Is your congregation interested in offering classes on “Judaism 101″? The Union for Reform Judaism is offering grants to help congregations offer Taste of Judaism™, a free, three-session class for beginners – Jewish or not – that explores the topics of Jewish spirituality, ethics and community values.
Taste of Judaism™ is a high-visibility, low-threshold program of liberal Jewish content designed to pique the interest of all who are searching for an access point to Jewish life. The class is designed for those who would like to explore or re-explore the foundations of Jewish tradition and are looking for an entry into Judaism. The class has been remarkably successful with unaffiliated Jews, those who are not Jewish but who are interested in learning about Judaism, interfaith couples and their families and those considering conversion.
Congregations may apply for grant funding if they have not received a URJ Taste of Judaism grant within the past three years. The URJ will fund 75% or more of anticipated advertising costs plus a modest honorarium for the instructor. Congregations with 150 or fewer members may be considered for full grant funding. Grant applications are due by May 31 and notification of awards will be made by June 30.
With or without URJ financial support, all URJ congregations offering A Taste of Judaism™ receive training, camera-ready advertisements, a class listing on the URJ’s new website for people interested in Judaism, access to Taste of Judaism™ administrative documents, and more.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, senior vice president of the URJ, calls Taste of Judaism™ “one of the URJ’s best tools for expanding our reach beyond the walls of our congregations.”
For more information and to apply for a grant, visit urj.org/cong/outreach/taste.
This excerpt is taken from a new post in the Jewish Energy Guide created by the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). Rabbi David Seidenberg uses his website, Neohasid.org, to teach eco-Torah, including the environmental implications of Rainbow Day. He discusses the covenant God made with Noah, and how we should reflect more often on the rainbow covenant and our role in sustaining the environment.
Excerpt: Rainbow Day, which falls on the 42nd day of the counting of the omer, and the day after Yom Yerushalayim — Jerusalem Day — is a time to celebrate the diversity of life on Earth, and to remember our role in God’s covenant. It is a time to remember that the first covenant was not with human beings but with all living things, and it’s a chance to reflect on the deep spiritual and religious meaning of diversity, creation and our role as part of Creation and partners with God. This is a special time in human civilization when we need to reflect on the rainbow covenant and our place in sustaining a world where sowing and reaping, cold and hot, summer and winter will not stop.
Click here to read to the full post.
by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
I love the excited buzz in the synagogue before Shabbat morning services when one of our kids is going to be called to the Torah as b’nai mitzvah.
I love the eager, nervous energy I feel emanating from the family. The parents, caught between the mundane organizational details they were worrying about yesterday and the growing awareness that today is something different, a different kind of time. The younger sibling, if there is one, rolling their eyes but also realizing that this is going to be them someday.
I love standing outside in the field behind our sanctuary, listening to the wild tapestry of birdsong, while the photographer adjusts: you put your arm around her, there, okay, turn a little bit this way, look at me, smile! The family always makes such a beautiful tableau, and I know they’ll look at these photographs for the rest of their lives.
I love running through the Torah portion with the bat mitzvah girl one last time before services begin. Her voice is a little bit higher, her pace faster, today than ever before. By now I’ve practiced chanting this Torah portion with her so many times that I know it by heart, too.
I love the feeling of standing before the assembled community — members of our congregation; our small core of Shabbat morning regulars; visiting family and friends — and welcoming them into this place and this moment, this celebration of Shabbat and this celebration of a young person taking their place in our community.
I love inviting anyone who’s never seen the inside of a Torah scroll up to the bimah, and unrolling it. Asking them to say, aloud, what makes it different from the books they usually read. It’s in Hebrew; it’s on parchment; it’s a scroll; it’s handwritten. Then I point out things they might not have noticed: there’s no punctuation. There are no vowels. There are no musical notations.
I love seeing one of our kids shine. Hearing them read from Torah, and offer blessings, and teach something of what they’ve learned to the entire congregation.
I love hearing the blessing the parent(s) offer. Without fail, hearing the earnest words of love and pride they offer to their child is one of the most moving moments of my day, and reminds me of my own place in the chain of generations, between my parents and my son.
And I love chatting with people after the service, finding out what moved them and what spoke to them. It can be hard for me to gauge, when a lot of people have assembled who maybe aren’t necessarily singing along, whether the service is reaching them. But every time, I hear from someone who didn’t expect to be moved, or who didn’t expect the service to be accessible, and was pleasantly surprised.
Mostly I love knowing that we’ve co-created a beautiful memory for the new young adult and for their family, and that our community is now one adult Jew richer.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, source of all being, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.
Originally posted at Velveteen Rabbi
It’s May. Can you believe it? Every year it seems to sneak up on me. But here it is.
Most synagogues and Jewish professionals are at the point in the year that I typically call the “race to the finish line.” We are busy completing our program years, winding down religious schools and looking toward Shavuot as a point where we might briefly catch our breath; all while planning for next year by finalizing calendars and budgets. We can probably agree that the much anticipated summer months will allow us a chance to regroup, reflect and start it all over again.
I think this is a good time for a check-in.
Do you remember that February was Jewish Disability Awareness Month, or is it just a flash in your rear-view mirror at this point? Did you check JDAM off your program list as you moved on to the next activity, event or holiday? Now is the perfect time, despite the crazy, hectic days of budgets and calendars, to be thinking about JDAM.
Take a moment or two for reflection. Did you experience something meaningful? Did you learn something new? What inspired you? Please share it here. Let’s learn from each other, share our experiences and use this as an opportunity for meaningful reflection. Meaningful reflection can lead to positive action!
Some thoughts for you to consider:
- As you plan next year’s calendar, dedicate specific days for disability awareness/acceptance opportunities.
- Even better, look at your entire calendar with an eye toward ensuring that all your programs will be inclusive.
- Form an inclusion committee or task force now, so that it can guide your conversations in the program year to come.
- As you plan your budget, set aside funds for professional development, teacher training and/or guest speakers.
- Even better, make the commitment to hire a dedicated professional to specifically focus on issues of inclusion.
It’s May. And if you are like me, February seems like a year ago. I hope you don’t let Jewish Disability Awareness Month become just another “program” that you “did” this year.
Inclusion is too important.
Originally published at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block
The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development.
I figured between having a Facebook account and teenage daughters, I would be ahead of the game in this process. Yet even with my familiarity with social media tools, participating in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy really put me into the shoes of our students.
by Ron Wolfson
It’s that time of year, when Jewish institutions pull out their 2013-14 calendars and fill them with events. Many of the programs are very good, with clever names and slick marketing: Jews and Brews for young Federation leadership; L’mazeltov for expectant parents; Torah and Tacos for synagogue members who favor a certain southwestern cuisine with their Bible study.
And yet, after all this well-meaning effort, membership in synagogues and JCCs is declining, federation campaigns are flat and a generation of young Jewish adults is in no hurry to affiliate. The 20th century model of programmatic engagement is not working.
Recently I received an urgent phone call from what once was one of the largest synagogues in America, some 1,500 households. In 2000, the congregation had a balanced budget and no mortgage on a sprawling building. Ominously, young couples were moving out of the neighborhood and older folks were dropping out. The leaders knew they had to do something.
Here’s what they did: They borrowed $1 million. Nearly half was spent on a slick rabbi who lasted less than two years. The rest was spent on programs: lectures by top speakers, concerts by renowned celebrities and an array of events targeted to specific segments of the community. Lots of people came to the programs and ostensibly enjoyed them. Then they went home.
Nothing was done to address the widely held perception that the congregation was cold and unwelcoming. Nothing was done to create connections between those who showed up and the clergy and staff. By the time the leaders called me, the congregation was $1 million in debt and had shrunk to 350 households.
What’s going on? Synagogues, rabbis and Jewish educators once were the main access points to serious Jewish learning. JCCs were a comfortable place to put your little ones in preschool, join a health club and participate in cultural activities. Federations were the central address for supporting the various arms of the community.
The Internet has changed all that. Hundreds of websites feature rich Jewish content for free. Why pay to join a congregation when I can watch live streaming video of worship services, arrange for a bar or bat mitzvah tutor online and have the ceremony in my backyard with a rent-a-rabbi? Why join a JCC when I can go to a fitness center and easily find a cheaper preschool? Why give to a centralized federation when I can direct my giving to causes that resonate with me?
This begs the ultimate question: What is the value of affiliating with a Jewish institution?
In my new book, “Relational Judaism” (Jewish Lights Publishing), I suggest it is this: a face-to-face community of relationships that offers meaning and purpose, belonging and blessing.
To create such a community, we need to turn our engagement model upside down. Rather than spending all our time planning events and hoping people show up, let’s begin with the people: Welcome them, hear their stories, identify their talents and passions, care about them and for them — and then craft programs that engage them with the Jewish experience.
Thankfully, there are organizations and individuals on the cutting edge of this relational tipping point. Chabad has grown from a small group of disciples to an army of 4,500 rabbis and their families who reject the dues model of affiliation: pay up front, then you are served. Rather, they build a relationship with individuals first and only then ask for financial support.
Congregation-based community organizing begins with one-on-one conversations designed to tease out common interests that can be the basis for communal action. Hillel is sending well-trained college students into the dorms and Greek houses to develop relationships with peers who would never walk into a Hillel House. A number of next generation initiatives like Synagogue 3000’s Next Dor and Moishe House are designed to reach young Jewish professionals by building relationships. Social media are increasingly useful as a way to build virtual communities and encourage face-to-face meetings.
The best fundraisers know that relationships are at the heart of raising money; most charitable giving is to people the donor trusts, not simply to support a particular cause.
From these case studies and more than 150 interviews with those doing relational work, my book throws a spotlight on a number of best principles and practices that any Jewish institutional professional or lay leader can use to do this transformational work, ranging from personal encounters to new relational membership models.
This paradigm shift will not be easy; this is labor-intensive work. It will not require more buildings but a reallocation of the precious time of staff and laity. We will need engagement rabbis, relationship directors, community concierges and sophisticated tracking systems to ensure appropriate follow-up and transitions as individuals traverse the life cycle of community engagement. We will not need new institutions, but to transform the institutions we already have from programmatic to relational communities. People may come for programs, but they will stay for relationships.
So as we fill out those calendars for next year, let’s embrace a new goal: to engage every member of our institutions and every interested unaffiliated person in a deeper relationship with Judaism, with the Jewish experience and with each other. Let’s begin by putting people before programs. Let’s learn who they are before we try to figure out what they want. Let’s inspire them to see Judaism as a worldview that can inform the many different levels of relationship in their lives.
Let’s work toward a rededication of our mishpachah, our people, to a relational Judaism.
Ron Wolfson, a member of the URJ Faculty of Expert Practitioners, is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and the co-founder of Synagogue 3000/Next Dor. His new book is “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights Publishing). Learn more about Ron and the URJ Faculty.
by Cantor Sarah Sager
As I was gathering my thoughts about the Centennial celebration of the Women of Reform Judaism, the news that former Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, had passed away flashed across the news screen. Among the initial reports of her death, she was quoted as saying: “If you want something said, go to a man. If you want something done, go to a woman.” While I do not subscribe to the gender dichotomy, the second part of her statement caught my attention. It has been my experience in synagogue life that, in fact, when congregations need something, they tend to turn, instinctively to the (former) Sisterhoods or women’s groups. Historically, there were many reasons for this, but it is remarkable to me how much these groups were and continue to able to accomplish and yet, how somewhat maligned and beleaguered they have become. Even while the women of our Sisterhoods poured tea, baked, served, and were responsible for so many “wifely” duties in our congregations, they were simultaneously at the forefront of women’s issues. The very existence of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods grew out of women’s advocacy for and involvement with the Women’s Suffrage movement.
The founders of NFTS learned through those advocacy efforts that women, organized together, can accomplish more than any single individual or group alone. Throughout the 100 years of their history, the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which became the more appropriately named, Women of Reform Judaism in 1993, advocated for women’s rights and issues, for children and our youth, for social justice. They were involved in relief, support, aid and advocacy during World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the creation of the State of Israel, the release of Soviet Jews, and the great social and humanitarian issues of every decade since their founding, including human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, GLBT rights, environmental concerns as well as interfaith, aging & educational initiatives. The NFTS founded the National Federation of Temple Youth, and has provided scholarships, housing, educational and personal support for rabbinic, cantorial, and education students at our Reform Seminary, the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Under the leadership of their Executive Director, Jane Evans, NFTS was one of the early advocates on behalf of women rabbis, which opened the door for women cantors as well as for the expanded role of women as leaders in all areas of the synagogue and in all walks of life.
My own experience with the NFTS began in 1979, just after I was newly invested as a Cantor, when I was invited by the leadership of District 3 to speak at an area meeting of Long Island Sisterhoods. The title of my presentation, Sisterhood and Redemption: Not for Women Only, emerged out of our conversations concerning what they were asking me to address. I was immediately struck by the in-depth, focused, and exceedingly thoughtful approach that they had to this event. Although the Women’s Movement had been in existence at that point for more than ten years, there were still many unanswered questions, unchallenged assumptions about women and their lives, as well as a wide range of reality in terms of what some women could and were doing and those who were feeling left behind. As women – and young women – were increasingly seeking to pursue careers and work outside of the home, the volunteer world was beginning to feel neglected and diminished and without a sense of direction or purpose. The women of District 3 wanted to address these issues in a meaningful way – hence, their invitation to me, a young professional woman, and their investment in exploring with me the parameters of what I might consider and what I might present as specific suggestions for their sisterhoods to pursue. The final outcome of our deliberations and my exploration of this phenomenon was to suggest that Sisterhood become the empowering agent in women’s lives. I was profoundly impressed that these women not only understood the challenges that they were facing, but they wanted to confront them realistically, pro-actively, and concretely. I was powerfully influenced by the encounter as my own thinking was deepened and enriched by their openly probing, analyzing, and searching questions – and their belief in me that I might help them in their journey.
It was that initial encounter with NFTS/The Women of Reform Judaism, that predisposed me to our most important collaboration that began in October 1991. This time they asked me to address the topic of “The Torah for Reform Jewish Women.” Not long before this invitation arrived, I had been studying Vayeira, in which we find the difficult and troubling episode of the binding and near-sacrifice of Isaac. In thinking about the portion, for the very first time I wondered how Sarah might have felt about this unthinkable threat to her son and Abraham’s seeming willingness to carry it out. With those thoughts very much in my mind, knowing that this would be an opportunity to explore further the silent women of our tradition, and with confidence that the women of District 3 would be serious participants in the Scholar-in-Residence weekend they were proposing, I accepted with excitement and anticipation. During the Scholar-in-Residence weekend that followed a year later, in October of 1992, I first proposed the creation of a Women’s Commentary to the Torah. As the “doers” they have always been, the women took my suggestion to the national organization and I was able to propose the challenge of a Women’s Commentary at the Biennial Convention of the Women of Reform Judaism in November 1993. Their response was such that fourteen years later, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary was published. In the preface to that volume, I shared the following: “I have been awed by the power of this organization and the ability of the women who lead it. I am profoundly grateful to every member of WRJ for undertaking this project with courage and resolve, with an understanding of its potential to transform our tradition, with willingness to embrace a dream and make it a reality. Working together, women have funded, designed, researched, written, edited, and critiqued this unprecedented volume. We have done all of this in historic fashion: a woman’s voice inspired a community of women to undertake this project in which women scholars, rabbis, cantors, teachers and poets bring their voices, their unique perspective to the ancient text of our overwhelmingly patriarchal tradition. This extraordinary volume, the result of the efforts of so many is a veritable symphony of women’s voices – beautiful, powerful, inspirational, transformative.”
The vision of this work was realized at such a high level of excellence that just shortly after its publication, the Commentary was chosen as a winner of the 2008 National Jewish Book Awards. It was judged the best written, most comprehensive, and engaging book in its category. The Editor, Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, and the Assistant Editor, Rabbi Andrea Weiss, received the top prize for the 2008 Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award.
For 100 years, the Women of Reform Judaism has been a very special organization. With their time, their talent, their resources, their passion and their profound devotion, they have been loving partners with God in making the words of Sinai live – in new and positive ways for women, for children and students, for men, for our congregations, the wider Jewish community, and far beyond. We pray that they will go from strength to strength for another hundred years of making this world a loving place of sacred endeavor and accomplishment.
- If you want something done, go to a woman.
- If you want to undertake a major project, go to a group of women.
- And if you want that project to be excellent, ground-breaking, and visionary, go to the Women of Reform Judaism!
Originally posted on ACC’s blog.
Cantor Sarah Sager, the first invested Cantor at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple of Beachwood, OH, has served the community since 1980 and serves on the Executive Board of the American Conference of Cantors.
Her presentation at WRJ’s 1993 Assembly,“Sarah’s Hidden Voice: Recovering and Discovering Women’s Spirituality,” charged WRJ women with “uncovering and recovering women’s voices from our tradition and enable women to interact freely with our sacred texts in the future” and led to WRJ’s The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (2007).
By Rabbi Edwin Goldberg
Part Two: Chevruta (Intense Text Study) With A Thousand People
Last week I wrote about the decision of the Machzor editors to break the shofar service into three parts, with each part appearing in a different section of the service. As I mentioned, the three parts of the shofar service carry different themes: God’s sovereignty, God’s remembrance of us, and God’s redeeming us. When these three themes are presented one after the other, especially towards the end of the Rosh Hashanah morning service, it is hard to reflect on the spiritual depth of these insights. By dividing the shofar service into three, more attention on each section is possible.
For example, let’s consider the first theme, God’s sovereignty, or Malchuyot. The editors place this theme (with the sounding of the shofar of course) towards the beginning of the service, when traditional God is proclaimed the ultimate Sovereign. (The celebration of Rosh Hashanah in the fall, as opposed to the spring when the first Hebrew month falls, may have to do with the ancient custom of proclaiming earthly rulers in the fall.)
In the traditional high holy day prayer book, biblical verses from Torah, Psalms and Prophets are chosen to serve as windows into the theme of God’s sovereignty. In addition, a declaration of our need to acknowledge the power of God is added in a liturgical piece that came to be called Aleinu. Like a small-town actor that makes it to the Great White Way, the popularity of Aleinu led it to being added to the general Jewish prayer book.
This section, like the other two, also features contemporary poems, in an effort to expand our notion of God from being the supreme Ruler to also the spiritual partner. In other words, God’s majesty is not only reflective of the gilded trappings of a medieval court. The power of God is also felt in the flash of insight brought by a spiritual moment, or the recognition that our righteous actions affect God.
The second section of the shofar service – presented before the reading of Torah – deals with God’s memory, Zichronot. Once again ancient and
modern material is presented, and our editorial desire is to expand the notion from God’s remembering to include our remembering as well.
The third section, Shofarot, coming towards the end of the service, offers the theme of hope. Redemption is presented as something that God brings and/or we bring through our mindset and our acts of hope and goodness.
All three sections present the biblical and modern citations under the title, A Minyan of Passages for Reflection.” This title refers not only to the fact that traditionally ten (re: minyan) citations from the different sources were included. It is also an invitation for the individual worshiper to
reflect on the deeper meanings of these words.
Ideally the editors also imagine that congregations of any size might also pause in the prayer recitations and shofar soundings to study in groups of two or three (chevruta) and turn the sanctuary into a house of study, even if only for a few minutes. The texts are chosen to invite such a
Clearly such activity works better when observed at the discretion of the worship leader and when the three parts of the shofar service are not presented one after the other.
The editors of the machzor hope that, in introducing these innovations, the words of the great Zionist rabbi Isaac Kook will be realized: “The old shall be made new and the new shall be made holy.”
Rabbi Edwin Goldberg has served as the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables since 1996. In July he will begin serving as the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago. He is the coordinating editor of the forthcoming CCAR Machzor and is the author of five books. His newest book is, Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most.
by Micah Lapidus
Jewish day school sustainability is about more than survival. It’s about maintaining a diverse, vibrant, dynamic, healthy, growing school community. The best way to achieve day school sustainability is by ensuring that we’re fully engaging our human resources. What does it look like to fully engage our human resources? Here’s a case study.
My school, The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School, is a school that loves Jewish music. Jewish singing permeates our school, most noticeably at holiday celebrations and at our weekly Kabbalat Shabbat gatherings. When I came to Davis five years ago I began writing and composing Jewish music—it seemed like a natural thing to do given my musical background and the role of music at Davis. Our head of school and I decided it would be awesome if we could utilize my songwriting knack to shine a light on Davis’ love for Jewish music. The result is The Davis Academy’s first album of original Jewish rock: Be a Blessing.
Just as The Davis Academy decided to engage my musicianship, I quickly learned that the success of the music project was contingent on my engaging others within the Davis community. I engaged our middle school principal, Jamie Kudlats, who happens to be a professional keyboard player with a singing voice like Jackson Browne. (Imagine Paul Simon’s nephew at the mic.) I engaged our fine arts director, Kendrick Phillips, who sounds uncannily like Stevie Nicks and brings tremendous energy and enthusiasm to everything she does. I also engaged our middle school music teacher, Bob Michek, who drummed with a band in the 90’s that opened for Winger among others on the New York club scene. Be a Blessing engaged many students, first as vocalists and later as visual artists. We even engaged our front desk receptionist, Janice Durden, who is the president of her church choir and can belt out a gospel tune like no other.
Be a Blessing features 13 original songs and a 16 page color booklet. Inside the booklet are 26 pieces of original student artwork that exist independently as 2×2 canvases that were created for the album. The student artists engaged with the songs on the album as inspiration for their art work which in turn became the packaging for the album. The graphic design of the album is stunning because we engaged our visual arts teacher, Rebecca Ganz.
One of the songs on the album is called, “Kol Yisrael.” It is based on the teaching, Kol Yisrael areivin zeh l’zeh (“All Israel is responsible for one another”). For this song we engaged our entire student body and many of our parents and grandparents to create a choir of voices more than 1,000 strong. You can see us all singing on the fabulous music video for this song:
Deep engagement builds community. It empowers people. It lets people know that they are valued and their school needs their talents, creativity, passion, and expertise. Engaging members of The Davis Academy for Be a Blessing demonstrates Davis’ commitment to remaining a diverse, vibrant, dynamic, healthy, growing school community.
In this paradigm, every Jewish day school and every Jewish institution, is inherently sustainable. Every Jewish day school has their own version of: musical rabbi, Jamie, Kendrick, Bob, Janice, and Rebecca. Every Jewish day school has multiple areas of passion and expertise. Every Jewish day school has talented and energetic students. The question is: Are we fully engaging who we already have?
Rabbi Micah Lapidus is the Director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at the Alfred and Adele Davis Academy in Atlanta, GA.
Originally published at PEJE Blog
Are you on your synagogue’s social action committee?
Do you want to:
- Learn more about the Reform Movement’s newest partnerships, campaigns and initiatives?
- Discover new ways to bring exciting social action programs to your congregation?
- Get valuable skills training?
Participate in our Social Action Committee Webinar
Tuesday May 7
3:00-4:00 PM ET
For more information email Isaac Nuell (email@example.com).
In the six months since Superstorm Sandy devastated coastal communities in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the Reform Jewish community has rallied to support the rebuilding effort, our synagogues, and the millions of people who were – and continue to be – impacted by the storm.
Although much of the Reform Movement’s work has been behind the scenes – raising and allocating funds, coordinating volunteers, and keeping abreast of the rebuilding efforts two of our synagogues are undertaking – our members have risen to the occasion. Countless volunteer hours have been applied to the cause, entire trailers of donated goods have been sent by our synagogues to some of the hardest-hit communities, and the URJ’s Disaster Relief Fund, which opened just after the storm passed, raised nearly $1 million for relief efforts.
Here’s are 10 ways the Reform Movement has aided in relief efforts during the last six months:
- To date, we’ve allocated $142,000 to Reform congregations affected by the storm. Among the allocation are $90,000 to West End Temple in Neponsit, NY; $20,000 to Temple Sinai in Massapequa, NY; $7,500 to North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, NY, to provide meals to displaced families; $5,000 to Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY, to help families replace lost Judaica; and the remaining $19,500 to congregations with families who were displaced or whose homes were severely damaged.
- We provided special assistance to West End Temple in Neponsit, NY. This congregation in the Far Rockaways section of New York suffered significant damage from Hurricane Sandy. The URJ collected funds on behalf of West End Temple until their electricity was restored and their online donation system functional. In addition to our monetary donation to the congregation, the Men of Reform Judaism’s Reform on Campus grantees donated $500 in the form of Target gift cards to West End Temple.
- We established a Youth Scholarship Fund to help affected young people remain connected with the Jewish community. At a time when their belongings and homes may be damaged or lost, this fund removes financial barriers that could keep displaced youth from engaging with their faith community when they need it most. The Women of Reform Judaism contributed $10,000 to this fund.
- The Central Conference of American Rabbis sent more than 400 prayer books to storm-ravaged synagogues. New copies of Mishkan T’filah, the Reform Movement prayer book, went to West End Temple, as well as to Temple Sinai in Massapequa, which also suffered severe storm damage.
- We supported Congregation Beth Elohim’s efforts to help their neighbors. The Brooklyn congregation, which provided meals and organized volunteers after the storm, served as a hub for a diverse group of people from varying religious, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds to help those most in need. Our $50,000 allocation to them supported these efforts and more.
- We sent $50,000 to New York Legal Assistance Group, which provides free civil legal services to New Yorkers who cannot afford a private attorney. NYLAG continue to help victims with FEMA applications, public benefits, housing issues, insurance and other immediate legal needs. The organization also trains lawyers unfamiliar with this kind of work to help their neighbors.
- We sent money and volunteers to NECHAMA, the Jewish Response to Disaster, to build additional response capacity. NECHAMA personnel arrived in New Jersey less than 18 hours after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, worked through the snowstorm that occurred the following week and deployed their entire staff to manage volunteers, assist individuals and organizations with clean-up and preparation for rebuilding. Our $50,000 grant is helping the organization increase human capital and their inventory of tools, equipment, supplies and vehicles on the ground.
- We provided grants to organizations doing on-the-ground rebuilding, allocating $60,000 to Friends of Rockaway, which hires unemployed Queens residents to properly gut homes destroyed by the storm. Michael Sinensky, co-founder of Friends of the Rockaways, said of the group’s work, “[We] are one of the only local groups in Rockaway not only doing relief, but rebuilding.” We also sent $25,000 to help rebuild theBroad Channel Athletic Club, a community center that provides extracurricular activities – including an after-school teen club and summer sports leagues – to New York communities.
- We’re helping local groups focus on long-term rebuilding. We sent $25,000 each to the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group and the Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group, located in storm-ravaged New Jersey counties where Sandy had massive and widespread impact. As recently as March, more than 1,500 families and individuals in Monmouth County remained displaced, and another 1,000 inhabited homes unfit for living due to a lack of heat, hot water, or a growth of mold on the premises. These groups are working to coordinate services and resources to help address the long-term needs of residents.
- Reform congregations all over North America pitched in to help. Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, IL, sent 300 lbs. of toiletries to Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, NJ. Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan donated 2,500 cans of soup, hundreds of pounds of cleaning supplies, and more than $29,000 to aid those in need. Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, FL, sent warm clothing, water, food, and emergency supplies to hard-hit areas in Staten Island and New Jersey. Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore dispatched six trucks of food, clothing, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, pet supplies, and more to affected areas. And the list goes on.
The responses seen across the Reform Jewish community are powerful. Hurricane Sandy brought about terrible destruction and stories of despair – but within the last six months have emerged stories of hope, partnership, and peoplehood. In a time of great need, the organized Reform Movement and congregations across North America came together to show that we are, indeed, a movement.
May is Jewish American Heritage Month, which is a great impetus to talk about congregational heritage preservation. These days, communities are rapidly changing and Jewish communities are no exceptions: Congregations that were once large and thriving now find themselves with dwindling membership rolls; meanwhile other congregations are experiencing unexpected growth and are faced with the positive challenge of growing their physical space along with their membership size. With all of these changes, it is more important than ever to implement an archiving plan to ensure the rich history and traditions of your synagogue endure after all the changes and for years to come.
There are many places to start the preservation effort but congregational leaders often find that starting the discussion about preservation is the hardest part. Whatever stage of life your congregation is in, though, we encourage leaders to start the congregational heritage preservation discussion. Whether you broach the subject by celebrating the wonderful programs your congregation runs, programs that you want to document as evidence of the vibrancy of your congregation, or by recognizing that the business of running a synagogue involves contracts and records of all sorts and deciding to get those in order, having the discussion is a very important first step.
Once you and your fellow board members have decided to begin (or continue) preserving you congregation’s heritage, you may be looking at each other wondering, “What do we do now?” While every congregation is different and therefore its preservation needs will vary from other synagogues, here are some guidelines to successful and effective congregational heritage preservation.
We’ve compiled the 10 commandments of congregational heritage preservation:
- Thou shall plan ahead.
- Thou shall retain all records. Now is the time to locate and maintain specific legal documents, such as bylaws and financial records.
- Thou shall document, catalog and preserve. Take inventory!
- Thou shall engage thy precious human resources. Your congregation can preserve its rich history by interviewing founding and other veteran members.
- Thou shall remember the past. Starting or adding to an archive or museum can be done independently or in conjunction with The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives or other area synagogues.
- Thou shall enjoy and celebrate the present.
- Thou shall look forward to thy legacy. Many congregations create living wills articulating the decisions made about the future of the synagogue, its assets and what happens to both should the synagogue merge or dissolve.
- Thou shall not be discouraged by the thought of dissolution or merger. Decide what to do with your synagogue’s records, ritual objects, property and the distribution of its assets now, rather than during a period of heightened emotions.
- Thou shall not neglect the cemetery.
- Thou shall ask for help. URJ staff members are available for consultations to help you and your congregation preserve your congregation’s heritage.