of nearly 165 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 2012 URJ Incubator Grants seek to stimulate creative thinking and provide program funding in three main categories:
Conversion (creating a culture that supports and encourages)
Teens(retention of post b'nei mitzvah and their families)
Engagement in synagogue life (the broadest category, including recruitment of potential members, integration of recent members, and retention of current members)
Creating a Climate that Supports and Encourages Conversion
Sharing Conversion Stories
Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, CA (1471 households; West District)
Mikvah Monologues is a video storytelling project that will highlight the various and meaningful stories of Beth Am members who have converted to Judaism. Personal testimonial stories will be recorded, edited, and reproduced in DVD form as a tool for educating and inspiring others who are considering conversion, have family members or friends who are pre- or post-conversion, or who simply want to better understand the process of choosing to become Jewish. Sharing these stories encourages conversion by raising awareness about the process and honoring those who have made that commitment.
Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA (984 households; West District)
Becoming Jewish will be a year-long series of panels and speakers addressing the challenges of conversion. Such discussions will allow those who are thinking of converting an avenue to gain more information, and to meet those who can help them start the conversation. Topics are intended to allay the fears of those considering conversion who may not know that they would be welcome, and to help members learn how to be more welcoming to the prospective convert.
Supporting Jewish Journeys
Shir Tikvah Congregation, Minneapolis, MN (409 households; Central District)
Derekh: Supporting the Conversion Journey in Community
Derekh, which translates to journey, is a 9-month program that will provide social and educational support for those who are exploring Judaism or are actively engaged in the conversion process. By creating a community of sojourners who share common interests, aspirations, and needs, this program will facilitate the journey and help each participant clarify their vision of a Jewish life. Additionally, this program will support the transition of program participants into ongoing congregational engagement.
Simcha Sinai, Harker Heights, TX (13 households; South District)
Youth Conversion Curricula
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.
The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom, Nashville, TN (533 households; South District)
Conversion Conversations offers a chavurah for non-Jews who are somewhere on their path toward Judaism. In this year-long program, participants will experience an in-depth exploration of Judaism through rabbinic teaching, chevrutah study, hands-on workshops, ritual practice and worship, festival celebrations, and a cultural field trip, providing the opportunity for those seeking to learn more about Judaism to grow as a group and continue on their individual journey toward becoming Jewish. The program seeks to increase engagement through experiential learning, through fostering meaningful relationships with members and Jewish professors in the surrounding community, and through reducing the financial burden of conversion.
Improving Retention of Post B'nei Mitzvah Teens and their Families
Providing What They Need in a Jewish Context
BEIT-RJ, Reisterstown, MD (East District)
BEIT-RJ Driving Program
BEIT-RJ is the post-bnei mitzvah educational program for the Jewish community in Baltimore. Students are members of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Har Sinai Congregation, Temple Emanuel and Temple Oheb Shalom. The program seeks to increase retention and engagement of teens across the metro area by addressing a vitally important skill, training students to drive, in a Jewish context.
Temple Beth El, Boca Raton, FL (1360 households; South District)
M.A.P.S. will give teens life skills such as resume and cover letter writing, job etiquette, and interviewing tips all in a Jewish context. In addition this program will pair high school students with members in the congregation who are professionals in the fields of employment that the teens have interest in pursuing. These adult members will serve as role models and mentors.
Temple Shalom, Dallas, TX (774 households; South District)
Next Dor Adult Track
Temple Shalom will offer an adult track that runs concurrently with their high school religious school program to serve as a place for parents of post bnei mitzvah teens to connect with each other and with the congregation. Classes focus on topics related to parenting Jewish teens, such as Reel Theology Using Movies to Talk about God, Race to Nowhere A Conversation about Americas Achievement Culture and No, Your Teen is Not Crazy A Crash Course in Adolescent Development. The program will be open to non-members, as well.
Doing What They Love in a Jewish Way
Bnai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, Deerfield, IL (1083 households; Central District)
Misgeret: Framing My Jewish Identity through the Arts
BJBE is looking for those artistic kids who are on the fringe, with the goal of connecting their Jewish identity and synagogue community to their secular passions. Teens will participate in a series of two intensive weekends: one in the fall and one in the spring. Skilled artists-in-residence will help youth bring out their very best in visual, musical, and technological arts. The end products of these weekends will be installed in the religious school to be interactive educational enhancements for the entire community.
Temple Beth El, Charlotte, NC (1100 households; South District)
Charlottes jewTuBE program will engage youth in creating bimonthly Jewish educational, creative, entertaining and dynamic jewTuBE videos that will be distributed to congregants, those on the path to conversion, the unaffiliated, the Charlotte community and the online Jewish world who are interested in expanding their Jewish horizons. Beth Els jewTuBE program will highlight the vibrancy, wisdom, and creativity that embody Reform Judaism by engaging teens who are passionate about technology or journalism.
Congregation Bnai Israel, Boca Raton, FL (900 households; South District)
CBI Alumni Association
CBI will create an alumni association for 12th grade graduates of religious school. A dedicated website will include portals for connecting graduates with each other and with abundant work/internship/study/ and Jewish opportunities. The alumni association will help teens to connect with college students, will network students at Florida universities, will organize reunions, and will offer a scholarship to a student doing outstanding things in the Jewish world. Maintaining students connections to the congregation may keep parents connected, as well.
Special Needs Inclusion
Congregation Shir Ha-Maalot, Irvine, CA (625 households; West District)
Kesher High School
Congregation Shir Ha-Maalot is known as a place where families and children with special needs are included and are an integral part of the community. As students age out of the adaptive Hebrew class, a need has presented itself for adaptations to be made in order for students to continue their full participation in the post bnei mitzvah program. Creating a bridge for students to participate in the mainstream dinner, electives, and social activities with appropriate support, an adaptive curriculum will be developed for Kesher students core class time.
Leadership Development through Mentoring
Lake Norman Jewish Congregation, Davidson, NC (132 households; South District)
Project Genesis seeks to create a youth culture based on community relationships in the context of Jewish learning and values, a vibrant hybrid of the traditional youth group, confirmation and madrich programs. Half of the funds collected in user fees will be made available to the teens in the form of micro grants for proposals seeking to build community in the younger grades. Teams of teens will be supported in developing and implementing their plans. Project Genesis teens will take part in three team-building retreats. In addition, they will take an active leadership role in the religious school, and an active leadership role in the congregation by preparing and submitting a proposal to the rabbi and the Board of Directors. Project Genesis teens will be further prepared for leadership in the life of the congregation through applying their learning, leading worship, and reading Torah paving the way for a transition into Jewish adulthood.
Temple Isaiah, Lexington, MA (824 households; East District)
TaMaR: Teen Mentoring and Responsibility
TaMaR: Teen Mentoring and Responsibility will enable teens to become mentors, be mentored, and plan and carry out small group projects that offer genuine service to the Isaiah community. After the initial learning experiences and a retreat at URJ Camp Eisner, students will largely craft their own schedules, working with a staff advisor and an adult lay mentor to meet their goals over the course of the year. Teens will come together quarterly to offer and receive support and feedback as they co-create their projects.
Supporting Families' Spiritual Growth
Temple Shir Tikvah, Winchester, MA (310 households; East District)
Developing Your Spiritual Language
When rising fifth grade families expressed a desire for a more accessible prayer experience, Temple Shir Tikvah opened its doors for Shabbat morning worship on a week without a bar mitzvah. Every fifth grade family came. Building on the interest showed by these families, this new program will invite 5th graders and their parents for a series of workshops exploring the meaning of prayers and personal prayer practices, examining prayer themes that relate to personal experience. The families will design a series of Shabbat morning services that will build a Saturday morning prayer community in the year leading up to bnei mitzvah preparation.
Engagement in Synagogue Life
Beit Ahavah, the Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, Florence, MA (80 households; East District)
A Light in the Marketplace: Solar Ner Tamid Project
Target Audience: Adults without school-age children
This small, twelve year old congregation uses a portable Ark to transform their rented space into a space for Jewish worship. The Solar Ner Tamid Project will engage the community in the active role of producing and guarding the light, absent until now, keeping it aglow through active participation. Once built, the Ner Tamids rechargeable batteries will need to be replaced biweekly, which requires members to have continual contact with the Ark and its sacred contents. Beit Ahavah hopes to involve and inspire congregants by making a connection to their interests in building a sustainable future, progressive Jewish values and spiritual teachings related to green living.
Congregation Beth HaTephila, Asheville, NC (249 households; South District)
Beit Midrash Program
Target Audience: Seniors and Retired Baby Boomers
Congregation Beth HaTephila launches a new organization to honor the experience of seniors who seek camaraderie, intellectual stimulation, social interaction, emotional support and religious experiences within the context of the synagogue community. Activities will include study, spiritual events, recreational activities and day trips supported through local transit services, as well as support services provided in conjunction with Jewish Family Services. Events will be designed together with volunteer leadership, based on the real needs of seniors, and will raise the level of esteem for seniors amongst the younger members.
Temple Emanu-El, Sarasota, FL (390 households; South District)
Target Audience: Families with Very Young Children
Shabbat Playdate takes Tot Shabbat to a new level. 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, a Shabbat or holiday craft or experiential activity, and an age-appropriate Shabbat service including songs, blessings, movement, and a story. The other half of the sessions will be held off-site, where in addition to the service and play time, the experiential activity will weave together the location and the lesson, such as a Tu BShevat playdate at a botanical garden.
Temple Isaiah, Fulton, MD (400 households; East District)
Serving Those Who Serve
Target Audience: Military personnel and their families
Located only 15 miles from Fort Meade, one of the largest Army installations in the United States, Temple Isaiah will begin to offer support to Jewish men and women living on base, along with their families. They will facilitate opportunities for Jews on base to come together, to foster a sense of community with one another and with members of the synagogue, providing periodic worship and Jewish learning opportunities.
Temple Israel, Dayton, OH (450 households; Central District)
Connecting the Sandwich Generation
Target Audience: Sandwich Generation
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.