After a difficult winter, we all look forward to the hope that spring brings; the blessing of sharing community in nature. In our Outreach encounters, one key factor stands out there are many different ways for people to connect to their Jewish identity, many different points of entry through which we welcome people.
We don't usually think of the environment as an entry point for those exploring their Jewish identity. And yet it can be a wonderful, embracing way to bring a diverse group of individuals, families and communities together. Nature can unite people; we share a universal spiritual connection to the earth, and being in a natural environment can often spur a spiritual awakening. Spring and Passover offer a timely opportunity to explore the Jewish view of environmentalism. Congregations everywhere connect to people through their passions for the environment and for making environmentally-conscious choices about eating, living and worshipping.
We recommend that you partner with the green team in your congregation and co-sponsor experiential opportunities connected to nature. (Don't have a green team? Use these tips to start one!)
As we look forward to the Festival of Spring (one of the biblical names for Passover) and Earth Day, this month the URJ is highlighting resources to assist you in building a diverse community through environmentally-themed congregational programming. For example, on Greening Reform Judaism, URJ's website for all things green, you'll discover how to "green" your building, learn how to travel justly and much more! You can also visit the Religious Action Center's (RAC) website to learn about the environment through a distinctly Jewish lens.
In this issue, we also share a Conversion Fellow's story of what the Schindler Fellows Program for Conversion Certification did for her and her congregation. There are still some spaces and partial scholarships available for this summer's Conversion Fellows program, which is part of the Summer Learning Institute, so register today!
As always, we are here to assist you and your congregations. Don't hesitate to call on us.
Rabbi Victor Appell Marketing, Outreach and New Communities Specialist Time Zone: Eastern 212.650.4144 mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Arlene Chernow Outreach Specialist Time Zone: Pacific 213.765.2660 email@example.com
Stephanie Fink Outreach Specialist Time Zone: Central 212.452.6792, T-Th firstname.lastname@example.org
Lech L'cha: A Conversion Fellow's Unexpected Journey
by Andi Rosenthal, Schindler Conversion Fellow
No one was more surprised than me when I was approached by our congregation's president on the train platform in Larchmont one spring morning in 2003. All I knew was that she was a powerful, warm presence on our bimah every Friday night. But I had no idea why she wanted to speak with me. As it turned out, she had big news: she had recommended to our rabbi that I attend a training session at the Hebrew Union College campus in Cincinnati, and wondered if I would be interested in going. "It's perfect for you," she said. "And I really think it will help the congregation, too." What I didn't realize was that I was in for five days that would change my lifeand my Jewish journeyforever. Read about Andi's experience on the RJ.org blog.
The 2011 Summer Learning Institute includes Adult Kallah, Had'rachah and the Schindler Fellows Program for Conversion Certification.
There are so many points of entry through which you can find your Jewish identity. Amy Ariel's point of entry was nature. Read on to learn about her inspiring Jewish journey and how she's reaching out to students to help them on theirs.
The first time I knew God and I shared a secret, was during that part of fall when the leaves are half-turned. I was about six-years-old, and I was sitting in a maple tree swinging my bare feet. I was a Missouri farm kid, the child of a raised-Baptist-once-Unitarian-then-Agnostic father with a vague and dismissive definition of God and a secular Jewish mother who didn't talk about God at all. When other kids asked, I said I was Jewish with little idea or curiosity about what that meant. I spent every hour I could outside or inside looking out a window, particularly fascinated by the ever-changing color of the leaves. I knew drastic changes could happen in nature; I'd already witnessed my share of tornados and storms to know that. The big stuff was no secret. Face to face with the leaves, I knew that God and I were taking note together of a happening most people missed entirely. What God and I were keeping between us was that attending to the specks of color on the leavesthe small stuffwas how we got to be part of the miracle.
Visit the RJ.org blog find out more about Ariel's Jewish journey, and to tell us how you've connected to Judaism through nature.
Jewish Camps Foster Jewish Identity in Nature
In the Outreach world, we're always trying to welcome people to Judaism and engage them in Jewish life. Over the years, we've found, anecdotally, that URJ Camp alumni are often more engaged and active in Jewish life than their non-camping peers.
So we were thrilled to see the Foundation for Jewish Camps' Camp Works Study, which give quantitative proof to what we know to be true: Jewish summer camps have a profound effect on Jewish identity. We see this every summer with the 10,000 children who attend URJ Camps. We have seen thousands of URJ campers grow up to become involved in Jewish life in a variety of ways and we have seen countless URJ Camp romances turn into marriages and future generations of URJ campers!
The URJ operates 13 summer camps across North America. Our campers experience a great atmosphere full of inspiring role models, exciting activities and programs, values not just taught but lived and lifelong friendships. When you entrust your child to a URJ camp, s/he will experience what it is like to live in a consummately Jewish environment. This complete absorption into the rhythms and calendar of Jewish living gives children a fuller appreciation of the richness of their Jewish identity and heritage. They are taught the values of charity, justice and kindness. Experience has shown that they will bring these good values home!
For more information about URJ Camps in your area, or about our new 6 Points Sport Camp, visit urjcamps.org.
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 URJ to implement new programs to further engage current members and attract new members. These are two grant winners. Go to the Incubator Grants web page to learn more.
Congregation Bet Ha'am in South Portland, Maine, is "Sowing Seeds [and] Braiding 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 inclusiveness, 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 [and] supporting community-based agriculture," Rosenberg continued, "and [through this program we hope to appeal to unaffiliated] Jews who share that passion."
Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA is establishing an edible container garden and creating a Jewish education program for children and adults, with an eye toward attracting new members through the preschool and increasing engagement of current members. This project leverages an expressed local interest in environmental education, existing garden space and the URJ's Green Table, Just Table initiative.