Rabbi Lance Sussman, the senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA, wrote a piece published today in eJewish Philanthropy titled “Seeing is Believing: Visual T’filot and the Future of Jewish Worship.” He begins,
Three years ago, my synagogue agreed to install large retractable screens on either side of the Ark and mounted projectors on the back wall of our 900 seat sanctuary. With almost no resistance, we quickly transitioned from late 15th century technology to early 21th century modalities of communicating.
It was a relatively easy process. In addition to her musical talents, our Cantor discovered she had an inherent talent for developing liturgical power point. What size font, which colors, Hebrew versus transliteration, translation versus epitomes of the text, iconic images versus new art and still life versus video instantly presented themselves as questions we needed to address. One by one, we worked our way through the various technological and philosophical issues.
“Sooner. Stronger. Deeper. Longer.” That’s the motto that guides Nancy Bossov through her work as an early childhood education and engagement professional. Now the director of early childhood education at Temple Israel in New Rochelle, N.Y., Nancy came up with this motto while serving as the director of early childhood education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York. In practice, it means that engaging families in congregational life sooner rather than later fosters stronger connections to the congregation. This leads to a deeper experience for members, which translates into longer member-synagogue relationships.
Almost all synagogue leaders are concerned with their congregations’ membership numbers, and those same leaders report drastic drop-off rates for families whose children have completed their formal religious education. Although there isn’t a magical cure-all for membership retention, early engagement has proven to be a successful tactic.
Knowing this, the URJ gathered leaders from 28 congregations to participate in two early childhood-related Communities of Practice, Successfully Engaging Families with Young Children and Pursuing Excellence in Your Early Childhood Center. For 18 months, these leaders explored strategies and programs for achieving that “sooner, stronger, deeper, longer” member connection.
The findings from those Communities of Practice have just been published and are available in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum. The guide includes best principles; a syllabus and workbook pages to help you strategize about your engagement efforts; additional research; and helpful articles and other resources.
Because learning together is so important, the URJ just launched seven new Communities of Practice, including two designed to help leaders with early engagement: Building a Brand: Excellence in Reform Movement Early Childhood Engagement (for congregations that have an early childhood center) and Creating Connected Communities for Families with Young Children (for congregations that do not have an early childhood center). Visit the Communities of Practice group to read about these learning opportunities, and see this ongoing conversation for answers to frequently asked questions. Applications for the new Communities of Practice will be accepted through June 15th.
Seasonal Info: We invite you to join us at the 2015 URJ Biennial, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Registration will open later this month. In the meantime, visit urj.org/biennial to learn more.
Tent Tip: The Tent’s powerful search tool can help you find answers to your questions and resources to help manage the sacred. Before posing a question to your fellow Tent members, or if you’re not sure where to find a resource, enter your search term in the search box located at the top of every page. You then can filter search results to more easily find what you need.
Anti-Muslim Sentiments; Yale Institute of Sacred Music; Mark Burnett on the Cradle of Christianity Fund
Three North Carolina universities have experienced growing hostility and violence toward Muslims; students and instructors at Yale Institute of Sacred Music speak artistically and spiritually about the power of experiencing religious music; and reality TV producer Mark Burnett describes a project to help refugees fleeing persecution and violence in Syria.
Three North Carolina universities—Duke, Wake Forest, and UNC-Chapel Hill—have experienced sharp divisions and increased tensions over Islamic teachings and the role of Islam in the US. For Muslims in those communities, there are signs of growing anti-Muslim hostility which in some cases has moved beyond angry rhetoric to actual physical violence, such as in the recent murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill.
We take viewers to New Haven and New York to hear students and instructors speak artistically and spiritually about the power of experiencing sacred music. Many students who devote themselves to studying religious music and theology at the more-than-40-year-old Yale Institute of Sacred Music feel it deepens their spiritual lives and connects them to a tradition they hope to pass along and make relevant for contemporary audiences. Says institute director Martin Jean: “We exist to integrate theological education and musical education with artistic education.” Institute students study music, art history, the Bible, Christian theology, literature, poetry, architecture, and liturgy—all at the same time.
On Thursday, the Senate passed important legislation for the Iran nuclear talks, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (also known as “the Corker bill”), by an overwhelming vote of 98-1. Applauding the vote, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the RAC, released the following statement:
We applaud the passage of a clean Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. The overwhelming support for this important bill makes clear that stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is a bipartisan issue of concern to all Americans. We call on the House of Representatives to quickly pass the Senate’s version of the bill, so that attention can turn to the issue that really matters: negotiating a deal that ensures that Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons. To that end, we reiterate our call to the Obama administration to remain firm in its commitment to resolve the negotiations successfully on favorable terms.
The bill, a compromise fashioned by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sets in place a period of up to 52 days for Congress to review an agreement with Iran, during which the President cannot roll back sanctions imposed by Congress. However, the bill does not provide Congress with an up-or-down vote on the Iran deal, which could throw future negotiations into uncertainty.
The Reform Movement has been actively engaged in the effort to pass this legislation. In the lead-up to the vote, Rabbi Jonah Pesner urged Senators to vote in favor of the legislation, provided that there were no further amendments attached to it that would upset the bipartisan compromise. On Tuesday of the Consultation on Conscience, attendees lobbied their elected officials on the bill. Further, hundreds of people from across the Reform Movement have written to their Senators in favor of the legislation with no amendments.
Our concern about nuclear proliferation generally is also rooted in Jewish values and Jewish interests. The biblical commandment to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15) and Jewish rules on warfare, which eschew weapons that would kill indiscriminately or create long-term damage to the environment, have inspired decades of Reform Movement activism against nuclear weapons proliferation. Such weapons pose a threat to the life and health of humanity and the earth.
To learn more about our work on the P5+1 negotiations, check out our Iran resource page.