URJ Grant helps a Chicago Congregation Engage Young Leaders:
Utilizing a URJ incubator grant, North Shore Congregation Israel (NSCI) in suburban Chicago has created B&B (Beyond and Back), a values and leadership development program for Jews age 22-30 that not only connects them to their Jewish identity and the synagogue, but also allows them to mentor and engage Jewish high school students.
Twice a year NSCI holds high school “identity development” retreats. Now, 20 and 30-year-old Jews—many of whom had grown up in the temple’s youth group—have been trained and empowered to facilitate most of the retreat, along with parent-leaders.
“Our young adults have demonstrated to our teenagers that one can maintain a fulfilling connection [to NSCI] after high school, college, and leaving the nest,” says Rabbi Wendi Geffen. “And the teens have responded with overwhelming acceptance and interest. Besides developing close personal relationships with the B&Bers, many have since commented that they hope to be a B&Ber when they are older. Whereas it proved difficult for high-schoolers to visualize themselves as someone their parents’ age, it proved easy and meaningful to see themselves as young adults. Also, the program has helped our young professionals gain ‘feel-good’ Jewish experiences as the drivers [of those experiences], not the driven. And as the young adults and parent-leaders talked about their personal theological beliefs, annual tzedakah contributions, and more, the young adults were able to better see themselves as adults rather than big kids.”
For more info about B&B email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about URJ incubator grants for membership building: urj.org/cong/membership/grants.
Joplin Tornado Elicits Caring Responses:
Rabbi Brian Stoller leads minyan.
After a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri late May, Reform rabbis throughout the U.S. who had served Joplin’s United Hebrew Congregation years earlier, when they were student rabbis at HUC-JIR, called the community and asked: How can I help?
Joplin’s synagogue building had been untouched by the twister, and none of Joplin’s Jews were among the estimated 159 people killed, but many of their homes and businesses had been destroyed. Congregants needed spiritual support and “stability in the face of the destruction that surrounded them,” says HUC-JIR student rabbi Ariel Boxman, who was serving the 50-member congregation every other weekend. Because Boxman had to go away for the summer, she asked each of the rabbis seeking to help to come to the community for a Shabbat.
Before long, a rabbi familiar with the community was scheduled to visit almost every weekend. Paying their own way or raising funds from their home synagogues, the rabbis travelled from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania to lead Shabbat services, counsel congregants, pitch in at distribution centers, and work with local volunteer organizations.
Rabbi Brian Stoller, who served as Joplin’s student rabbi from 2005 to 2008, arrived from Deerfield, Illinois along with nine B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim congregants. He led a morning minyan, the group standing among mounds of trash in an open area in the middle of Joplin that was in the heart of Tornado Alley—the name given to the path of land the tornado had razed. Among the participants was Paul Teverow, who had lost his home. After the service, the group walked together to Teverow’s house and helped him and his wife sift through the debris for family heirlooms and valuable possessions.
The Union for Reform Judaism reached out to help as well, providing summer camp scholarships for Jewish kids in the community and establishing a relief fund through the Fund for Reform Judaism (urj.org/give/disaster) that distributed $45,000 to Joplin.
URJ Launches Virtual High School: Approximately 150 11th and 12th grade students are now engaging in virtual learning with a small group of their North American peers (up to 15 students/class) through the Union for Reform Judaism’s new Virtual High School, run in partnership with Gratz College. Online classes, which began September 2011, are available to students 24/7 (with the exception of Hebrew, which has a required weekly live session). Current class offerings include Israel Today, Reform Judaism, Kabbalah, Hebrew, and Jewish Humor. College credit will be available for one designated course each semester. An in-person kallah helps to cement the group experience. To learn more and/or register for the Spring semester: urj.org/teen/vhs. To join the 20 congregations that are currently partnering with the URJ on this pilot initiative, contact Debbie Niederman, URJ Education Specialist: DNiederman@urj.org.
Libeskind Presents Munich Synagogue Design:
Last May, architect Daniel Libeskind (Jewish Museum, Berlin) unveiled this design for a new synagogue building to serve Beth Shalom, Munich’s Progressive congregation. Numerous hurdles remain before the project can be realized, including the raising of adequate capital to finance it, but if all goes well, construction should begin by 2014 and the building ready for use in 2016. NFTY in Israel: 3 Generations:
Three generations of the Michelson family have participated in Reform in Israel programs. Generation 1: Roseann Michelson (nee Platt) of Great Neck, New York turned 17 during her eight-week NFTY trip in 1958. She is now a member of Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom, Reading, Pennsylvania. Generation 2: Roseann’s son, Brian Michelson, embarked on the Union’s Eisendrath International Exchange program in 1981. Ordained by HUC-JIR 11 years later, he now serves as spiritual leader of Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom. Generation 3: This year, Brian’s daughter, Naomi, 16, traveled with NFTY to Prague, Krakow, and Warsaw en route to Israel for a month of camping, touring, learning, and volunteering.