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August 30, 2015 | 15th Elul 5775

Twenty Reform Congregations Receive URJ Grant for Innovative Programs to Engage Members

Contact: Annette Powers

January 19, 2011, New York – Out of nearly 170 applicants, 20 Reform congregations in North America were selected to receive a URJ Incubator Grant of up to $5,000 from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) to implement new programs to further engage current members and attract new members.

The grantees include URJ-member congregations of varied sizes and regions including:

  • Beth Chayim Chadashim (Los Angeles, CA)
  • B'nai Israel Synagogue (Rochester, MN)
  • Congregation Bet Ha'am (South Portland, ME)
  • Congregation Beth Elohim (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Congregation B'nai Torah (Antioch, CA)
  • Congregation Rodeph Sholom (New York, NY)
  • East End Temple/El Emet (New York, NY)
  • Judea Reform Congregation (Durham, NC)
  • Kol Chadash (Solon, OH)
  • Kol HaNeshamah (Seattle, WA)
  • North Shore Congregation Israel (Glencoe, IL)
  • Rodef Shalom Congregation (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Sinai Free Synagogue (Mount Vernon, NY)
  • Temple Israel (Columbus, OH) 
  • Temple Israel (Creve Coeur, MO)
  • Temple Israel of Catskill (Catskill, NY)
  • Temple Micah (Washington, DC)
  • Temple Sholom of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
  • Temple Sinai of North Dade (North Miami Beach, FL)
  • The Community Synagogue (Port Washington, NY)

"The decision to choose 20 out of 170 was difficult, but there were some that really grabbed our attention and made us really curious to see where they could take these creative initiatives," said URJ Vice President Daniel Freelander.

Below are just a few of the award-winning programs:

Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, NC will create and launch an application for handheld mobile devices that will include a calendar, photos and videos, daily meditations, a blog, an online tzedakah box, a reading list and more.  The goals for “Judea Reform at Your Fingertips” are multiple: engagement with the Millennial cohort; membership engagement generally; community building; communication; branding; and the creation of a model app for other URJ congregations to build on.

B’nai Israel Synagogue in Rochester, MN
, located adjacent to the Mayo Clinic, seeks to engage Jewish patients and their families in synagogue life before, during and after treatment at the clinic. “Due to privacy regulations, we are unaware of the presence of Jewish patients until they are hospitalized or if some member happens to be in touch with them. This program will proactively reach out to patients and their families to inform them of our presence and to encourage them to initiate their first call to us,” said B’nai Israel President Alex Lupu. The project will involve branding, marketing and dissemination of information locally and through the national network of Reform rabbis and lay leaders.

Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City’s Special Needs Worship Services are designed to provide families and children with special needs with the opportunity to worship together in an accessible, inclusive, and sensitive environment. Created in conjunction with a consultant from Music for Autism, this congregation's experience will act as a guide to inclusive worship for all Reform synagogues.

Temple Israel in Creve Coeur, MO, seeks to fill a void in the community since funding was cut for a state "Parent as Teachers” program.  "Parents as Teachers" provided families with a parent educator who provides guidance for parents as they raise their child from birth into the preschool years, including developmental screenings, information about child development and support. “We see this as an opportunity to provide a new version of “Parents as Teachers” for St. Louis’ Jewish families,” said Deutch Early Childhood Center Director Leslie Wolf.  “We plan to provide the same quality program, while also providing families with Jewish educational resources that will enrich Jewish lives and prepare them for active involvement in the Jewish community as their child grows up. This will attract young Jewish families who may not have otherwise sought out the Jewish community at this point in their lives.”

Temple Sholom of Chicago will enter a float in the Annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade.  A presence at the parade will demonstrate the congregation’s support of the LGBT community to the crowd of 500,000 spectators. Spectators (most of whom live near the temple) will recognize the building replica, populated with LGBT couples wearing shirts that read: “I was married by a Temple Sholom rabbi.” The process of planning the program will bolster a developing LGBT affinity group and launch a series of new programs.

Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland, ME will create a “Sowing Seeds, Braiding Community” program to jump-start their congregation's efforts to engage diverse constituencies from within their community. Volunteers will grow organic ancient, heritage wheat on Bet Ha'am soil.  After harvesting the wheat, they will thresh it, make flour and bake challah for the community.  They will also plant a crop of winter wheat to make matzah for Passover. “We have seen a diverse group of volunteers come forward to care for a sizable new garden created with our new building who have forged new bonds with the Congregation. The Wheat Project will continue to build on this successful platform of engagement and is consistent with our core values of inclusivity, tikkun olam and lifelong Jewish learning,” said Bet Ha’am Garden Committee Chair Toby Rosenberg. “We know the Portland area has a culture of passion for gardening, organic growing, supporting community-based agriculture, and this program will appeal to Jews who share that passion.”

The URJ will collect information from all grantees and share noteworthy practices with member congregations at the 2011 URJ Biennial Convention in Maryland on Dec. 14-18.


Lisa Colton

January 20, 2011
12:01 PM

President, Darim Online

What wonderful, creative and meaningful ideas. I hope you'll continue to share the projects and their progress which can serve to inspire and inform other congregations to build on these exciting proposals. Kol Hakavod!


Jamie Merriman-Cohen

January 20, 2011
03:17 PM

Congratulations Rabbi Zari Weiss and Kol HaNeshamah for developing the exciting and innovative Progressive Yeshivah. Thank you, URJ, for your support!


Ron Hahn

January 20, 2011
11:00 PM

Mazl tov!

Mazl tov to all recipients! May you use this opportunity to advance our noble cause to the best of your ability and thereby ennoble all of us!



January 23, 2011
09:24 PM




February 1, 2011
03:16 PM

Executive Director

I would have liked to have seen all the awardees projects listed with contact information.


February 1, 2011
03:25 PM

RE: Executive Director

Dear Alan,

The winners are posted here:


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