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URJ Launches Communities of Practice: In January 2013 the Union for Reform Judaism launched four URJ Communities of Practice to enable congregations with shared concerns and interests to work collaboratively, experiment, study, and advance current strategies while receiving peer support and guidance in these areas:

  • Launching or significantly scaling-up 20s and 30s engagement efforts
  • Involving families with young children in congregations without early childhood centers/preschools
  • Engaging young families in congregations that have early childhood centers
  • Exploring new concepts of financial support grounded in a relational investment between the community and each member

The organizational world has seen the increasing use of “communities of practice” since the concept was coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in their 1991 book, Situated Learning, and expanded upon in Wenger’s 1998 book, Communities of Practice. Research demonstrates that this approach helps generate new ideas for products and services, captures the community’s know-how, prevents “reinvention of the wheel,” and facilitates more rapid response to customer needs. The Union for Reform Judaism’s “communities of practice” model—an adaptation of the concept—is a new way of working in partnership with member congregations to nurture growth and excellence.

New URJ communities of practice will follow. To learn more, contact Expanding our Reach co-directors Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, RJE and Vicky Farhi. 

URJ To Open Science & Technology Camp: In 2014 the Union for Reform Judaism will open its 14th camp—6 Points Science Academy—in Boston, to serve some 600 campers in grades 6–10 interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Campers will be immersed in hands-on scientific and technological exploration—learning from scientists, inventors, and technology entrepreneurs as they explore such topics as a scientific explanation for the 10 plagues and molecular gastronomy within Jewish cuisine. They’ll also be part of a vibrant Jewish community infused with Jewish values, ethics, and tradition.

For more information: urjcamps.org

Teens Take Tikkun Olam Prize: Two Reform young people—Joseph (Joe) Langerman of Congregation Beth Israel, San Diego and Celine Yousefzadeh of Stephen S. Wise Temple, Los Angeles—are among 10 Jewish teens selected to receive the 2012 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award. Funded by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, the national award grants $36,000 to teens “whose volunteer services projects demonstrate a determined commitment to make the world a better place.”

Joe, who had been bullied at school, started “Voices Against Cruelty, Hatred and Intolerance” (VACHI). Developing a survey that demonstrated the extent of bullying at the school, Joe used the results to promote increased solidarity among his classmates, to integrate tolerance programming into the school curriculum, and to lobby the school board to adopt new policies, including creating a program to educate (not ignore or punish) first-time offenders. The campaign has created an international following on Facebook, and Joe is now working to establish VACHI chapters in nearby high schools.

Celine’s brainchild, the student-run charity event “Fashion with Compassion,” has raised $20,000+ for disadvantaged citizens of Israel, among them children in need of heart surgery. More than 100 students participate as planners, stylists, and models in the annual show, now supported by high profile sponsors. Celine is trying to expand the program to Jewish schools nationwide.

For more information: jewishfed.org/diller/teenawards. 

Casey’s Gift of Life: In 2011, when Indiana University (IU) student Casey Lenhart was serving as a counselor at the URJ’s Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Indiana, she heard another IU student tell the camp staff how he had saved a person’s life by donating bone marrow. Captivated, Casey registered with the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation as a potential donor. One year later, Gift of Life informed Casey that she was a match to give bone marrow to a 57-year-old woman with chronic leukemia, and the procedure ensued.

“Before the donation I was coasting through life,” Casey says, “just going to class, hanging out with friends, and getting through each day. Being able to save a life got me to rethink what life is really about.” Now she plans to give other students the same opportunity by running a Gift of Life registration drive on the IU campus.

For more: info@giftoflife.org

Free Social Media Policy Workbook: How can your congregation employ social media to great advantage? To help you think through how best to represent yourself online, Darim Online has created the Social MediaPolicy Workbook for Jewish Organizations as a free PDF download, thanks in part to the URJ. Topics include:

  • Assigning responsibilities for social media roles;
  • Determining which topics are appropriate, and which need to be authorized;
  • Protecting, copyrighting, and attributing work;
  • Navigating the often blurry boundaries between one’s personal and professional lives on social media

And, to learn from others who are working on their social media policy, join the Social Media Policy Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/socialmediapolicy

Meet the Young Composer’s Award Winner: The Guild of Temple Musicians awarded HUC-JIR rabbinic student Michael Summa, 28, its 2013 Young Composer’s Award for his settings of “Psalms 95 and 96 for Kabbalat Shabbat.” The pieces will premiere at the 2013 ACC/GTM Annual Convention in Minneapolis this summer, and Summa will receive a $2,500 cash prize.

For the past 22 years, the Young Composer’s Award has encouraged emerging young Jewish composers 18–35 to write works for synagogue and concert, adding to the repertory of serious Jewish music.