by Frieda Hershman Huberman
Vacation enables us to reflect, rejuvenate, recharge our batteries, and look at life from a fresh perspective – and sometimes, it’s the actual vacation experience itself that becomes a learning opportunity. While on a short getaway this summer, I gleaned new insights on audacious hospitality, one of the Reform Movement’s top priorities.
In all our interactions with members and seekers, let us be mindful that change is difficult, words matter, unintended messages can be harmful, and the human, personal touch is invaluable.
Whether the JCPOA is approved or defeated, there will be a day after. It is essential that this debate not be allowed to create a lasting rift between Israel and the U.S., between North American Jews and Israelis, or among American Jews.
Following extensive consultations with experts from across the political spectrum in both the United States and Israel, and thoughtful conversation with North American Reform Jewish leaders, the Reform Jewish Movement today issued a leadership statement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The statement – released today by the leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and ARZA – concludes that “there is simply no clarity that would support taking a position ‘for’ or ‘against’ the JCPOA itself.” Rather, the statement emphasizes, “Our focus must be on two questions: First, how is it possible to address our concerns about the JCPOA? Second, if the agreement is finalized, what happens the day after? Specifically, how can we work to support the strongest possible U.S.-Israel relationship going forward?”
Looking toward the “day after,” the leadership statement noted that “Whether the JCPOA is approved or defeated, there will be a day after. It is essential that this debate not be allowed to create a lasting rift between Israel and the U.S., between North American Jews and Israelis, or among American Jews.”
The statement also addressed the tone of the debate, saying “We call upon the Israeli leadership, the U.S. Administration and members of Congress, and those on all sides of this debate to tamp down their rhetoric. If the debate is allowed to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance, or further sharpen partisan divides over what it means to be ‘pro-Israel,’ Israel will be less secure.”
The full statement follows.
NEW YORK, NY, August 19, 2015 — Our tradition teaches us never to wage war without first seeking vigorously the possibility of peace (Deut. 20:10). In that spirit, we applaud the diplomatic efforts of the Obama Administration to keep Iran from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons. We thank President Obama for his commitment to diplomacy, and we express our gratitude to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for keeping the world focused on the danger posed by Iran.
The end product of the Administration’s diplomatic efforts – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – is challenging to analyze. Some argue that it offers the most promising path forward to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. Others argue that while the agreement has serious flaws, the consequences of rejecting it create far more perils and damage than implementing it would. Still others argue that it does not do enough to prevent and/or contain the danger that a nuclear Iran would pose. We recognize that these arguments have merit: The JCPOA does present a way forward, there are real dangers to rejecting it, and it does not foreclose Iran’s ability to become a nuclear weapons threshold state.
The Reform Movement is large and diverse. Within the Movement, reasonable people — patriotic Americans and passionate Zionists — have expressed different and valid positions on this agreement, articulating the many arguments made by others as well.
Our focus must be on two questions: First, how is it possible to address our concerns about the JCPOA? Second, if the agreement is finalized, what happens the day after? Specifically, how can we work to support the strongest possible U.S.-Israel relationship going forward?
At this time, there is no unity of opinion among the Reform Movement leadership – lay and rabbinic alike – just as there is not unity among our membership as to the JCPOA itself; but there is unity as to the important questions and concerns we pose in this statement. Thus, there is simply no clarity that would support taking a position “for” or “against” the JCPOA itself.
The Vital Strategic Importance of the U.S.-Israel Alliance
The U.S.-Israel relationship is of historic and strategic importance. It is based on shared values and common concerns. The health of that relationship must never be jeopardized or allowed to become a partisan political issue. Now, more than ever, it is critical to solidify the unique relationship between the U.S. and Israel. The words of Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin ring in our ears: “There are three tenets to Israeli foreign policy, which are the strategic alliance with the United States, the strategic alliance with the United States, and the strategic alliance with the United States.”
We are deeply concerned about the tension, and the harsh rhetoric, in the discourse between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. We fervently hope that both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will take concrete steps, transcending politics, to repair the rifts that impede this relationship between longstanding and essential allies. We say this sincerely believing that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are fully committed to the unique U.S.-Israel relationship and with appreciation for the President’s many efforts to support Israel.
It is important to emphasize that as American Jews, we are concerned about this agreement not only as Jews, but also as Americans. Iran’s regime poses a serious security threat to the people and nations of the region who continue to suffer from Iran’s support for violence and terror, including the State of Israel.
We have had numerous conversations with and briefings from experts on global security and diplomacy, military experts from the U.S. and Israel, Republican and Democratic elected officials, and Israeli political leaders from the left, center, and right. Those extensive consultations leave us with five principal areas of concern: deterrence, Iran’s support of terror, inspections, human rights and religious freedom, and the United States’ standing in the world.
Deterrence: We call on President Obama to issue an unequivocal statement that at no point will the U.S. accept a nuclear-armed Iran. The Administration must state clearly that in the short term, and more importantly, 15 years from now when key provisions of the JCPOA expire, the U.S. will take no option off the table when it comes to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability. We also call on the U.S. to provide Israel with the support necessary, including advanced weaponry and the means to deliver it, to further deter Iran, protect Israel’s security, and maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. This could take the form of a new defense alliance between the U.S. and Israel similar to NATO. These steps are necessary both because of the prospect of Iran developing or obtaining nuclear weapons, and the possibility of increased military activity in the region, which is an inherent and likely consequence of the inevitable lifting of sanctions that any agreement containing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would entail.
Iran’s Support of Terror: Iran’s longstanding and persistent threats against Israel, the U.S. and others, as well as its record of support for international terror organizations including Hamas and Hezbollah, are not addressed by this agreement. We urge the Administration to work with our European allies to ensure that harsh international sanctions will be adopted if Iran leverages its newfound resources to further fund terror activity. The U.S. should also commit to leading a broader international effort designed to eliminate Iran’s support of international terror.
Inspections: We share those grave concerns that arise out of the fact that Iran’s nuclear sites are currently closed to international inspection and that, even if approved, Iran may violate key provisions of the agreement thwarting inspections. Thus we call upon the Administration to commit to imposing significant additional consequences if Iran challenges the inspections regime, in addition to the “snap back” sanctions that will be imposed on Iran should it violate key provisions of the JCPOA. Doing so will ensure that Iran recognizes that there will be penalties for any violations of the agreement, even if claimed to be “minor.”
Human Rights and Religious Freedom: Iran remains one of the world’s great violators of human rights and religious freedom. The Administration has committed to keeping the sanctions related to human rights fully intact after this agreement and must further commit to marshaling international pressure on Iran to make improvements in expanding human rights, religious freedom and the development of democratic structures.
The United States’ Standing in the World: After years leading negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, U.S. credibility on the world stage and/or in the Middle East has been weakened in recent months as the American political process has unfolded. It is critical that the U.S. maintain leverage to address future international challenges in a manner that protects and advances national interests and especially promotes peace in the Middle East. We recognize that the broad international sanctions currently imposed on Iran, and which played a key role bringing Iran to the negotiating table, are in the process of collapsing with the U.N. Security Council, the Russians, Chinese, and certain Europeans moving to lift their sanctions even as we speak today. The U.S. influence and support of Israel is crucial to maintain peace in the Middle East and a safe Israel.
The Day After
Whether the JCPOA is approved or defeated, there will be a day after.
It is essential that this debate not be allowed to create a lasting rift between Israel and the U.S., between North American Jews and Israelis, or among American Jews. We are concerned, as well, with the possibility that some will use the debate as fuel for anti-Semitic views.
We call upon the Israeli leadership, the U.S. Administration and members of Congress, and those on all sides of this debate to tamp down their rhetoric. If the debate is allowed to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance, or further sharpen partisan divides over what it means to be “pro-Israel,” Israel will be less secure. And on the day after the vote, as on the day before, Israel will need the United States’ continued military and political support, bilaterally, in the United Nations, and more broadly on the world stage.
The Need for Civility and Open Debate
Our Movement believes in vigorous debate. But that discourse must be civil and constructive, which has too often not been the case. There must be an open and welcoming tent as we continue to debate not only the future of this agreement, but also the very nature of what it means to be pro-Israel. Our Movement is deeply pro-Israel, though we express that core conviction in many different ways. No one should be compelled to defend his or her Zionism or support for Israel as we express legitimate views, both pro and con, about this most difficult issue.
When our people gather in a little less than a month for the High Holy Days, members who support the deal will pray alongside those who do not. If the harsh judgments and rhetoric continue between Washington and Jerusalem – and within our American Jewish community – we will be deprived of a deep commonality that binds our people together. Calling those who oppose the deal “war mongers” shuts shown constructive debate; calling those who support the deal “enablers of a second Holocaust” ends thoughtful discourse.
With such significant stakes, thoughtful debate is not only warranted but also essential. That is what our tradition calls a machloket l’shem shamayim, “a debate for the sake of heaven.”
We offer these thoughts with the words of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) echoing in our hearts and in our minds: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
These coming weeks provide the Administration with an opportunity to address the JCPOA’s serious limitations, and for all parties to this discussion – the Administration, members of Congress and the opponents of the deal in the United States and Israel – to establish a tone of civility and respect on these critical matters.
As always, we pray for peace. We pray that 5776 and the years to follow are a time of peace for all people.
Union for Reform Judaism: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, and Steve Sacks, Chair of the Board
Central Conference of American Rabbis: Rabbi Denise L. Eger, President, and Rabbi Steve Fox, CEO
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director, and Jennifer Kaufman, Chair, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Association of Reform Zionists of America: Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, President, and Rabbi Bennett Miller, Chair
Two weeks ago, I joined the URJ as its inaugural vice president of audacious hospitality. Upon hearing my job title, people immediately inquire about the meaning of “audacious hospitality.” It is a bold, new, and multi-faceted URJ initiative that encompasses some of our tradition’s most treasured values – lovingkindness, respect, and tikkun olam (repair of our world). It is all about putting the ideas of diversity, outreach and inclusion into action – in a framework that addresses both today’s Jewish communal needs and our highest aspirations.
The values we endeavor to champion through audacious hospitality are powerfully and beautifully captured in this dynamic ELI Talk by Pam Schuller, the NFTY GER Regional Director and URJ Youth Programs Inclusion Specialist. By honestly and openly sharing the challenges she’s encountered in her own journey, Pam eloquently articulates an important, nuanced understanding and call to action around disability inclusion. Indeed, Pam’s compelling – and humorously punctuated – personal narrative speaks to the heart of audacious hospitality, and we are fortunate to count her among our ranks.
As I begin my tenure with the URJ, I am hopeful that together our efforts will ensure that Reform Judaism – throughout North America and around the world – will realize its full capacity for spiritual and social empowerment. In time, our initiatives will not only exemplify and reflect audacious hospitality, but also clearly demonstrate its powerful effect.
Audacious hospitality is a work in progress, and there is much yet to discover and cultivate. For today, Pam’s talk is a fine example of our ability to uphold the highest standards of inclusion, and fully integrate everyone into all facets of Jewish communal life. Moving forward, I am eager to work with you, my URJ colleagues, and our partners to refine our vision of audacious hospitality and, together, to implement that vision.
April Baskin will be a featured speaker at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. With 5,000 attendees from around the world, the Biennial is the largest Jewish gathering in North America. Learn more and register at urj.org/biennial.
A sweet new year begins with audacious hospitality, making sure everyone feels welcome in the Jewish community. As part of High Holiday preparation, congregations can take a number of simple steps to help create an accessible and sacred space for people of all abilities so that everyone can fully participate.
We all share the goal of creating communities in which all worshipers feel needed, welcomed, and able to participate, not just at the High Holidays but all year long. These suggestions share approaches that people with disabilities, their families, and their congregations have found effective and respectful. Share your own tips in the comments section!
For more information, visit the URJ-Ruderman Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center.
Every new parent understands the pressure and stress associated with finding the best ways to create a rich and fulfilling future for their children. Faced with societal expectations, money constraints, and more programmatic opportunities than ever for their young ones, Jewish life may not always make it to the top of the priority list.
As a part of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Communities of Practice work, we’re partnering with congregations (both those with and without preschools) to further and more effectively engage families with young children in congregational life. The full results of this work can be found in a new resource, Engaging Families with Young Children. Here’s a look at some of the best principles:
Looking for more ways to engage families with young children? The URJ’s new publication, Engaging Families with Young Children, expands on all of the points here and offers five more, as well as a number of additional ideas, resources, and examples from congregations across North America.
Engaging Families with Young Children is one in a series of three publications that helps leaders strengthen their congregations by offering best principles and a range of resources. The others are Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement and Reimagining Financial Support for Your 21st Century Congregation.
Elizabeth Leff, the URJ’s 2015 Strengthening Congregations CLIP Intern, also contributed significantly to this post.
Allison Fine, past president of Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, N.Y., is the co-author of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change (with Beth Kanter); author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age; and, most recently, author of Matterness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World.
You have said that synagogues need to do things differently than in the past in order to retain and attract members.
Congregational leaders need to rethink the decades-old model of synagogues as top-down hierarchies churning out life-cycle events and programs for their membership. Synagogues are overflowing with wonderful people, but the structure – and, therefore by definition the processes and systems – demand caution and control. In this risk aversive environment, congregations suffocate creativity and lose opportunities to experiment with new ways to engage their communities.
Synagogues also tend to be very busy places, with people rushing around to get out the newsletter, organize the next event, and send donation thank-you letters. But in all this busyness, congregants become little more than dues-paying, High Holiday-going, b’nai mitzvah-getting consumers. In this model, leaders lose sight of the passions, fears, struggles, and gifts of each individual congregant.
I call this the loss of “matterness.” When people feel like they are just one more of anything in a system, it is personally devastating. That is not a sustainable model for a synagogue.
How did “loss of matterness” manifest itself when you were a temple president?
Beneath every complaint I received – “No one called when I was sick,” “My bill is wrong,” “The event I organized wasn’t listed in the announcements” – was the individual’s sense that he or she didn’t matter to the synagogue, that if they disappeared from the temple today, no one would care.
How can synagogues make people feel they matter?
They need to move to a networked model to create a more authentic and fulfilling engagement between leaders and congregants – as well as between congregants. Networks are flat and open. Information flows freely, and people do what they do best, which is to talk, share, and connect with like-minded people. In this environment, individuals self-organize, shape their situations, and give generously of both their time and money. When they believe they matter, they also will be openhearted in contributing their artistry.
In short, networks are the opposite of top-down hierarchical institutions.
You have said that all social networks are powered by conversation. How so?
If you think about it, all social media tools are vehicles for conversations. That’s how humans have always connected, shared, and built relationships. Videos that go viral are stories that strike us as particularly funny or sad or moving. Facebook and Twitter messages are parts of larger, ongoing conversations about what matters to us. Sometimes they are poignant, such as a friend’s announcement on Facebook that she just completed her last chemotherapy treatment. Sometimes they are inane – but, then, sometimes life is inane too.
This conversational way of working should be a natural for synagogues – we like talking a lot! To succeed, however, organizational leaders need to give up control of the message and get over the assumption that they are supposed to have answers.
Congregants are our best problem solvers. They know far better than staff, clergy, or lay leadership what they want and why. The job of leadership is to be “in conversation” with as many congregants as possible, engaging them in discussions about “where we want and need to go as a community.” Once leaders are listening to what really matters to people, then they can create new programs together as experiments, and provide a running commentary on how things are going.
The goal isn’t to create a complete consensus on an issue (We are Jews after all!); it is to make sure people feel that the process was thoughtful and transparent.
What are the greatest threats to the synagogue survival today?
Today’s threats are not from the outside, but from within – from existing members who feel anonymous and overlooked, as well as from potential members who have so many other ways to express and practice their Jewish faith and identity. That is why it is so terribly important that synagogues become easier to enter from the outside and easier for congregants to understand and help shape on the inside.
I can tell you from personal experience as a temple president that synagogue transformation can take years – all the more reason not to delay even a day.
Want to hear Allison Fine speak about matterness and congregational life? She’ll be a featured speaker at the URJ Biennial 2015, taking place Nov. 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Register now at urj.org/biennial.
by Rabbi Nir Barkin
The Book of Deuteronomy, my favorite, begins with this passage as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land:
These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. – Through the wilderness, in the Arabah (desert)…in accordance with the instructions that God had given him for them, Moses undertook to expound this Teaching…
What is it about this opening statement that allows me to connect to it as a 21st-century Reform Jew, for whom the fate of the Jewish people is crucially important?
It is significant – and beautiful – that these opening words were spoken to all of Israel. Each person, regardless of background, age, gender, or outlook, was an active partner in the moment. These words offer no exclusions, outliers, arrogant remarks, or private ownership. We understand that the people present were not all the same, and accordingly, we must view all tribes, shades, and nuances as a whole from which multiple approaches and viewpoints can grow, nurturing the social fabric of society.
The same is true today.
Several weeks ago, at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism’s annual summer conference, I led a session designed to help lay and professional leaders deal with the reality of a Jewish nation that is present both inside and outside the land of Israel.
I asked participants to imagine themselves standing on the brink of the Jordan River preparing to enter Canaan, and to describe their feelings as Jews living outside the Promised Land. The range of emotions was fascinating – from longing to tears, from anger to suspicion, from dreams to reality – and varied based on birthplace. Most of those born in the Diaspora were considerably more critical of their expectations; the sabras (those born in Israel) tended to justify their utopic vision of the country.
This exercise demonstrates liberal Jews’ dissonance around the paradigm of Israel as the Promised Land for all Jews, wherever they live. To help address this conflict, a new initiative, “Domim-aLike,” seeks to build a widespread network of relationships – all under one umbrella — among Reform and Progressive rabbis and congregational leaders in Israel and around the world. Through study sessions and online seminars focused on Jewish community and educational content, leaders will address issues of concern and develop new joint programming – all while forging new relationships and strengthening existing ones.
“I am not able to bear you myself alone,” says Moses, “[s]o I took the heads of your tribes, wise men, and full of knowledge, and made them heads over you…”
It may be these words that led Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, to conclude that,
…the division between religious and secular must be replaced by a new model. The Jewish population (in Israel) is made up of six continuous sub-cultures, each…has a narrative, an ideology and a lifestyle of its own. These six tribes can easily be counted as 12 or 18, for each and every one of them contains within it many possibilities for sub-divisions…
Indeed, the work of those who have set roots in Israel and those who continue their endeavors overseas has yet to cease. Their springs of creativity and renewal still flow, and those who are wise and full of knowledge remain among us, continuing to lead the Jewish people toward a covenant of shared purpose and destiny.
That shared future is in our hands – and it is the challenge of our lives: to balance progress on one hand with a connection to our ancient heritage on the other.
This moment connects Israeli Jews with our partners overseas, compelling us together to create a living, vibrant liberal Jewish reality in Israel and the Diaspora. As they have done for millennia, our biblical sources continue to inspire, serving as a blueprint for our actions: in order to ensure that “…the land which God gave You for an inheritance…” will be worthy of us and that we shall be worthy of it.
If we are wise, we will come together to turn the wilderness, the Arabah (desert), and our Jewish lives into a fruit-bearing grove and a flower-filled field.
Rabbi Nir Barkin is the director of the Israel-Diaspora department at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and heads the “Domim-aLike” initiative, strengthening ties and developing meaningful and mutual relationships among Israeli and Diaspora Reform leaders.
As congregations gear up for the start of 5776 and a new year of activities, programming, and policies and procedures, these conversations in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum, may prove particularly helpful in planning for the High Holiday season and beyond.
When questions or challenges arise as you plan for the coming year, make The Tent your first stop for answers. It’s the best place to pose questions, share resources, and compare notes with other congregational leaders who, like you, are dealing with an array of topics and issues around synagogue life. For additional support, contact the URJ Knowledge Network team
by Annice Benamy
Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings; and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God.” —Numbers 6:6
What is Rosh Chodesh?
Rosh Chodesh means “head of the month.” When the new moon appears, the first of each Jewish month begins. In contemporary practice, Rosh Chodesh celebrations begin the Shabbat before the new month with the Rosh Chodesh prayer at the conclusion of the Torah reading. This special prayer articulates our hopes for the month including peace and prosperity to success in business, good health, and righteousness.
This is a day associated with women’s renewal and celebration. Rosh Chodesh has been an occasion for Jewish women to gather for learning, ritual, and spirituality programs. Many sisterhoods and women’s groups have created monthly Rosh Chodesh groups to offer women an opportunity to observe the new moon in song and prayer. Some groups have focused on women’s programs, holidays, and Torah study.
Women of the Wall (WoW) is a well-known Israeli Jewish progressive organization that chose Rosh Chodesh as the day to gather as a women’s prayer group and celebrate prayer at the Kotel. Women (and men) of all denominations are invited to pray using the Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh Siddur.
How can your sisterhood or congregation celebrate Rosh Chodesh?
As your congregation and sisterhood programs for next year, create a Rosh Chodesh service and program. Suggestions include:
Observing and celebrating Rosh Chodesh is a way to renew our spirit each month, indoors or outdoors, in the first half of the month. I cannot think of a better way to be with God and nature and to contemplate the changes of life or the destiny of Israel, than while gazing at the moon and praising God for its renewal.
Rosh Chodesh Elul begins at sundown on Saturday, August 15. It will be the final Rosh Chodesh for the Hebrew calendar year 5775.
Annice Benamy is a Women of Reform Judaism board member. This piece originally appeared in WRJ’s email newsletter on August 7, 2015.
Pam Schuller is my hero.
She’s not just my hero because she’s one of the outstanding Reform Jewish youth professionals who works day and night to connect with so many of teens and congregations in NFTY’s Garden Empire Region (which includes central and northern New Jersey and New York’s Rockland and Orange counties).
She’s not just my hero because she dressed as a peach at NFTY Convention, dancing and sharing a great schtick.
No, Pam is my hero and my teacher because of her deep and profound commitment to strengthening our communities through helping us be truly welcoming, inviting and inclusive.
Pam is my hero because she understands, through personal experience, that our communities are stronger when they are diverse, accepting, and embracing of all of their members.
I hope you will take 12 minutes to watch Pam’s recently released ELI Talk, “I am Here; Hear Me Bark: Comedy, Disability, and the Inclusive Synagogue.” Then, read the interview with her and share in our pride in all that she does for her community, for the Reform Movement, for the Jewish people, and beyond.
What was one defining moment for you that steered you into inclusion work?
Pam: One moment I didn’t mention in my ELI talk stands out. In eighth grade religious school, I was making loud noises from Tourette’s. The teacher was extremely frustrated and was (understandably) having a hard time teaching with the disruption, so she asked me to leave. When I got up to leave, another student said something like, “She can stay. We’re used to her Tourette’s.”
The teacher went back to teaching. Moments later, my noises got bad again, and she asked me to leave. This time, she was more frustrated, but yet again, my peers stood up for me. A third time this happened, and the teacher raised her voice and threatened to quit, clearly at a breaking point. Not wanting to cause any issues, I left the room with my head down.
To my surprise, the entire class followed me in support.
I have never again questioned the ideas that kids and teens can make a real difference. I don’t remember the name of that teacher, but I can tell you the names of every student in that class. That day could have been the worst, but I remember it as one of the best. When I work with kids and teens to create their inclusive communities, I have no doubt that they can and will make a positive and lasting difference.
You could have turned away from Judaism. What made you decide to make this your life work?
For a while, I did give up on being Jewish. I felt like there wasn’t a place for me. What I knew was that I loved Jewish summer camp and felt completely at home and free to be myself at URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute, the Reform Movement’s summer camp in Zionsville, IN. I remember having long conversations with a very patient camp faculty member, Rabbi Sandford Kopnick. With him, I questioned if I should be Jewish – and later how to be Jewish – when I still felt like the community outside of camp didn’t want me to be a part of it.
But I was ready to be connected. If not for Jewish summer camp, I don’t think I would be Jewish today. I remember the way that being at camp made me feel, and I want to do my best to give those opportunities and connections to as many other kids as possible.
Stand-up comedy is another passion of yours. How do improv and stand-up play a role in your life?
I am 4’7” and I have Tourette’s; sometimes I joke that genetics made me a stand-up comic. In all honesty, comedy and improv make me a better person.
I grew up with people constantly staring at me, asking questions, and sometimes laughing. I had a favorite teacher who got me to try improvisational theater. After it she said, “You’re so afraid of people staring at you in public, but when you’re on stage, you embrace it. How can you begin to embrace life in the same way?”
From that moment, I started to be Ok with people staring at me. Sometimes in response, I say something funny; sometimes I use it as a teaching moment; sometimes I let it go. Just like in an improv show, I live in the moment.
To this day, stand-up comedy is my outlet. In fact, just last week I found my Tourette’s getting a bit worse than usual. My first thought was, “I should probably do stand-up tonight and schedule a neurologist appointment.” I have realized that to best support myself, I need both of those things – equally.
What three tips would you give to help make a community more inclusive?
Reform professionals, lay leaders, youth, clergy, educators and congregants are invited to use the study sessions and resources at www.disbabilitiesinclusion.org to develop additional skills, strategies and understanding to make possible the full participation of people with disabilities in every area of congregational life. The Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center is made possible by a partnership between the URJ and the Ruderman Family Foundation.
By Rabbi Laura Novak Winer
When I recently asked a group of colleagues to help me think about examples from pop culture in which teens mentor other teens, we found it surprisingly difficult to come up with genuine examples.
In the movie Clueless (1995), Cher (Alicia Silverstone) becomes the self-appointed fashion mentor to a new girl at school in order to help propel said new girl up the social ladder. In the Broadway show Wicked, a similar dynamic is at play when Glinda and Elphaba overcome their dislike of each other and Glinda attempts to give Elphaba a makeover. We came up with a few similar examples, but none quite fit the bill.
Where are the examples of true peer-to-peer mentorship – peers helping each other learn and grow into their best selves? Are there times when adolescents can be there for each other to create healthy bonds and build relationships with each other for the sake of positive, worthwhile connections and enrichment?
Yes, there are! We may not see it in pop culture, but it’s happening in our Jewish communities.
The quintessential rabbinic text about mentorship is found in Pirke Avot 1:6, “Provide yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend.” In reading this text, we often imagine a teacher who may be older or have much more life experience than ourselves. We imagine a traditional mentor/protégé relationship. Yet, for some communities considering how to revolutionize the b’nai mitzvah experience, the idea of finding teachers from amongst peers is creating significant impacts in their adolescent communities.
The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution is a network of congregational professionals, lay leaders, and educational thought leaders seeking to bring renewed depth and meaning to Jewish learning. Participating congregations experiment with and create new models of preparation and engagement for b’nai mitzvah that are meaningful and relevant to young people and their families.
Peer b’nai mitzvah tutoring is a model of mentorship frequently emerging in congregations.
The Tzofim program at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, CA, is a peer-tutoring program designed to help the congregation’s newest young adults maintain their connection to Judaism and the synagogue after becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. Beginning as soon as the week after their own ceremony, 7th-10th grade students become tutors, guiding their own students through the process of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. Post-b’nai mitzvah teens experience tangible ways to make an impact on the lives of others, while pre-b’nai mitzvah teens find mentors and role models with whom they can share concerns, ask questions, and gain guidance about the b’nai mitzvah experience.
Temple Beth El in Charlotte, N.C., runs a similar program, B’nai Mitzvah Madrichim, in which 9th-12th grade teens experience the responsibility of a “real job,” earning minimum wage and working two to12 hours per month tutoring pre-b’nai mitzvah teens in prayers, Torah, and Haftarah trope. The program has created a culture in which younger teens are often heard saying, “When I’m a madrich…”
Social justice work is another venue in which peer-to-peer mentorship has great potential. In the Detroit area, families from participating congregations can enroll in the Peer Corps Detroit program as a way of completing their mitzvah project requirement. This paid mentorship program invites Jewish teens (10th-12th grade) and pre-b’nai mitzvah students to work together at a service site in metro-Detroit for three and a half months. Through their mentor relationships, b’nai mitzvah students participate in meaningful mitzvah projects, while older teens learn leadership and mentorship skills. Together, they create genuine and long-term relationships with each other and their service sites.
In each of these instances, the institutions are learning lessons about youth engagement, the value of peer-to-peer relationships, and the subsequent impact these programs can have on adolescents, congregations, and communities. Here are a few of the positive impacts:
The wisdom of the passage from Pirke Avot is that it recognizes the bilateral nature of a mentorship relationship. Both parties learn and grow; both are enriched by the relationship. Inspired by this notion, our Jewish communities are seeing that peer-to-peer mentoring programs that connect pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah youth in significant ways have ripple effects in adolescents’ lives and in their communities.
Surely other valuable peer-to-peer mentorship programs exist, so tell us: What is your community doing in this area? What have you learned? Share your experiences in the comments section below so we can all learn and dialogue together.
If you’re interested in learning more about the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution and these innovations and others like them, please visit www.bnaimitzvahrevolution.org.
Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE is an independent Jewish education consultant working with the LA Cohort of the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution and currently serves as the President of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (formerly NATE). She blogs at www.rabbilnw.com.
by Jan Marion, Raymond Capelouto, and Luise Mann Burger
With an eye on the quickly approaching September 10th early bird registration deadline, we’re delighted to offer eight excellent reasons for you and your fellow congregational leaders to attend the URJ Biennial 2015 from November 4-8 at the award-winning Marriott World Center in Orlando, FL:
Visit the Biennial website for more information, and to send Biennial eCards encouraging friends and fellow leaders to join you. We look forward to seeing you in Orlando for an experience that is not to be missed!
Jan Marion, a member of Temple B’nai Israel, Oklahoma, City, OK, is the 2015 Biennial Chair. Raymond Capelouto, a member of Temple Israel, Tallahassee, FL, and Luise Mann Burger, who belongs to Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT, are the 2015 Biennial Vice Chairs.
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:
Jewish young adults seek meaningful connections to Judaism. Taking these ideas into account, your congregation or community can develop creative ways to successfully engage millennials as they continue their Jewish journeys.
More details on each of these points, as well as additional best principles of young adult engagement is available in the URJ’s resource Strengthening Congregations: Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement. Workshop sessions related to this topic will also be offered at the URJ Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. In the meantime, we encourage you to add your questions, comments, and experiences either in the comments below, or join the discussion in The Tent, the URJ’s online platform for congregational leaders.
Strengthening Congregations: Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement is one in a series of three publications that helps leaders strengthen their congregations by offering best principles and a range of resources. The others are Reimagining Financial Support for Your 21st Century Congregation and Engaging Families with Young Children.
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:
Audacious hospitality is a key component of the URJ’s work and 2020 vision. The URJ supports initiatives that embrace inclusive Judaism through welcoming guests (hachnasat orchim), having an open tent (ohel patuach), lovingkindness (chesed), and respect (kavod). Your congregation can learn more about ways of practicing audacious hospitality by registering to the 2015 URJ Biennial and signing up for the audacious hospitality track.
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,
“…you have shaped a more inclusive future for generations to come. Your leadership reflects essential beliefs at the core of our Nation’s creed: that all things are possible for all people, and that we all do better when we lift each other up. While our work to uphold fairness and equality is unending, our country is stronger and truer to itself because of the progress leaders like you have inspired.’
Indeed, “shaping a more inclusive future for generations to come” is a value central to the Reform Movement’s work as we create congregational communities that are open and welcoming to all. In honor of this momentous anniversary guaranteeing the legal rights of people with disabilities – and in honor of Rabbi Landsberg’s leadership and contribution – we want to recognize and share the exemplary efforts of our congregations who have made significant effort to become places where people of all abilities can fully participate and belong.
Accordingly, we will be highlighting the achievements of Reform congregations in the area of disabilities inclusion at the URJ Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. At the Biennial, URJ member congregations that have made exemplary efforts to increase inclusion in one or more areas of synagogue life will be awarded certificates of recognition.
If this sounds like your congregation, we urge you to apply to become part of this “honor roll.” To learn more, please visit www.disabilitiesinclusion.org or contact Rabbi Edythe Mencher or Joseph Robbins.
Looking for innovative opportunities to engage your teens around the High Holy Days? These ten ideas come directly from the source – youth professionals around North America.
1. Communicate in their medium. Use text messages, Instagram and other teen-friendly channels for communicating directly with your teens about teen-specific opportunities. Follow up with parent-friendly emails.
2. Invite teens to be ushers. Start the welcoming at the door by inviting teens to be ushers, where they’ll be visible, interact with people of all ages, and have an integral role during our holiest day of the year.
3. Set aside space for them. Let’s face it: sitting through services for an extended period of time is challenging, especially for high-energy, growing adolescents! Setting aside space for teens to retreat, reflect and recharge helps sustain their energy and make the days enjoyable.
4. Invite them onto the Bimah. Invite teens onto the Bimah for an Aliyah, blessing or other worship role.
5. Involve teens in creating youth-specific experiences… Involve teens in planning a service for younger children, or crafting a teen service or Torah study.
6. …but don’t sequester them! Create opportunities for teens to be together as a community during festive meals, breaks, or other events, but also encourage them to attend congregational services and celebrations to be part of the full community.
7. Set expectations: What’s important is not necessarily coming to services. Engage them in reflection about why the holidays are meaningful for them.
8. Engage them in tzedakah. Involve them in planning and implementing a social justice project for the entire congregation to participate in.
9. Location, location, location. Sit near the doors of the sanctuary so you can schmooze with kids, teens and parents as they’re entering and exiting services.
10. Network. Do you have a youth group board, or a cadre of teen leaders? Provide them with business cards, flyers and calendars to ensure that every teen gets a personal invitation to the next event.Want more? Continue this conversation in the Youth Engagement group in The Tent.
Many thanks to the following youth professionals, educators and rabbis for sharing their ideas!
Andy Harkavy, NFTY Ohio Valley Region, Cincinnati, OH
Barak Malkin, Temple Sinai, Glendale, CA
Barrett Harr, NFTY Michigan Region, Detroit, MI
Brett Lubarsky, Temple Beth Elohim, Wellesley, MA
Carly Cera, Temple Beth Israel, Austin, TX
Dan Lange, Union for Reform Judaism, New York, NY
Hope Chernak, Temple Shaaray Tefila, New York, NY
Ira Miller, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
Jessie Downey, University Synagogue, Venice, CA
Rabbi PJ Schwartz, Temple Israel, Westport, CT
“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.
The same weekend the Dead had their final concert, URJ Kutz Camp celebrated 50 years.
Kutz alumni are quite similar to Deadheads in that they, too, sought and pursued – and continue to seek and pursue – a more just and humane world. They, too, left the conventional world behind to study, experiment, and live a life in search of a sound and spirit that allowed them to capture how alluring and joyful life could be.
And it’s not just Kutz. At all our URJ Camps, in our Mitzvah Corps and Israel programs, and in NFTY, we embrace the search for and creation of a better world of justice, security, and peace for all.
Our youth communities and Grateful Dead culture are both spirited, dynamic communities who find great significance in life, caring, sharing, celebration, and written and oral traditions in the hope of making the world a more joyous and peaceful place for all. But as Jews, our commitment to Torah, avodah, and g’milut chasidim is what sets us apart and insures that our communities will continue to thrive and grow. The Dead played their last concert, but our youth programs continue strong, growing by day.
As I prepared for the Jewish holiday of Tishah B’Av I was reminded why Judaism won’t have a “final concert”. The First and Second Temples no longer exist and as a people we have survived more calamities than most. We have persevered because our Judaism teaches us about the need for strength and vulnerability, when to fear and when to have hope, how to embrace confidence and insecurity, along with the importance of welcoming new ways of seeing the world. It is these messages that resonates for our children and it is a gift that we can teach to them. Mickey Hart, on percussion, said it beautifully “The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it, I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind.” Or as the shema says:
V’shinantam l’vanecha v’dibarta
bam b’shivt’cha b’veitecha uv’lecht’cha
vaderech uv’shochb’cha uv’kumecha.
I hope you can join me at the Biennial as we “Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” as we continue our work together to grow our community.
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.
Running an effective meeting is more than sending out a notice of the meeting: Effective meetings require structure and order. Without these elements, they can go on forever and not accomplish a thing, but by following these suggestions and leading by example, you are well on your way to chairing great meetings.
Ask questions and share your tools and tips in the Leadership and Governance group in The Tent, the Reform Movement’s online collaborative platform for congregational leaders.
fredi Bleeker Franks is Women of Reform Judaism’s vice president of affiliate services. This piece first appeared in WRJ’s May 29, 2015 email newsletter.
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.
Kabbalat Shabbat in the woods is enchanting. We wear white, yet the energetic dancing, enthusiastic singing, and feeling of being carried away brings Shabbat into vivid Technicolor. It’s a wholly different experience than Shabbat back home. Indeed, the flames of camp’s Shabbat candles ignited a spark in me. And when I visit camp now, I see thousands of young Jewish people in whom sparks are being kindled. Camp is a precious doorway into a lifelong love of Reform Judaism.
As a place of nexus, camp is uniquely rich. The ways camp connects to our children are obvious – by inspiring the next generations of our Movement, and our future leaders. Although some of the ways our camps connect others may be less apparent, they are no less powerful – even for Reform Jews who never spend one minute in a bunk.
Camp Connects to Congregations
Camp activities and staff reach beyond the boundaries of camp, delivering the joys of Jewish life year-round. Rabbis, cantors, educators, youth professionals, and local congregational leaders active in youth programming at camp also share ideas for teaching and guiding their entire congregations. NFTY leaders meet to discuss ways to bring ideas back to their youth groups. Teen Collective initiatives bring tikkun olam and teen leadership to the forefront at a crucial time for participants, stressing that healing the world is both a Jewish imperative and a lifelong pursuit. The URJ’s Service Corps Fellowships place veteran camp staff in congregations year-round to lead innovative camp-inspired programs that engage every congregational cohort.
Camp Connects to Israel
Israel engagement is symbiotic at camp. We introduce our youth to sabras who provide a personal connection to the Jewish state. Simultaneously, we implant in those Israelis an incredible love of Reform Judaism that they excitedly bring back home. We are enriching our Movement’s commitment to, understanding of, and love for Israel just as surely as our camps’ nature counselors are tending to the bounty of their community gardens. Also, many of our camps lead straight to a summer experience in Israel for teens and their camp friends, which for most is a first, and transformative trip.
Camp Connects to Families
The magic of summer camp is invoked often. There is magic, too, when parents and children are reunited after a summer, having had time apart to recharge and to grow by pursuing their own passions. Kids return home steeped in Reform Judaism as part of daily life, sure of their place in the world, which helps tether each families’ bonds. Lifelong friendships are formed between campers’ families that weave Reform Jews together, strengthening our communities, and enriching our entire Movement.
Camp Connects to “What’s Next” in Jewish Life
So much of what prompts change within the spiritual life of our Movement starts at camp. The biggest influence to Reform Jewish music, in the name of Debbie Friedman, z’l, was nurtured at our camps. Anyone who is moved by our songs has been touched by camp.
The URJ invests in immersive experiences – overnight camp as well as Israel programs, trips to Washington, DC for advocacy training, and volunteer travel opportunities – not only because they work. These experiences connect individuals to each other, to the congregational community, and to their personal Jewish identity.
Even if you have no obvious connection to our camps, perhaps in thinking about these ideas, you can seek out ways to connect yourself to camp. And please comment below to let me know about the connections you make.
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. In February, SYNERGY, a partnership that “seeks to strengthen synagogues as vital centers of caring, learning, and spiritual renewal,” published a report titled “Are Voluntary Dues Right for Your Congregation?” With more than 1,250 downloads, it’s clear that congregational leaders are in search of reliable resources to help them explore these issues within their own unique communities.
These recent articles are representative of the discussions happening on an organic, grassroots level, too. In fact, a search of the word “dues” in The Tent, the Reform Movement’s online forum for congregational leaders, results in 124 conversations, two dedicated groups, and 151 files on the topic. (We hope you will join these robust and ongoing conversations.)
It’s inspiring to see so many Jewish communities engaging in conversation, experimenting, and trying new strategies. To further the conversation and provide congregations with a tangible resource, the Union for Reform Judaism is proud to publish Reimagining Financial Support for Your 21st-Century Congregation: A Report from the 2013-2015 Community of Practice. This new, interactive resource provides tools for congregations to begin this work by codifying the findings of our pilot Community of Practice (CoP) on Re-Imagining Financial Support for your Congregation. Launched in early 2013, the CoP engaged 17 congregations in conversation and innovation in their dues structures. Some communities tried voluntary dues structures, while others took varying approaches to revenue collection.
Reimagining Financial Support details 10 of the best principles derived from these congregations and research into alternative revenue collection. These 10 concepts, which any congregation should consider when reimagining financial support, include such tactics as focusing on engagement, recognizing distinct segments of the population, removing barriers to entry, and aligning any new financial model with the congregation’s vision and values.
Though no one best principle dictates the right approach for any one congregation, thinking through the implications of each will help determine a starting point. Three very different examples illustrate this point:
The URJ is now in the process of launching a second Community of Practice on this topic with a new cohort of congregations. We look forward to sharing the results of their learning and experimentation with all congregations who are considering changes to the way they collect revenue.
Workshop sessions related to this topic will also be offered at the URJ Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. In the meantime, we encourage you to add your questions, comments, and experiences either in the comments below, or join the discussion in the Finances group in The Tent, the URJ’s online platform for congregational leaders.
Reimagining Financial Support for Your 21st Century Congregation is one in a series of three publications that helps leaders strengthen their congregations by offering best principles and a range of resources. Stay tuned for blog posts about the other two resources: Paving the Road to Meaningful Young Adult Engagement and Engaging Families with Young Children.
Jessica Ingram, manager of the URJ’s Communities of Practice, also contributed significantly to this post, as well as to the creation of Reimagining Financial Support for your 21st-Century Congregation: A Report from the 2013-2015 Community of Practice.