This month, as we observe Yom HaZikaron (Israels Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), the URJ is highlighting its many resources for helping congregations connect with Israel. In June, the URJ will highlight resources for encouraging tolerance, especially in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, as it is national Gay Pride Month. Both topics have received recent attention in this newsletter. However, one can never know through which door someone new will connect to Jewish life, so, like Torah, we turn them again for a fresh perspective.
We are pleased to provide you with a first-person reflection on the challenges of being a lesbian living in Israel. As Gay Pride Month approaches, we encourage you to begin conversations with your openly gay and lesbian congregants about what is welcoming about your congregation and what LGBT issues they would like to address. Start the dialogue now (and use the resources below) so that you can plan great LGBT awareness programming in Juneand all year round!
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
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Rainbow Flag over Jerusalem
By Rabbi Melissa Simon, Shir Tikvah, Minneapolis, MN
One of my favorite Israel memories is of a rainbow flag flying over Jerusalem. During rabbinic school, I was living in Israel and volunteering at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH), the only Jerusalem-based organization for LGBT people.
At the time, JOH was located on Ben Yehuda Street, a main pedestrian thoroughfare (it has since relocated a few blocks away to HaSoreg Street). As you would walk along the midrachov (pedestrian mall), you couldnt miss the giant rainbow Pride flag flying overhead, outside JOHs headquarters. As I would walk up to the JOH building to volunteer, I would see the flag and smile, thinking about all of the people who would see the flag and be uplifted by a quick glance at a rainbow flag proudly flying high above.
Visit the RJ.org blog find out more about Rabbi Simons experience of a tolerant, prideful Jerusalem.
On April 10, a group of URJ congregants from the Seattle area gathered to hear a panel discuss an expanded definition of Outreach. Reform Jewish Outreach has always included interfaith families and those considering conversion. Today we also actively reach out to others who might feel they are marginalized in the Jewish community. Our panel in Seattle included LGBT families, adoptive families and interracial families. Each panelist told a powerful story about his/her personal journey toward creating a Jewish identity within the context of his/her personal life journey.
Here are three resources to assist you in expanding your Outreach efforts (visit urj.org/lgbt for more!):
There are 54 great suggestions for your congregation on the three resource lists. Read them and have a discussion with your board about which suggestions could work in your congregation. Some are as easy as modifying language on registration forms or changing pictures on your website; others may take longer to implement.
What, you may wonder, were the conclusions of the group in Seattle after hearing the panel and reviewing the lists? First, the goal is to strike a balance between shining a light on members of underserved populations and ensuring they dont feel singled out in a negative way. And second, never underestimate the power of storytelling to bring people together. Please be in touch with us for help constructing a panel of this kind for your congregation.
Schindler Fellows Program for Conversion Certification Spaces Still Open!
The Schindler Fellows Program for Conversion Certification, otherwise known as Conversion Fellows, will be held July 7-10 as part of the URJ Summer Learning Institute in Princeton, NJ. Now in its eleventh year, Conversion Fellows will prepare you to work in partnership with your rabbi as you counsel, support and welcome prospective Jews into your community. You'll train with HUC-JIR faculty members, congregational rabbis and URJ specialists. This exceptional program will not be held again until 2013, so don't miss this opportunity to study, pray and learn skills and techniques that will help your congregation excel in providing a warm and supportive environment for those on the path to Judaism.
For more information, contact your Outreach Specialists or visit urj.org/summer for details. Partial scholarships are available.
Webinars are free, live web presentations that allow you to learn from experts in a variety of areas of importance to Outreach leaders.
Outreach in the Age of e-Judaism
May 19, 2011, 3pm EDT Hosted by Marketing, Outreach and New Communities Specialist Rabbi Victor Appell and Outreach Specialist Stephanie Fink, with guest presenter Rabbi Dan Medwin
In order for congregations to remain relevant, we need to do a better job of meeting people where they are in the virtual marketplace. Technology offers a number of tools to reach and engage those on the fringes of congregational life, sometimes in ways never before imagined. Join us to investigate technological tools that can upgrade your congregations efforts to reach, among others, interfaith families, young adults and parents of young children.
Visit urj.org/webinars to learn about this and other upcoming, free online learning opportunities. And remember that all webinars are recorded so if you cant join us for the live learning session (or want to listen to one again!), visit our archives at urj.org/webinars/archive and download the webinar at your convenience.