“Audacious hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so people don’t feel excluded. It’s an ongoing invitation to be part of community – and a way to spiritually transform ourselves in the process.”
– Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism
It’s not always easy to offer the sort of “audacious hospitality” Rabbi Jacobs encourages, but many Reform congregations are rising to the challenge. These exceptional congregations excel at welcoming seekers and engaging prospective and current members – and the URJ is looking for the ones that do it best. Once again this year, we’ll honor eight congregations with Belin Outreach and Membership Awards for creative, original, and outstanding initiatives that promote audacious hospitality. From now through April 30, your congregation can submit an application for a 2015 Belin Outreach and Membership Award. Winning congregations will receive a $1,000 cash award and will be recognized at the URJ Biennial in Orlando, FL, in November.
The Belin Awards – generously funded by David Belin, z’l, the inaugural chair of the URJ-CCAR Joint Commission on Outreach and Membership – are an opportunity to highlight the remarkable innovation and inspiration that exist in our congregations. Here’s a look at some award-winning entries from recent years:
- Congregation Beth Yam in Hilton Head Island, SC, created Outreach: Welcoming Interfaith in Every Generation to engage, educate, and honor the many temple members whose lives are touched by interfaith relationships. Program components include workshops designed to educate grandparents on their role in the lives of grandchildren in interfaith families, matches between interfaith and host families for holidays and Shabbat meals, and special group outings to engage non-Jewish spouses,
- Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL, won a Belin Award for Mommy Minyan, its innovative Jewish learning program for mothers with young children. Designed to promote Jewish education and relationship building, Mommy Minyan is organized around three tracks that meet in various locations – at the synagogue, in restaurants, and in members’ homes – and at different times of day so that both working moms and stay-at-home moms can participate.
- Temple Kol Ami in Elkins Park, PA, developed Membership Drive: Strive for 225. Looking to attract new members to its small community, the synagogue offered congregants certificates for six months of free temple membership to share with their friends and family. Guest members were invited to participate in all areas of synagogue life and in several events exclusively for them, including a brunch and a Shabbat dinner. At the end of the six months, the congregation hosted a “graduation” picnic, where guest members were invited to join the congregation.
Looking for additional ideas about how your congregation can reach out to the unaffiliated and those new to Judaism, deepen ties to existing members, and offer audacious hospitality to everyone who steps through your doors? Visit The Tent, the Reform Movement’s communication and collaboration platform.
For more information about the URJ’s Belin Outreach and Membership Awards, contact Jessica Ingram.
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by Rabbi Marc Katz
Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of hosting A Taste of Judaism® classes at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, N.Y. The first time was at a local restaurant; the second was in the synagogue building. Over the course of teaching this class, I have learned a number of important lessons and have seen many benefits. When it works, here is what congregations and participants can get out of the class.
- Students begin to build a scaffolding for later study.
Learning works in cycles. Students hear terms, then revisit them. They think they know something, but later realize they don’t know as much as they think they do, which prompts them to commit their learning to memory a second time. I have found that the structure of A Taste of Judaism® – spending one class each on Torah, God, and the Jewish people – provides a wonderful framework for further study, whether through independent reading or classes such as a longer Introduction to Judaism course. It’s as if students have a newly minted filing cabinet of Jewish knowledge. Later, they’ll learn something about prayer and stick it in with the rest of those mental files labeled “God”; they learn about social justice and file that information with “how to relate to the Jewish people and the world at large.” Taste of Judaism® students who go on to take more in-depth classes tend to be more engaged, excited, and remember much more than their fellow students.
- It’s a fun challenge / thought-experiment for instructors.
I studied for five years in rabbinical school and have spent countless hours learning about Torah, God, and the Jewish people. I could teach a many-weeks-long course on any one of these topics. Yet, as an instructor, I somehow had to condense each topic into only a few hours. As I taught about God, I had to decide which of the many voices in our 3,000-year-old tradition to incorporate. Would I teach what people said about God in the Middle Ages? Would I incorporate modern thinkers? Would I leave time for personal exploration? Students understand they won’t learn everything in three sessions, but they expect to be given a cogent and intact view of the broad strokes of any topic. Teaching this course allowed me to examine what I thought were the central facets of God, Torah, and the Jewish people and impelled me to communicate them effectively. I’m a better teacher and rabbi because of it.
- The course helps you meet many people who you would not ordinarily encounter.
Because of the nature of the course, I was introduced to so many stories that I may not have heard otherwise. Longer basic Judaism courses are made up of primarily three categories of people: couples who want to raise their children as Jews, people interested in conversion, and Jews who want to learn more. In addition to these three categories, A Taste of Judaism® included others: clergy from other faiths, Christians who wanted a wider understanding of all religions, atheists who wanted to better know what they were rejecting, people exploring the conversion process but who were not ready to commit to a full class, and newly engaged couples in interfaith families who were not interested in raising their children as Jews but wanted to better understand the Jewish side of the family. Because of this diversity, the conversations were often richer than I imagined, the questions more insightful and creative, and the energy palpably different than anything I had encountered before.
- It is a great introduction to the multiple entry points of Judaism and the Jewish community.
The three-fold structure of the course lets students know that Judaism is multifaceted and that it has a space for them even if they don’t connect with one part of the religion. If a student doesn’t believe in God but loves the intellectual rigor of the Torah class, or if he isn’t analytical but is inspired by learning about social justice, he will realize there is a place for him in Reform Judaism. If done correctly, he will also understand his place in the community, not only intellectually but programmatically. To accomplish this, the class on God should include an explanation of local prayer services, and the class on Torah should end with students receiving resources on classes for further study.
I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to teach this course and look forward to teaching it again in the future. The course is best run a few weeks or months before a longer course so students have something to turn to after study. For both students and teachers, the URJ’s A Taste of Judaism® class is an extremely valuable experience, and I urge congregations to apply.
Rabbi Marc Katz is the associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Interested in hosting this free, three-week class in your community? Consider making A Taste of Judaism® a permanent part of your congregation’s outreach strategy to unaffiliated Jews, non-Jews, intermarried couples, and adult children of intermarriage. The Union for Reform Judaism offers advertising grants to help jump-start your effort. Learn more about the class and apply for an advertising grant.
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by Rabbi Jack Luxemburg
“And Moses assembled the entirety of the Jewish people …” (Exodus 35:1)
Whether a Tabernacle in the desert or at the Temple in Jerusalem, vast numbers of our people would gather to celebrate and experience Jewish life on a grand scale. This past February, I had a somewhat comparable experience. It was exhilarating (occasionally frustrating), and confirmed the critical importance of Reform Judaism having a strong, purposeful presence on the world’s Jewish and Zionist scene.
During the week of February 15, I met with representatives of the various Zionist Federations that are part of the worldwide Reform Movement — the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), ARZENU Canada, and ARZENU representatives from Western Europe, the former Soviet Union, South America, and Australia. Also present were the leaders of the Israel Reform Movement and prominent members of our “faction” (in Hebrew, si’ah) – who represent the Israeli political parties, Labor and Meretz. Together, we reviewed resolutions slated for a vote on in the Va’ad HaPoel, the “working committee” of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Many of these resolutions addressed issues of major importance to all of us who are committed to seeing the prophetic ideals of our Judaism realized in the political culture and the character of Israeli society.
Because we had a strong Reform presence, we were able to pass significant resolutions. The resolution regarding oversight of the Settlement Division, which demands greater transparency regarding its projects and funding, drew worldwide attention, as did a resolution insisting that the WZO, itself, reflect the pluralism of Jewish life around the world. These breakthroughs would have been impossible without the work of our si’ah. The resolution came out of committee due to the strong and vocal support from ARZA and our ARZENU partners, and thanks to our advocacy, it passed a floor vote.
This experience proved that when we are present to give voice and substance to our vision of Israel as just, democratic, egalitarian, and pluralistic, we Reform Jews can be agents for positive change. Our partners in Israel and from around the world are counting on us — members of URJ congregations across the United States — to be successful in our WZO election campaign. Smaller progressive Jewish communities expect us to be strong advocates on their behalf. Our partners in Israel are counting on us to support the ARZA slate with a strong vote so that the Israeli Reform Movement will get the support and recognition it deserves, in terms of both financial resources and appointments to positions of influence in Israel’s national institutions.
Not all of us will be able to attend the World Zionist Congress in person. But we can be participants. We can vote online for the ARZA slate and encourage others to do the same. With enough votes from supporters, we can send a large delegation that will have influence appropriate to being the representatives of the largest congregational movement in the Jewish world. We can do this. We need to do this. Let’s demonstrate to the world our movement’s Ahavat Zion – our loving concern for Israel — by voting in the World Zionist Congress elections. Let’s really get engaged and involved. This way, we can have a strong voice in shaping the future we share with all the Jewish people — in America, Israel, and around the world. VOTE ARZA!
Rabbi Jack Luxemburg is the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD and senior vice-chair of ARZA.
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The post Syrian Refugees in Turkey; Millennials and Religion appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.
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by Rabbi Rachel Timoner
“Who knows whether you have come to your position for such a time as this?”
Last week we told the story of Mordechai calling Esther to action for her people just days before our country commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama. We honored Esther and Mordechai, who risked their lives to rid their community of the injustice Haman intended to perpetrate, and then we honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel, John Lewis and many others who risked their lives to rid our country of the injustice perpetuated by structural racial inequality.
Mordechai called Esther to approach Achashverosh. Rev. Dr. MLK Jr called clergy to join him in Selma. Today, a new, yet familiar, call is sounding. We hear it echoing in newspaper articles and protests all across our country. We hear it in the absence of indictments for police officers at whose hands black men and boys’ lives were lost. We hear it in the statistics comparing the number of black men under some form of correctional control (1.7 million) to the number of black men who were enslaved in 1850 (870,000). Those of us attending CCAR convention will hear it in the words of Rev. William Barber II, who launched the Moral Movement in his home state of North Carolina, during his keynote address. What are we called to do? In his speech in Selma this past Shabbat, President Obama said:
“If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.”
I want to honor the courage of Queen Esther and those who marched in Selma 50 years ago. I want to respond to the cries of outrage about the racial and economic inequality that plagues America to this day – cries from others and from my own heart. I want to heal and transform the structural inequalities that break on race and class lines in this country. I want to join with rabbinic colleagues to exercise our moral imagination, feel the urgency of now, and take action together.
At CCAR Convention next week, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis will begin harnessing the power of the Reform rabbinate to deepen and develop relationships across lines of race, class and faith to dismantle racial and economic inequality. Join me at the ROR workshop on Tuesday, March 17 from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to discuss structural inequality – how we as rabbis are affected by it, how rabbis across the country are working on it in their communities, and how we might address it together. Because, perhaps, we have come to our positions for such a time as this.
This past weekend I had the great privilege of being a part of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL. Along with my roommate and four of other legislative assistants (and we later joined up with RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Deputy Director Rachel Laser), I headed south to honor the work of those who risked and gave their lives for the Civil Rights Movement and to rededicate myself to continuing their work today. While I expected the weekend to be meaningful, I didn’t understand the full power of participating in the anniversary commemorations until I actually arrived in Selma and was able to hear the stories and wisdom of those around me.
On Sunday morning, we arrived at Temple Mishkan Israel, a beautiful synagogue in Selma whose membership is dwindling, where Rabbi Fred Guttman from Greensboro, North Carolina had organized a phenomenal program. First to speak was Reverend Dr. William Barber II, an NAACP Board Member and leader of the North Carolina Moral Mondays Movement. He proclaimed to the packed synagogue that “the work of moral dissent is never done” and that as people of faith, we must work to move forward together – as a united front – fighting for true equal protection of all people under the law.
He encouraged us to channel our prophetic rage—our righteous anger that comes from our refusal to accept the structural injustices of the world around us. Throughout our religious tradition, we have seen many, like Moses and Isaiah, channel this prophetic rage to bring about justice. The ability to connect the injustices we see in the world to our most fundamental moral values, as Rev. Barber so eloquently did during his speech, makes the argument for justice much deeper and allows for much needed subversive hope. Rev. Barber didn’t come to Selma for a celebration or a party, he came for a recommitment and a holy convocation. He came because our country is once again in need of the audacious courage of prophetic rage and subversive hope.
Rev. Barber’s words brought me to tears. Not only was his message deeply powerful and his delivery impassioned, but he has an incredible ability to truly charge those around him with the fight for justice. As I sat in the pews of this synagogue in Selma, surrounded by almost 200 people of faith who had all traveled to be here, I knew that I wasn’t alone. I felt validated in my decision to spend my career working for social justice. I felt that it was my duty as a citizen, as a Jew and as a young person, to help this country be the best it can be. And most importantly, I felt that I had the support and commitment of everyone else in that building, and of the other 80,000 people who had come to Selma that day, to continue this important work together. Because it is only together that we can address the structural racial and economic inequality that persists in our country.
As the program in the synagogue ended, my fellow legislative assistants and I unrolled the RAC’s banner and joined the tens of thousands of others who came to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As we slowly made our way through the crowd and across the bridge, I finally understood why 50 years ago, in this exact same place, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he had been praying with his feet. In coming to Selma, joining the community, bearing witness to the historic event, and calling for voting rights and equality for everyone, we were not only praying with our feet but with our entire bodies. We were using our time, resources, energy and actions to accompany our prayers for equality and justice, and at the end of the day, I believe that is the most powerful prayer of all.
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A congregation’s mission statement is often one of its founding documents, setting forth a vision for the congregation and serving as a guiding document as leaders manage the sacred. Yet a lot can happen in 15, 50, or even 100 years, and so congregational leaders may wish to periodically revisit the synagogue’s mission statement as a regular part of strategic planning.
When reviewing your congregation’s mission statement, keep in mind that effective mission statements:
- Express the core values of the synagogue, including who the members are, which member needs the synagogue is attempting to fulfill, and how the synagogue plans to conduct its business
- Articulate attainable goals
- Provide a template that leaders and others can use to make decisions
Suggestions like these are available in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum. In the “Mission Statements: Hints, Tips and Samples” document, you’ll find helpful information as well as mission statements created and used by Reform congregations. While you’re in The Tent, you also can access the URJ publication, “Hear, O Israel: Creating Meaningful Congregational Mission Statements“ and engage with your fellow leaders to find additional models of mission statements. (Enter the search term “MissionStatement” in the search box on any page of The Tent to find and join ongoing conversations.)
Seasonal Info: This year, Shavuot falls on May 23-24, which coincides with Memorial Day weekend. As you explore The Tent, search “Shavuot” to learn how congregational leaders are preparing for the confluence of the two holidays. You’ll also be able to download the “Shavuot Holiday Happenings” guide.
Tent Tips: The Tent has dozens of groups, from Membership to Facilities, from Recipe Box to Early Childhood. Each group addresses topics and issues within a specific area of interest. When posting a question or an update in The Tent, be sure to post in the appropriate group so your message will be seen by your target audience. For more Tent Tips, visit the Tent Tips group and join us for our March TentTalk webinars.
Join the conversation and access these and other great resources in The Tent.