One of the most consistent messages we hear from congregational presidents is that they often feel alone with the heavy weight of responsibility for their congregation. While we encourage and work with them to build sacred partnerships with professionals, clergy, and fellow lay leaders at their congregations, we also hear that they want to be connected to people who are in the same role at other congregations.
With Hanukkah around the corner, we are excited to soon share our next "Our Story Your Table" downloadable activity book. In collaboration with Highlights Magazine, we developed a kids' activity book for all ages, featuring Hanukkah-themed jokes, activities, games, and a Highlights favorite, the "Seek and Find" puzzle.
During the COVID pandemic in southern California, we saw our Jewish communities weaken. From our camp spaces disappearing to our teen youth groups (TYG) struggling, many of us stopped programming and decreased in membership, while a few of us thrived the best way we knew how - by joining forces. For us, as youth directors, advisors, and educators, we knew this was the way to keep teens inspired and engaged with one another.
The URJ's Had'rachah (which means leadership) program teaches lay leaders a variety of skills to help them support and lead communal worship and lifecycle events like funerals and baby namings. The Had'rachah program is intended for small congregations with no more than one full-time clergy member.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) in the U.S. This year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) chose the theme of #Every1KnowsSome1 to highlight how common domestic violence is. Each of us may (or likely) knows someone, either in our Jewish community or our secular communities, who has been impacted by or is a survivor of domestic violence.
I remember my visit to Pittsburgh, to the Tree of Life and Dor Hadash Synagogue just hours after the tragic massacre, the worst incident of violence against Jews in American history. It was also weeks before the 2018 midterm elections.
As a part of my work at jHUB, which embraces interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish culture and values in Cleveland, Ohio, I meet with young interfaith couples who are looking for connection, meaning, and guidance. I get to hear their unique stories, which often reflect their desire to deepen their relationship with Judaism and with one another.
Email and other technologies are a huge factor in why employees feel like they're always on the clock. This "always-on" culture accelerated while synagogues began facing declining membership before the pandemic and has only intensified since. Even if clergy or staff are cut, the work demands don't decrease. As a result, remaining clergy or staff or volunteers are even more overwhelmed and are burning out at alarming rates.
In recent years, our synagogues have explored what it means to be 'expanding the tent' and embracing 'audacious hospitality.' Both ideas center around the notion that our Jewish communities ought to be places of belonging - spaces where everyone is welcomed, affirmed, and can feel at home.
A message to anyone who has been subject to abuse or harm within the URJ - or by the URJ as a result - and to the wider URJ communities, from Dr. Guila Benchimol and Dr. Alissa Ackerman.