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Chairman's Perspective: Connect via URJ Communities

The URJ has initiated a new approach to engaging our congregations with each other and with the Union, as outlined below in this report from our URJ Community Implementation Task Force. I am hopeful that the URJ’s role as connector and convener in different geographic communities will better serve our congregations and our Movement:

Lately the URJ has been doing a lot of listening to lay leaders and congregants, clergy and other professionals, and URJ staff throughout North America. We’ve learned that our congregations want greater connection to one another and to the Union, lay leaders want to better understand how the Union can help serve them, the URJ needs to be more collaborative, and in all these endeavors, face-to-face contact is essential.

In response, the URJ Board has adopted a new organizational structure for lay leadership interaction. Called URJ Communities, it is designed to bring lay leaders of our congregations together in 36 locally-based geographic units to share common challenges, knowledge, and best practices; to create a greater sense of community; and to provide real, personal connections between congregations and the URJ.

Each URJ Community team will be “run” by a team of local trained lay leaders: a community chair, who will coordinate the community’s work; a vice chair for presidents, who will convene temple presidents meetings at least once a year; a vice chair for community building, who will organize community-wide programs/meetings; a vice chair for affinity groups, who, along with the chair, will facilitate sharing within the community; and a Congregational Network staff member, who will work in partnership with the lay leadership. All URJ Community teams will have common, measurable goals and undertake an evaluative process to work toward continued improvement.

Oversight, coordination, and quality control will be handled by URJ Districts. A district chair will oversee the URJ Communities within each district; a nominating vice chair will work with the URJ Community chairs to identify potential nominees to the North American Board; and a small congregations vice chair will convene at least one small congregations meeting or kallah each year. URJ Community chairs and vice chairs will also convene at an annual district leadership kallah and participate in ongoing teleconferences.

A staff advisor from the URJ Congregational Network team will serve as a resource and advisor providing direct support, information, and services to Community team chairs, congregational leaders, and professionals. But ultimately the lay leadership will be responsible for bringing presidents together and hosting kallot and community-building gatherings.

The first URJ Community began its work in early July. Others will be rolled out in the coming months.

Building on the vision of URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and the North American Board, this new structure is designed to truly involve our lay leaders in the tachlis work of strengthening our congregations and the Union. It aims for a true creative partnership that inspires individuals and nurtures dynamic, compelling communities of sacred purpose.

I look forward to sharing more details with you as the URJ Community unfolds.

Stephen M. Sacks, Chairman
Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees