Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, had an op-ed published last week in the Jewish Journal titled “Op-Ed: Striking Down Marriage Equality Bans Would Protect Religious Liberty.” He writes,
Love. Commitment. Trust. These are the values that form the basis of a marriage. Yet, the equal right to civil marriage has been denied to loving, committed same-sex couples throughout our country’s history. As the Supreme Court considers oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case that could result in civil marriage equality in all fifty U.S. states, the country stands at a crossroads: will the nine Justices finally decide to uphold the civil right of same-sex couples to marry?
As a Rabbi and the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the advocacy arm of the largest Jewish denomination in America, I am inspired and motivated by the commandment “you shall neither side with the mighty to do wrong… nor shall you show deference to a poor man in his dispute” (Exodus 23:2-3). We are not commanded to pursue justice for ourselves. The justice that we must pursue is a universal justice—a justice for all people.
For too long, our country has dealt unjustly with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Marriage equality bans are just one of the many ways in which states have sought to enshrine discrimination into law simply based on who people are and the gender they are attracted to.
by Jonathan Cheris
After two years as executive vice president of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, I am about to become president of this sacred place that is my home away from home. Thanks to the work of the incredible leaders in whose footsteps I follow, our membership numbers are growing and our programs are thriving – all evidence that a brick-and-mortar religious institution still matters in a digital world. With the encouragement of my rabbi, Michael White, I recently attended the URJ’s Scheidt Seminar for incoming congregational presidents, a weekend-long retreat held at a suburban conference center outside Atlanta, GA.
For two years, I’ve been outlining the High Holiday speech I plan to deliver this fall. For two months, I’ve been engaging more deeply with temple elders, seeking an easy and rapid transition into the temple presidency. For two weeks, I’ve been feeling increasingly stressed as I begin to deal with some major issues that will need to be addressed during my two-year term.
A member of the congregation since 2001, I was drawn into the temple’s leadership shortly after the death of my father in 2003, grateful for the support the temple community had provided to me and my family during his illness. Joining the temple’s leadership ranks was a natural extension of other volunteer activities I was already pursuing. Since then, I’ve served as brotherhood president and held other posts related to the congregation’s membership, administration, and marketing. Ten years ago, I helped to rebrand the temple as “My Sinai,” and worked to empower staff and other leaders to brand around this wonderful name. My family, too, is happily engaged with our Temple Sinai family: My now 17- and 20-year-old children benefitted greatly from their religious education and the temple’s incredible teen programs, and eight years ago, my wife became an adult bat mitzvah.
On the way to the Scheidt Seminar, the private shuttle bus from the airport to the conference center overflowed with conversation as we began to get to know each other.
“Where are you from?”
“How big is your membership?”
“When do you become president?”
“How many rabbis do you have?”
Once at the conference center, I continued introducing myself to some of the 92 other participants who’d traveled from congregations throughout North America. I also met members of the URJ staff, and immediately felt their warmth. Now was the moment I’d been awaiting – I was at the Scheidt Seminar, meeting new people and ready to learn.
That evening, Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), spoke brilliantly, sharing leadership concepts that apply to congregational presidents and beyond. As he spoke, the stress of the previous two weeks began to lift as I realized I was among peers – a leader among leaders – and an actor on a stage larger than my own congregation or my own Long Island backyard. To gain the most from this opportunity, I decided to limit my social media usage and fully embrace the URJ training and the Judaism that came with it.
On Friday, we were grouped based on synagogue size. My group of 18 – yes, there were 18 of us – came from large synagogues and quickly bonded as friends, coworkers, warriors, debaters, scholars, all things Jewish. The day’s sessions featured wonderful teachers, leaders, warm human beings, and a lot of learning centered on leadership, financial stability, engaging young families, and real-world case studies.
URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs joined us as Shabbat began for the first of a few memorable worship services. During the aliyot on Saturday morning, attendees were called to the Torah in three distinct groups: those who had been active, engaged Reform Jewish youth leaders; those who were raised in the Reform Movement but never imagined being a congregational president; and those who were raised outside the Reform Movement. I chose the second group for myself and was surprised that the third group was the largest, which provides a glimpse into the tremendous opportunities that exist for the modern Reform Movement.
Throughout the weekend, we continued to bond – as Jews and as presidents, sharing the similarities in our lives and in our congregations. During our final session, as we locked arms and swayed to Jewish songs, I was grateful for the many sacred connections I’d made, and I embraced each one. Like the others in my Scheidt community, I returned home more confident, empowered, and ready to lead my congregation, which I now understand is an essential link in North America’s Reform Movement. I look forward to seeing many of them when we meet again in Orlando at the 2015 URJ Biennial this November.
Jonathan Cheris is the incoming president of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, Roslyn Heights, NY. He tweets at @LeadingWithGuts.
Serves as Director of Jewish Life at Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, D.C., and visiting rabbi at B’er Chayim Temple in Cumberland, Md.
(PRWeb April 02, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/hebrewcollege/elyssaauster/prweb12623721.htm
By Harriet Skelly
In 2013, Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, CA, was at its lowest membership in 15 years. Several years earlier, we had implemented a new, low-cost dues structure in the hopes that it would help increase the membership. At about the same time, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, visited the Bay Area and spoke with local congregational presidents about audacious hospitality, relational Judaism, and “going outside the walls.” I was intrigued by his language, but still didn’t really get it. I was just stuck on how to find unaffiliated Jews in our area to bring into our congregation.
A few months after the meeting with Rabbi Jacobs, I was manning Shir Ami’s booth at the Castro Valley Pride Festival when an interfaith lesbian couple with a nine-month old son approached me. As we chatted, I learned that they were looking for a place to bring their son to learn about being Jewish – but sadly, I had to tell them we didn’t have programs for children under age 5.
I encouraged them to come check us out anyway and gave them our schedule of activities, but right there and then – as they walked away from the booth – I decided that our congregation had to create something for families like theirs.
That encounter led me to understand that, as an aging community with very few students in our religious and Hebrew school, our congregation needed to attract families with young children. In September 2013, I learned that the URJ was forming Communities of Practice (CoP), bringing together members of various congregations for 18-24 months of guided learning around congregational change on a topic of shared interest. Shir Ami was accepted into the Community of Practice that focused on engaging families with young children. At the time, we had 49 member families with nine school-aged children, and we wanted to learn how to attract unaffiliated and diverse families with young children.
After meeting that young family at the Pride Festival, I’d been tossing around the idea of offering a free, monthly program for children under 5 and their parents or guardians. In addition to being fun and educational, it would provide a peer group for young families and – perhaps most significantly – get them in our doors. I invited one of the membership co-chairs to join me in this experiment, and after attending the CoP kickoff in Chicago, she presented what she’d learned to Shir Ami’s board of directors.
Although the board was hesitant to offer anything for free – that was really thinking outside the box! – they gave us their blessing to implement the program I’d envisioned. For starters, we asked a few members who are parents of young children to brainstorm with us. As a result of those sessions, Tot Talk was born.
Held once a month, Tot Talk is scheduled for a Sunday when religious school is in session and a rabbinic intern is present (we don’t have full-time clergy at Shir Ami). The one-hour session starts at 11:30 a.m., the time the school breaks for oneg, which lets the tots interact with the big kids, and lets their parents check out the environment and mingle with each other before the session officially starts at about 11:45 a.m. Parents and guardians are required to participate with their children in the session, which usually includes a welcoming song, a read-aloud story tied to the theme of the day, and a hands-on project – usually making something edible! At the end of the session, every family leaves with their project and a handout that includes information about the session’s topic and links to related topics (we get a lot of our ideas from ReformJudaism.org).
The first family to attend Tot Talk in January 2014 was the interfaith family I’d met a few months earlier at the Pride Festival! Since then, tot participants have ranged in age from nine-months to 4 years in any given session, and six of the participating families have joined our congregation. This effort has boosted our membership to 65 households, with 17 students (excluding the Tot Talk children) enrolled in our religious school.
I attribute some of this growth to the Tot Talk program itself. The rest I attribute to the CoP, which is where we learned to market the congregation (using the URJ’s free marketing materials), advertise our programs on our website’s home page, and go “outside the walls” to meet people where they are. Although we know that potential congregants are not just going to show up on our doorstep, when they do, we’ll greet them with audacious hospitality!
Harriet Skelly is president of Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, CA.
Despite the sometimes lengthy and challenging conversion process—and concerns that converted Jews are not “100 percent” Jewish—many converts to Judaism find fulfillment and a sense of identity in the Jewish faith. According to Shmuly Yanklowitz, an Orthodox rabbi and himself a convert, Judaism will need to become more inclusive and more accepting of converts if it is to to survive in the 21st century.
This week, the Raise the Wage Act was introduced in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour by the year 2020. On the occasion of the bill’s introduction, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We applaud today’s introduction of the Raise the Wage Act sponsored by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Bobby Scott. The bill would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $12.00 an hour by 2020, reflecting a commitment to ensuring all workers receive a fair and decent wage. In addition, the bill will index the minimum wage to help maintain its value for low-wage workers and provide stability and predictability for employers.
No one in America should work full time and still earn wages that keep them rooted in poverty. Yet that is the reality for too many of today’s minimum wage workers. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour translates to an annual salary of $15,080—below the poverty line for a single parent with one child. It is nearly impossible for many families to make ends meet on those earnings.
Our Jewish tradition tells us that “one who withholds an employee’s wages is as though he deprived him of his life” (Baba Metzia 112a). As workers seek each day to provide for their families, let us help ensure that the minimum wage assists them in doing so.
As Jews, we heed the moral call to end economic injustices. Raising the minimum wage is an important way to lift so many working families out of poverty.
The last time Congress raised the minimum wage was 2007, when the national minimum wage increased to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 an hour. The time for a raise for so many of America’s workers is long overdue.