The Reform Movement’s Commitment to a Brighter Future in 2021

February 2, 2021Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Last year has been tremendously difficult for so many of us in very different ways – and yet, I look forward to everything on the horizon with a sense of renewed hope. In searching for a frame for this moment in time I’m drawn to this passage in Mishkan T’filah (p. 157), adapted from the philosopher Michael Walzer: 

Wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt
that there is a better place a promised land;
that the winding way to that promise
passes through the wilderness.
That there’s no way to get from here to there
Except by joining hands, marching together.

In 2021, the Reform Movement is committed to joining hands and marching to that better place by continuing our sacred work and engaging in incredible new projects and initiatives. This past year has taken us through a kind of Egypt but now we’re embarking on an exodus of our own – one of serving our communities in new, exciting, and powerful ways. Though the terrain may be uncertain, we are guided by our deep commitments to justice, learning, and action.

What We’ve Already Accomplished in 2021

After the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, fueled by white supremacy and antisemitism, many of us understandably started this year with a sense of fear, anger, and uncertainty. But what happened on January 6 is not an omen of things to come; it is a reminder of the work yet be done. We know that love – fueled by social, racial, and economic justice – will always prevail over hate.

Because we are always ready to respond during a time of crisis and help our communities navigate through difficulty, the URJ compiled a list of Jewish resources for coping with the insurrection, as well as a list of resources for action to help dismantle the systems that allowed it to happen in the first place. We also hosted “Where Do We Go from Here?”  in which Reform leaders and distinguished guest panelists discussed the many ways in which we must confront systemic racism and do our part in the pursuit of tikkun olam.

Our Commitment to Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI)

We know we cannot expect to repair the effects of systemic racism if we do not first address our own internal racism and implicit biases. Jews of Color have been on the receiving end of microaggressions in our communities for far too long, and the Reform Movement will continue to honor Jews of Color by recommitting steadfastly pursuing the work of Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI).

To help us lead this work, Yolanda Savage-Narva joined our team in December 2020 as the URJ’s very first director of REDI. An accomplished former executive director of Operation Understanding DC, as well as the former vice chair of the Religious Action Center’s Racial Justice Task Force, Savage-Narva has proven a considerable commitment to racial justice, and we are thrilled about her joining the Reform Movement leadership in this capacity. Savage-Narva is also proactively leading spaces for Jews of Color and People of Color in the Reform Movement to come together through two Affinity Space Gatherings, taking place in February and March.

That same month, actor and musician Nick Cannon visited Washington, D.C., to record an episode of his podcast and YouTube show Cannon’s Class, in which he discussed Judaism, social justice, and more with RAC staff. This year, guided by what we’ve learned so far and with an eye to the future, the RAC will take proactive action in its upcoming racial justice campaigns and has received a grant from the Jews of Color Initiative to hire at least two young Jews of Color to the next class of RAC Eisendrath Legislative Assistants (applications are now open).

If we want a more equitable and inclusive Jewish landscape, those in our communities need to see leaders who look like them and understand their experiences firsthand.

Summer 5781: Camp, Israel, and Beyond

Due to social distancing protocols, so many families felt disconnected from Jewish life and learning last year. In response, in the fall 2020, the URJ launched RJ on the Go, an exciting new virtual platform providing interactive and fun Jewish experiences through science, art, text, and more. Because the response was so overwhelmingly positive, we are thrilled to continue bringing even more new and exciting experiences to your home in 2021.

This pandemic put an unfortunate hold on in-person programming for our youth and young adults – After maintaining constant discussions with health and camp experts and staying alert and responsive to this pandemic’s changes, the URJ was able to announce plans to safely reopen our summer camps and Israel programs in 2021. By doing so, we prove our commitment to providing our young leaders the chance to reengage in fun and immersive programming – while making their safety our utmost priority.

To further show our commitment to teen leadership rooted in social justice, we’ll soon launch the final unit of our new RAC Social Justice Academy and the Spring 2021 RAC Leadership Development Fellowship, both of which provide high school students with a virtual fully opportunity to learn how to take action and repair the world. Additionally, from February 5-7, NFTY will host NFTY Convention 2021, showcasing everything in store for our summer youth programming and inspire teens to connect, learn, and serve.

Reopening and Re-nourishing Our Communities

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for us all, we take pride in the myriad ways our Reform clergy and staff quickly adapted to serve Reform congregations through online worship, programming, and education.

We know our congregational leaders have a lot of questions and feelings of uncertainty about things to come. This is why the URJ is preparing to launch our Congregational Accelerator Networks: new and dynamic opportunities for Reform Movement congregational leaders to learn and practice collaborative change through ongoing relationships with one another, all from a Jewish perspective. In part, these networks will compel us to ask: How do we lead through ambiguity? How do we build a more equitable future? What does it mean to gather now that so much of life is online?

For those interested in joining these gatherings, please fill out this expression of interest form.

A More Accessible Path to Adult Education

The URJ and Reform congregations have long offered a variety of classes to help seekers explore and better understand Judaism – and in spite of the uncertainty that 2020 brought us, the Reform Movement has not wavered from its dedication to providing quality adult educational programming.

This is why we are expanding our courses aimed at adult learners, including the launch of Learn to Read Hebrew for Adults and Introduction to Judaism Taught Online in American Sign Language (ASL). We want as many individuals as possible to fully participate in our learning opportunities, and by making them more accessible, we are honoring our commitment to further creating an ohel petuach – an open tent.

Like this past year, 2021 will be another year of uncertainty. I don’t claim to have all the answers to the questions many of us have. But I do know that we as a Movement have faced countless obstacles in the past, only to emerge stronger, more knowledgeable, and rededicated to doing the work that needs to be done. As we walk hand-in-hand into 2021, let us make this year one filled with purpose, joy, nourishment, and a renewed sense of hope.

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