Reform Biennial Will Showcase 'Vitality and Openness' by Including Outsiders

Event Will Be Open to Non-Reform Members For First Time

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By Uriel Heilman

Published December 02, 2013.
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On the table is everything from how to make bar mitzvah preparation more engaging to making the celebrations themselves more traditional and meaningful. Dozens more synagogues are in the process of joining the program and adopting some of the more successful efforts.

Like its counterpart in the Conservative movement, the Union for Reform Judaism also is under pressure to demonstrate to its 871 member congregations that they are getting their money’s worth for the dues they pay.

The union now has a resource desk and hosts an online forum for congregational leaders to share ideas and resources. Consultants are available to provide congregations with strategic expertise. Congregational “network teams” work with synagogue leaders to figure out ways the union can be more helpful.

An initiative called Communities of Practice brings together like-minded congregations to work on strategies for programming for young adults, engaging young families, improving early childhood offerings and figuring out how to stabilize synagogue finances.

The union itself has shrunk slightly since Jacobs took over. Thirty employees were laid off in May 2012 as part of a general restructuring; the union now has about 350 employees. (Because it is a religious organization, the union is exempt from filing the 990 IRS tax forms that disclose detailed financial information, including Jacobs’ salary.)

For Reform Judaism to thrive, Jacobs says, everything needs to be reconsidered.

“When I was hired, that was the job description: Challenge everything, question everything, and make us stronger, make us more effective, make us more filled with the core meaning of the Jewish tradition,” Jacobs said.

“It’s not enough just to keep doing the same things with more vigor. You have to say: Is it effective? That’s exactly what is needed in every part of Jewish life. This is not a business-as-usual kind of moment.”


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