sirens”



As you know, the conflict in Gaza has intensified. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Israeli soldiers killed in action, with our brothers and sisters in Israeli, and with all who are in danger.

When the conflict began, the Reform Movement made a decision to join Stop the Sirens, a community-wide campaign, coordinated by Jewish Federations of North American (JFNA), to provide relief and support to the most heavily impacted Israeli communities. We did this rather than creating our own campaign to support our Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) congregations and the vital work the IMPJ itself is doing because we thought it was important to show support for the larger communal effort.

The campaign has already allocated $8 million for “respite and relief.” Read more…

Colleagues, friends and family gather to remember Rabbi David J. Forman



By Terry Hendin

Some 65 people ranging in age from a few months to 95 years old gathered in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood on Monday, May 19, 2014 at the Kehilat HaDror Community Garden.  The Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood was the home to our colleague, mentor, teacher and friend, the late Rabbi David J. Forman. Rabbi Forman was the long time Director of NFTY in Israel programs who passed away in May, 2010.  A human rights activist, author, lecturer and gifted teacher, David’s memory is cherished not only by his loving extended family, including his wife Judy and daughters Tamar, Liat, Shira and Orly, but also by a devoted group of former classmates, colleagues and friends.

Forman Fund May 19, 2014 Activity Day

Rabbi Shaul Feinberg, Terry Hendin, and Rabbi Stuart Gellar join together for work in the garden.

The occasion was the 3rd Annual Activity Day organized by the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund based in Jerusalem.  The multi-generation friendly project included work at the garden, clearing the ground to lay a path, pruning trees, weeding, planting flowers and creating mosaic markers naming the various species growing in the garden. Rabbi Ezzie Ende, a former NFTY in Israel group leader and educator who now serves Kehilat HaDror lead us in a brief study related to the counting of the Omer, tying this in to the history of the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood and Rabbi Forman’s deep commitment to human rights, tolerance, democratic and Jewish values, youth and the nurturing of pluralistic communities. Some of those present briefly spoke about social justice projects they are involved in.  This was very much in the spirit of Rabbi Forman who always was involved in social justice and human rights initiatives.

Throughout the year, this area is used by the school and general community and particularly by members of Kiryat Hayovel’s fledgling Reform congregation, Kehilat HaDror which began as an offshoot of the veteran congregation, Kehilat Kol HaNeshama.  Kabbalat Shabbat, holiday services and activities take place here during mild weather.  Summertime movie nights, children’s birthday parties and hands on environmental education all occur in this charming ‘pocket’ garden in a neighborhood whose population is for the most part invested in preserving a balanced well-integrated pluralistic community.

Four generations of the Forman-Haberman family were present and 3 generations of Rabbi Forman’s friends and colleagues many of whom had been or continue to be professionally affiliated with NFTY and NFTY in Israel.

Courtesy of the family of Rabbi David Forman

Courtesy of the family of Rabbi David Forman

The Rabbi David J. Forman Fund was established to perpetuate the legacy of David’s Jewish social activism, leadership in Jewish education, promotion of justice as a rabbinical vision, and the need to work indefatigably and without illusion for peace, justice, and human rights.  The Fund is devoted to activities that demonstrate a passion for the Zionist enterprise, helping to build a more just Israeli society, and the enhancement of Jewish Peoplehood.   The annual Activity Day, Human Rights Awards and Scholarships are some of the areas sponsored by the fund. For more information about the Rabbi David J. Forman Fund email: rabbiformanfund@gmail.com

The Walkman Generation – NFTY in the ‘80s



By Rabbi Roxanne J. Schneider Shapiro

More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath; the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people. – Ahad Ha’am

When I reflect on NFTY in the ‘80s, I would revise Ha’am’s quote to:

More than Reform Jewish teenagers have kept NFTY; NFTY has kept Reform Jewish teenagers.

I cannot speak for all who were involved in NFTY in the ‘80s, but for me, NFTY was a holy sanctuary – it was what I would refer to as a beit midrash (house of study), beit t’filah (house of prayer), and a beit k’neset (house of meeting), all in one.

Teens in the ‘80s were learning about Judaism ‘on the go.’ We were the “Walkman generation.” Finally, we could take music with us. This represented more than just music on the go ― for us it was the beginning of portable Judaism. I practiced for my bat mitzvah service with a cassette tape in my Walkman. I could play my tapes of NFTY I, II, III, IV, V, and my MoVFTY mix tapes over and over in the car, on a walk, and at NFTY events. Our music and our experiences were not limited to places where a music box could be plugged in; rather, they were everywhere. We were learning that Judaism was not limited to our homes and synagogues―it could be taken with us. Read more…

Saperstein: Recent Spate of Anti-Semitic Incidents Prompts Alarm



In response to recent anti-Semitic episodes in Los Angeles and Paris, as well as incidents across the United States and Europe, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

“We are deeply disturbed by the recent violent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel uprisings. Over the weekend, rioters, wielding bats and chairs, tried to break into the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Paris while worshippers were blocked inside. In Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood, a peaceful demonstration was violently disrupted by agitators, leading to shots being fired. In Frankfurt, a local synagogue was attacked as an anti-Israel rally turned violent. In Bastille Square, demonstrators held signs that read ‘Death to Jews.’ Read more…

Men of Reform Judaism Announces New Strategic Plan



The Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ) met recently in New Orleans for their annual convention where they announced significant organizational changes to better advocate for and support compelling strategies to engage and connect the men of Reform Judaism. MRJ is the affiliate organization of the Union for Reform Judaism that is focused on connecting and engaging men in Reform Jewish life.

MRJ President Stuart L. Leviton of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA, says,

“While honoring and preserving the legacy of Brotherhoods and the men who have sustained MRJ throughout the past 90 years, MRJ has embarked on an exciting new phase. Working in greater alignment with the URJ, we will now be more seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the Reform Movement and will be better equipped to engage men in the real issues they face in Jewish life across North America. Read more…

NFTY Alumni Profile: Marilyn Suzanne Miller



Marilyn Suzanne Miller (PAFTY ’67) describes her time in NFTY with an incredible sense of pride: “We were the center of the baby boomers – we came from the guitar playing at services – the Peter, Paul, and Mary graduates.” It’s no surprise that many of the peers she mentioned have since found themselves active, activists even, in the movement. It was the norm during this era in NFTY to arrive at a conclave and hear about a friend’s brother who was on his way to Selma, AL to march in the street. Her peers are the rabbis, writers, and leaders of the movement because, as she describes it, this was a time when NFTY “taught you to be assertively Jewish – to like, to be proud, to LOVE that you were Jewish.”

Saturday Night Live - Season 4 Gallery

PHOTO BY NBC/NBCU PHOTO BANK VIA GETTY IMAGES

After attending the University of Michigan, Marilyn set out into the world of show business. With a start writing on the Mary Tyler Moore show, she began to learn the industry working on several other shows. Then she got the call from Lorne Michaels asking her to join the writing staff of a new show he was starting: Saturday Night Live. Marilyn remembers working in TV at a time when “the Jewish girl was considered the less pretty girl.” A time when there was no Jewish culture in the United States’ vernacular and the stereotype around Jewish women was to be the sidekick’s sidekick. “Gilda (Radner) and I were intent on that not being the case.”

It wasn’t all laughs for this Saturday Night Live writer. In NFTY, “we were the politicized but aggressively Jewish group… It was difficult to put your eyes only on Jewish issues.” Society was changing all around them, and now in a new industry, Miller had the opportunity to put a new vision on the screens, and into the homes, of the American public. It was the “same kind of social movement that we were a part of in NFTY that we applied to changing stereotypes. Here we are on the air!  Judaism did not happen on TV. We were assertively Jewish in ways that I am very proud of.”

With a strong Jewish presence on the writing and acting staff, SNL never shied away from featuring Jewish culture, often using character traits of family members and friends as the basis of characters and sketches.  Hanukkah was featured right next to Christmas in the first seasons, the Royal Delux II commercial parody even showcased a mohel.

On and off the air, Miller found a place for her Jewish identity. One Passover during the early years of SNL, Miller remembers everyone was still in the studio hard at work. There was no time for everyone to head back to their families for Seder so she suggested they host their own Seder. Pulling together Maxwell House haggadot, orders from several different delis, and all of the Jewish cast and crew hanging out on the studio floor, they held a Seder. Paul Shaffer took the lead and Lorne Michaels even had matchbooks printed up for the occasion: Paul Shaffer’s Celebrity Seder!

Miller left the SNL writing team after a few years and pursued other projects, but as many do, she returned in later years, finding a new SNL community to call family. Her writing success led to many awards and even an invitation to write the Clintons’ sketch for the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner with Al Franken.

Miller’s strong Jewish identity started with her Sephardic family and a small synagogue outside of Pittsburgh, but it was through PAFTY weekends and weeks at NFTY institutes at Kutz Camp that her drive and assertive Judaism took hold – and that is something she is proud of to this day.

The Century Ends: NFTY Music of the 90s



by Cantor Rosalie Boxt

Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong decade. I have often wondered what it would have been like to be a songleader with my mentors, my friends, and my “heroes” in the 70s. Yet, as I reflect back on the time when I was a young songleader, during the years when I was in the thick of camp songleading, I see the 90s as the most extraordinary time to have been a part of NFTY – the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and Jewish music. At Goldman Union Camp I learned everything there was to know about songleading from the greats of community singing ― Dan Nichols, Ken Chasen, Andy Vogel, Dave Snyder. When I left there to join the leadership team of Kutz Camp in 1995, I had no idea of the scope and breadth of Jewish music. In the mid and late 90s, as a songleader at Kutz, I first became aware of the diverse and extensive camp and regional musical traditions. Before that I thought the Midwest was all there was! What became clear to me at Kutz in the 90s was that there was an entire canon of NFTY music ― a repertoire that spanned the miles and borders of state and region, of accent and weather. And yet there was also music that was specific to each region, each songleader, each camp’s particular passion in text or music.

Read more…

6 Ways URJ Camps are Leading the Way in Jewish Camping



The Forward recently shared “Jewish Camp Trend-Spotting: 10 Ways a Summer Ritual Is Changing,” detailing how the world of Jewish camping is evolving – and the Reform Jewish Movement’s 15 summer camps are leading the way! Here are a few ways URJ Camps are on the cutting edge:

  1. Specialized Programs: Specialty camps allow us to expand our geographic and programmatic reach to cohorts of young people who otherwise would be unlikely to enroll in Jewish camp.
  • Ours is the only Jewish camping system that received funding in both rounds of the Specialty Camps Incubator program. An initiative of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the AVI CHAI Foundation, these grants support the creation of new specialty camps to engage more children in the Jewish camp experience.
  • At URJ 6 Points Sports Academy (NC), Jewish athletes participate in top-level sports training in a Reform Jewish camp setting. This year’s registration was the highest in the camp’s five-year history.

Read more…

Mother and Daughter Reflect on Going to Kutz



by Julie Hollander Eichelbaum and Emma Eichelbaum

As the URJ Kutz Camp enters its 50th year, campers emerge as members of a vast network of Kutz alumni. For a select few of those campers, the alumni network includes their parents, also products of NFTY’s campus for Reform Jewish teens. Emma Eichelbaum (Kutz ’12-‘14) and her mom Julie Hollander Eichelbaum (Kutz ’80 and ’81) are quintessential examples of generational involvement in NFTY, URJ Camps, and Reform Jewish Life. Following are some cross-generational reflections of Emma and Julie, and their thoughts on growing as leaders at Kutz.

Emma: Being a second-generation camper at the URJ Kutz Camp is different from being a second-generation camper at any other URJ camp. It wasn’t our parents or its geographic location that brought me or my mom to Kutz, but our involvement in Reform Jewish leadership. My mother went to Kutz in 1980 as a leader of her Temple Youth Group, and again in 1981 as a member of the NFTY Social Action Network. The Program Room still features a picture of her with her fellow Kutz Campers, displayed prominently for the camp community to see. I was elected to my regional board as a high school junior and had my first experience at Kutz as a participant at Mechina, NFTY’s regional leadership preparation event. It was there, with the rest of the NFTY General Board, that I first saw my then-17-year-old mother smiling in that picture, giving me a connection to this new camp and youth group experience. No matter the board position, for both of us Kutz was a camping match made in heaven. Read more…

WUPJ Statement on the Arrest of Six Suspects in Connection with Murder of Palestinian Teen



The following statement comes from leaders of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, in response to news of the arrest of six individuals in conjunction with the murder of a Palestinian teenager:

Six suspects, members of a Jewish extremist cell according to the Shin Bet security agency, were arrested Sunday in connection with the horrific murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. His burned body was found in the Jerusalem forest on Wednesday morning. The World Union for Progressive Judaism joins the Israeli government and all people of conscience the world over in condemning this ghastly act.

Now, as is the case with any democracy, Israel has the opportunity to prove that justice is blind and that extremism and vigilantism has no place in an enlightened society. Read more…

NFTY in the 90s



by Rabbi Eve Rudin

CAFTY, CFTY, CNYFTY, CRaFTY, JFTY, LIFTY, MAFTY, MoVFTY, MSTY, NEFTY, NELFTY, NOFTY, OVFTY, PAFTY, SCFTY, SEFTY, SOFTY, SWFTY, TOFTY, WEFTY, WESTY.

Those are the names of the 21 NFTY Regions I grew up with in the 80s. And, yes, we used to have contests to see who could recite them the fastest. When I was active on the North American level, I knew what each “–FTY” stood for.

But there was a problem. There’s a saying in Hebrew, hu meiveen yaveen (he who understands understands), and in this case, only an elite few knew that all 21 regions were actually all part of one organization―a Movement. Stories would pour into the NFTY office about people who would meet on college campuses and say, for example, “I grew up in MSTY” or “I grew up in CRaFTY.” While they would “kinda sorta” figure out that they were similar groups, it was never explicitly clear that they were, in fact, part of the same Youth Movement, one with a shared mission, vision, and set of core values. Read more…

Reform Jewish Movement Mourns the Deaths of Murdered Israeli Teens



News broke a few hours ago that Israeli officials had discovered the bodies of missing Israeli teens Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach. Our hearts are broken by this devastating development.

Reform Movement voices from around the world have expressed their sadness at today’s news. To read statements from various entities within our Movement, click on the links below:

Jewish poet Alden Solovy wrote a powerful, painful Yizkor prayer titled “They Were Boys,” which congregations and Jewish communities may want to recite together this Shabbat in addition to Kaddish.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three murdered teenagers and with all who yearn for peace. Zichronam l’ivracha — may their memories be for a blessing.