Federations and Jewish Education: Learning from History So We Don’t Repeat It

Rabbi Scott Aaron We often do not know we are at important points in history until that point has passed. And, as often as not, we tend to sigh and say “if we only knew then what we know now.” The U.S. Jewish community is in the midst of just such a moment and, unlike so many other moments, we have the benefit of hindsight to inform how we capitalize on the opportunity. Namely, the Jewish education field and the federation system have an opportunity to once again truly partner in modernizing and innovating educational services for the community at large. Over the last 80 or so years, the relationship between Federations and Jewish Education often has been perceived as a tug-of-war; polar opposites struggling over control of a communal lifeline. However, this relationship has not always been … [Read more...]

Questioning the Essence of B’nai Mitzvah

courtesy HaHashem

By Kathy Schwartz A case study in B’nai Mitzvah Revolution at Congregation Har HaShem, Boulder, CO. At a recent breakfast with the chair of the senior rabbi search committee, Congregation Har HaShem’s B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Core Team had the opportunity to speak about what kind of rabbi we were seeking. Our requirements: the rabbi should be willing to embrace change; be willing to partner with us in continuing our exploration of imagining what b’nai mitzvah can be; and must understand that at Har HaShem, professionals and lay leaders do things together. BMR is our joint project. Our b’nai mitzvah revolution journey began over two years ago with a family in the synagogue. Josh was approaching 13, but because of his severe autism, his parents weren’t sure they wanted to consider bar mitzvah for … [Read more...]

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to Sell NYC Office Space

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The United Synagogue has announced it would sell its New York office and put the proceeds toward its mission of reimagining Conservative Judaism and strengthening its congregations. In December the organization signed a contract and accepted a deposit to sell its two-floor Manhattan condominium for $15.9 million. The plan is to rent a new office space, also in Manhattan, and use the monies generated by the sale to establish a supporting foundation to help fund ongoing programs, seed innovation, and ensure long-term financial sustainability. Selling the New York office is one element of an ongoing USCJ strategy, begun three years ago, of cutting expenses, expanding philanthropic support, and focusing on core functions - all aimed at better meeting the needs of congregations. The … [Read more...]

When Essential Perspective is Missing, Bring in Diverse Voices

diverse voices

Sometimes it’s difficult for leaders to ask for help, to declare the work with which they have been charged has in fact exceeded their training, expertise and professional ability. By Ilana Kaufman I bumped into Raffi, a colleague from my professional sphere, on the south side of Market Street in San Francisco. We both work in the Financial District neighborhood that seems to attract a variety of mainstream Jewish organizations, and frequent neighborhood lunch spots full of Jewish community professionals apologizing to each other in advance of ordering crispy, bacony Cobb salads or porky, sweet fluffy bao. Raffi and I don’t know each other well, and we are often awkward when in one another’s company. I find Raffi’s East Coast assertiveness a bit much for my native San Franciscan … [Read more...]

Jewish Americans Who Attend Synagogue Enjoy Better Health, Baylor University Study Finds

For Jewish Americans, going to synagogue makes a difference for health, according to a study of five large Jewish urban communities by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). “Adults who affiliate with a Jewish religious denomination and attend synagogue report significantly better health than secular or non-practicing Jews,” says Jeff Levin, Ph.D., University Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health, professor of medical humanities and director of the Program on Religion and Population Health at ISR. Data from the five community surveys confirm what studies among Christians have shown for many years: "People with a strong sense of religious identity and who participate in their faith seem to do better, on average, than people without an active spiritual life," … [Read more...]

World Zionist Congress Elections Underway

ZIONIST FLAG, 1942.
"Welcome Zionists." English-language flag used at an international Zionist meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City, May 6-11, 1942.

US Zionists  Competing for 145 Seats - 2nd Largest Delegation Elections to determine the composition of the American delegation to the 37th World Zionist Congress opened yesterday with almost 2000 people voting. After a full year of preparations, online registration and voting has begun among 11 slates, 9 of which have participated in previous Congresses and 2 slates new to the US scene. Slates will be competing for 145 delegates, the US share of the 500 elected delegates provided for by the WZO Constitution. Slates range widely in their ideological approaches, making this election a unique opportunity for American Jewry to have its voice heard on critical issues facing Israel and the Jewish People. Veteran Slates include: American Forum for Israel (American Forum of Russian Speaking Jews); … [Read more...]

Rabbi Jonah Pesner to Lead Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Rabbi Jonah Pesner will serve as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the Washington, D.C. advocacy and social justice arm of North America's largest Jewish Movement. Rabbi Pesner, an accomplished advocate with broad experience leading social justice campaigns, comes to the RAC with a mandate to deepen its advocacy work while mobilizing the Reform Jewish community and its allies. Rabbi Pesner, who founded the URJ's Just Congregations initiative that has mobilized thousands of social justice advocates, said of his new role, "Leading one of the most respected religious advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C. into its next chapter is a remarkable blessing, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to positively impact the lives of others by pursuing public … [Read more...]

Hal Lewis’ Four Questions – A Response

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By Marty Levine In his recent article, "Four Questions For The New Year About The Way We Do Business”, Hal Lewis exquisitely framed the dilemma faced by the Jewish community and particularly by those who have taken on the mantle of leadership. A fifth question is needed: is it innovation or radical change that is needed? We have long been aware that significant changes have taken hold in the American Jewish community, changes that often mirror those sweeping through the broader western world in which we are embedded. We have recognized that these new conditions challenge a communal organizational structure that has so successfully supported the life of American Jews and contributed significantly to the welfare of the our adopted country. Dr. Lewis reminds us that our people's history is a … [Read more...]