April 10, 2014, New York, NY
A recent grant will allow the Union for Reform Judaism to create two Chicago area pilot
programs to grow and expand Jewish engagement.
One pilot, focused on early childhood centers, will seek to engage young families through
curriculum excellence, experiential Jewish learning and meaningful relationships.
A second program will support congregations that want to revamp the b'nai mitzvah
experience. This is part of a larger effort--the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution-- a partnership
with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
We are extremely grateful to the Crown Family for giving us the opportunity to build these
pilot programs, said URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Jonah Pesner. We know that a Jewish
community is strengthened when everyone in a family participates in the experience, whether
for families with young children or for young teens.
The URJ is providing congregations with additional opportunities for families with young
children to connect with each other and engage with the Jewish community. The
URJs Communities of Practice strategy (CoP), launched in January 2013, has begun to shift the paradigm regarding families with young
children in 27 congregations across North America, including two in the Chicago area, by
participating in the Pursuing Excellence Through Your Early Childhood Center CoP, and
Successfully Engaging Families With Young Children CoP.
With this new grant from the Crown Family, the URJ will broaden its scope to create an innovative Chicago-based cohort of 12 Jewish early childhood centers.
The CEELI (Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative),
will include Jewish congregations from a spectrum of denominations, JCCs and other local
organizations. Professionals in the community have expressed their interest in such an
initiative, and building a diverse coalition of organizations devoted to engaging families
with young children is a key goal.
Applicants will be selected based on their early childhood centers' level of support from
the host institution, their commitment to work in an experimental and collaborative
environment and their needs in areas such as enrollment, retention, teacher development and
finances. After studying the field, lay and professional teams from each center in the
CEELI will assess their current approach to early childhood and family engagement and
explore new models as they learn with each other and with local partners including the
Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Synagogue Federation Commission.
Together with URJ faculty members Cathy Rolland and Amy Asin, centers will develop new,
intentional activities and programs based upon specific family engagement goals and
objectives. These successful outcomes can then become scalable models for reaching young
families in the future.
Center directors and lead teachers will receive stipends to encourage experimentation and
to provide educators with strong professional development opportunities. Centers in the
CEELI will have opportunities to share their successes with the broader Chicago Jewish
community and throughout the Reform Movement, helping to raise early childhood excellence
and early engagement as community-wide priorities across North America.
By participating in the CEELI, early childhood centers will further their efforts to build
a network of collaborators that is flexible, responsive and opportunistic. These 12 centers
will be better equipped to handle the demands of changing structures within their
congregations and the expansion of federal initiatives leading many early childhood
programs to grow into full-day programs. The cohort of CoPs will also become the nexus for
serving young families in their community; together they will expose hundreds of Jewish
families with young children to a variety of programs and opportunities for meaningful
engagement and long-term involvement in the Jewish community. Congregations interested in
participating can complete this
expression of interest form.
The URJ, in collaboration with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR)
launched the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution (BMR) in fall 2012 as part of the Reform Movements
Campaign for Youth Engagement (CYE). Together, URJ and HUC-JIR have identified two main
goals for the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution:
Generate new ideas and modalities of meaningful celebrations of b'nai mitzvah that tie young people and their families more closely to
Jewish tradition and the Jewish community
Create models of b'nai mitzvah preparation that are more engaging for both
teens and their families
Up to 10 congregations from a range of denominations will be selected to participate in the Chicago cohort of the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution. Each congregation will work with a mentor to create multi-year educational programs that prepare young people and their families for engaging b'nai mitzvah experiences. By shifting the experience from an endpoint of formal education into a communal welcoming toward lifelong learning, the URJ hopes to reduce the post-b'nai mitzvah dropout rate and bring a greater sense of depth and meaning to teens and their families. The URJ will promote the findings and outcomes of the program to encourage a broader discussion about this topic across the Jewish community. Congregations interested in participating can complete this expression of interest form.
A cohort of 13 congregations from across North America is already meeting and experimenting
along with a Los Angeles cohort of eight congregations from various denominations supported
by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. An additional 67
congregations have joined the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution Active Learning Network to expand
their thinking and utilize the findings. Of these, North Shore Congregation Israel in
Glencoe is part of the North American group and both Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth
Elohim in Deerfield and Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette are in the Active Learning
For more information about the early childhood engagement initiative, please contact Susan Zukrow. For more information about the Bnai
Mitzvah Revolution, please contact Anna Marx.