May 24, 2012, New York Twenty Reform congregations across North America will receive a prestigious "Incubator Grant" for up to $5,000 from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) to provide seed funding for innovative projects to actively engage more people in Reform synagogue life. These projects stimulate creative thinking in three main areas: creating a culture that supports and encourages conversion; retention and engagement of post b'nei mitzvah teens and their families; and engagement in synagogue life.
"We are thrilled to offer these grants to member congregations for the second year," said URJ's President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. "We saw how much the grant process inspired creativity last year and were impressed with the results of each of the award-winning initiatives. Together, we are developing and learning innovative ways to engage people in Reform Jewish life."
"The committee had a very difficult task in selecting the grant recipients," said URJ grants administrator Stephanie Fink. "We were truly inspired by the shared motivation to better engage people in synagogue life, demonstrated by all of the congregations that applied."
Many applicants found the grant application process itself to be beneficial in stimulating creativity in their congregations, impacting even those whose projects were not funded and significantly broadening the positive impact of the Incubator Grant process.
One of last year's applicants, Rabbi Marci Bloch from Congregation Bnai Israel in Boca Raton stated, "Because we brainstormed so much, we are launching a couple new programs this year all of the discussions were helpful in thinking about how we can build great connections with our families." Rabbi Block's congregation continued innovating, applied again in 2012 and has received funding.
The URJ will collect information from all grantees and share noteworthy practices with member congregations. Below are highlights from some of the grant-winning programs:
Youth Conversion Curricula - Simcha Sinai, Harker Heights, TX When a whole family seeks conversion together, one class does not fit all. Simcha Sinai will respond to the needs of young people in Central Texas whose families seek conversion by creating distinct conversion curricula for pre-teens, teens, and college-age students.
Derekh: Supporting the Conversion Journey in Community - Shir Tikvah Congregation, Minneapolis, MN A nine-month program that will provide social and educational support for those who are exploring Judaism or are actively engaged in the conversion process. Additionally, this program will support the transition of program participants into ongoing congregational engagement. Shabbat Playdate - Temple Emanu-El, Sarasota, FL Every month, young Jewish and interfaith families with children up to age six will be invited to a fun and meaningful Saturday morning Shabbat experience. Half of the sessions will take place on the synagogue campus, with structured playtime on the preschool playground, the other half of the sessions will be held off-site, where in addition to the service and play time, an experiential activity will weave together the location and the lesson, such as a Tu B'Shvat playdate at a botanical garden.
Connecting the Sandwich Generation - Temple Israel, Dayton, OH Temple Israel will tap into nostalgia to rekindle social connections among congregants. By creating an online photo album of old consecration and confirmation pictures, Temple Israel will build a virtual community for baby boomers, many of whom are caring for their aging parents. Once online connections have begun to form, they will create real world opportunities to reinforce those connections as a source of advice and support.
The grantees include URJ-member congregations of varied sizes and regions:
B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, Deerfield, IL
Beit Ahavah, the Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, Florence, MA
BEIT-RJ, Reisterstown, MD (serving Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Har Sinai Congregation, Temple Emanuel and Temple Oheb Shalom)
Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, CA
Congregation Beth HaTephila, Asheville, NC
Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot, Irvine, CA
Lake Norman Jewish Congregation, Davidson, NC
Shir Tikvah Congregation, Minneapolis, MN
Simcha Sinai, Harker Heights, TX
Temple Beth El, Boca Raton, FL
Temple Beth El, Charlotte, NC
Temple Emanu-El, Sarasota, FL
Temple Isaiah, Fulton, MD
Temple Isaiah, Lexington, MA
Temple Israel, Dayton, OH
Temple Shalom, Dallas, TX
Temple Shir Tikvah, Winchester, MA
Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA
The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom, Nashville, TN