As a relative newcomer to the Reform Movement, I jumped on the chance to attend the URJ’s Biennial conference in Boston. I was promised that it would be an inspiring event, full of learning and networking, and I was not disappointed!
I arrived in Boston three days before Biennial to attend the conference of the Program and Engagement Professionals of Reform Judaism — PEP-RJ. Here, alongside my peers from congregations across the US working in membership, programming, and communications, we spent our days learning from wonderful coaches and teachers from the URJ, as well as from each other. What was most compelling was seeing in action how, across North America, we are experiencing the same triumphs and the same challenges in our communities, and how we are strengthened when we approach them as a united Reform Jewish community, rather than only as one congregation, standing alone.
And then at lunchtime on Wednesday, we all boarded a bus to the big event — the 6000-person strong URJ Biennial at the Hynes Convention Centre in Boston’s South End. From working lunches with Membership Directors of large congregations, to sessions on disabilities inclusion and best principles for congregational engagement, it is not an exaggeration to say that I was run off my feet — and my Apple Watch agrees! I broke a “Move” record each day! I am so excited to bring home what I’ve learned and incorporate it into the ongoing Renewal of Spirit that is animating our community.
But for now, one takeaway:
At PEP-RJ, one of our first speakers was the dynamic Rabbi Leora Kaye, Director of Program for the URJ, and formerly a rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom on New York’s Upper West Side. She spoke powerfully of the role of synagogues in building community between their members. The key to this, she said, is for everyone to be thinking:
Who are your ten? Who are those (up to) ten community members who you would want to share your life’s happy moments, and, when they happen, the sad ones? Who would you want your community to contact on your behalf should you need us to?
As we continue think about our HBTogether initiative — you’ll be hearing much more about this in the new calendar year — some variation of this question will become even more apparent. We, as your congregation, are here to support you in connecting with “your ten”, and to help you build that network if you haven’t yet found it.
URJ Presidential Disabilities Inclusion Initiative Exemplar Congregation
When I was contacted by the URJ’s Presidential Disabilities Inclusion Initiative leadership and asked to apply as an Exemplar Congregation, the thing I heard, over and over again, from across Temple leadership was — “Why us? We have so much farther to go!” It turns out — the URJ and the Ruderman Family Foundation thought that this reaction to our work on Disabilities Inclusion was exactly why us.
Inclusion is a part of Holy Blossom’s very fabric, from our innovative Project Tikvah — a part of our Youth Education Centre for over 20 years — to our Mondays at the Temple program; from our participation in the city-wide Inclusive Synagogues Working Group, to the level of care in planning for our renewed Phase I spaces to be fully accessible to people with disabilities… the list goes on.
As our sages teach in Pirkei Avot, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” (2:21). We take this injunction seriously in our mission to demonstrate an Inclusive Spirit at Holy Blossom Temple. And it was for this Inclusive Spirit that we were recognized as an exemplar in the Reform Movement in Disabilities Inclusion at an awards ceremony with URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and a commendation during the Friday Morning Plenary by Shira Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
And it goes without saying: we can’t wait to continue this important work! And we need your help. If this is something you’d like to be involved in, please be in touch! Together, we are stronger!