By April Baskin
At the 2013 URJ Biennial, Rabbi Rick Jacobs gave an historic speech that called upon the Reform Jewish community to reach out, embrace, and integrate into Jewish life the full spectrum of pluralistic Jews, particularly those who are chronically excluded. He encapsulated this idea in the phrase “audacious hospitality,” and within two years hired me, a thirtysomething Jewish woman of color who picked up and moved to New York City to fulfill a dream to bring this vision to life.
At the heart of audacious hospitality is the belief that we will be a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community when we not only welcome, but also embrace the diversity that is the reality – and future – of modern Jewish life. The meaning of audacious hospitality is both new and old: a bold next step in decades-long, cutting-edge Reform Jewish inclusion and outreach efforts.
Immediately, my days (and nights!) were filled with developing and assessing programs, meeting donors, and speaking at conferences, synagogues, summer camps, and universities. We built a team and started by asking questions; now, we’re beginning to answer them.
Two years into this work, three strategic themes have emerged: outreach and engagement, leadership development, and resources and education. With those themes in mind, we’ve built an array of resources and programs:
- The newly released Audacious Hospitality Pilot Toolkit introduces and teaches fundamental concepts of audacious hospitality in an easy-to-use and comprehensive way.
- Our JewV’Nation Fellowship promotes leadership development and innovation through a year-long project incubator, targeting intersectional inclusion efforts in our Jewish communities. (Check it out: Each Friday on our blog, we’re profiling our fellows and the incredible inclusion work they’re doing.)
- We’ve offered distance-learning programs on such issues as transgender awareness and education, as well as disability inclusion, and now, through a groundbreaking partnership between URJ Youth and Keshet, we’re better training our camp and youth program staff in LGBTQ inclusivity.
- The legacy of the Belin Awards, which honors congregations that develop uniquely innovative and effective audacious hospitality programs, continues with new winners to be honored at the 2017 URJ Biennial.
We’re making progress – and yet, there’s so much more we’re eager to do. Here’s what comes next:
- Providing Additional Resources: To build upon the more than 50 resources contained in the Audacious Hospitality Pilot Toolkit, we’re planning additional educational assets that will focus on LGBTQ inclusion, Jews-of-color, and interfaith couples. These materials will promote professional development for individuals who, already inspired by the Pilot Toolkit, want to go deeper. In fact, we’ve already received a donation of $20,000 earmarked for the Pilot Toolkit’s LGBTQ module.
- Expanding the JewV’Nation Fellowship: To create an online network to connect and empower Jews-of-color, we’re planning to expand the number of JewV’Nation Fellows in New York, and to support their development as emerging leaders within Jewish institutions. We’re also planning a North American cohort of the fellowship that focuses on inclusivity and integration in our diverse, continent-wide communities. Finally, we are developing a strategy to provide additional resources and support to interfaith couples.
At long last, we are “firing on all cylinders” – which, in our case, could only happen after we built the proverbial engine casement, the turbines, and the pistons, and filled the engine with fuel. Now, four productive, fruitful, and exciting years after Rabbi Jacobs’ speech, the engine driving our audacious hospitality work is revved up and ready to go. Our dedicated and enthusiastic team is working to build a brighter, more inclusive Jewish future for so many.
Some of you have already been touched by our work, whether by participating in a program or through your congregation – and if you’ve yet to engage with us, we’re here for you! Our audacious hospitality team is committed to expanding the network of champions of Jewish diversity, advocates for change, and agents for openness. Request the Pilot Toolkit to begin your own journey toward acknowledging and integrating diversity into Jewish life.
Indeed, the Reform Jewish Movement is warmly and energetically embracing Rabbi Jacobs’ dream, and we’re working to make it a reality. Won’t you join us?
April Baskin is the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president of audacious hospitality.
Cross-posted on URJ’s Inside Leadership Blog