Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice

Nearly every congregation today faces the challenge of trying to increase or stabilize revenue, so it’s no surprise that in the last few weeks alone, the Jewish press published three separate pieces on the subject:

And that’s not all.

Amy Asin

Amy Asin, vice president of strengthening congregations for the URJ, has an op-ed in eJewish Philanthropy aptly titled "Strengt

In my experience, synagogue leaders are among the most committed and devoted lifelong learners.

“Sooner. Stronger. Deeper. Longer.” That’s the motto that guides Nancy Bossov through her work as an early childhood education and engagement professional. Now the director of early childhood education at Temple Israel in New Rochelle, N.Y., Nancy came up with this motto while serving as the director of early childhood education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York. In practice, it means that engaging families in congregational life sooner rather than later fosters stronger connections to the congregation. This leads to a deeper experience for members, which translates into longer member-synagogue relationships.

Almost all synagogue leaders are concerned with their congregations’ membership numbers, and those same leaders report drastic drop-off rates for families whose children have completed their formal religious education. Although there isn’t a magical cure-all for membership retention, early engagement has proven to be a successful tactic.

Knowing this, the URJ gathered leaders from 28 congregations to participate in two early childhood-related Communities of Practice, Successfully Engaging Families with Young Children and Pursuing Excellence in Your Early Childhood Center. For 18 months, these leaders explored strategies and programs for achieving that “sooner, stronger, deeper, longer” member connection.

Is your congregation ready to learn and innovate? Are you prepared to grapple with challenging but important issues and questions, but aren’t quite sure where to begin?

The URJ is thrilled to announce that applications are now open for the URJ Communities of Practice, and we invite your congregation to apply. Communities of Practice (CoPs) are an opportunity for your congregation to come together with others around a topic of shared interest. For 18-24 months, participating congregations will learn from experts in the field, ask big questions, share ideas and best practices, apply these lessons through experimentation, and as a result, strengthen their communities.

We have been so inspired by stories we’ve heard from synagogues across North America that have been transformed by their involvement in past CoPs. One such story comes from Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, CA, a small congregation that realized it was uniquely positioned to fill the needs of young, unaffiliated families seeking a Jewish community. As they worked to support these families, the congregation expanded in membership and in self-identity. Read more of their powerful story.

By Harriet Skelly

In 2013, Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, CA, was at its lowest membership in 15 years. Several years earlier, we had implemented a new, low-cost dues structure in the hopes that it would help increase the membership. At about the same time, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, visited the Bay Area and spoke with local congregational presidents about audacious hospitality, relational Judaism, and “going outside the walls.” I was intrigued by his language, but still didn’t really get it. I was just stuck on how to find unaffiliated Jews in our area to bring into our congregation.

by Amy Asin and Rabbi Esther L. Lederman

On May 5th, the URJ will launch applications for a new set of Communities of Practice (CoPs). Topics will include:

  • Building a Brand: Excellence in Reform Movement Early Childhood Engagement
  • Creating Connected Communities for Families with Young Children (for congregations without Early Childhood Centers)
  • Strengthening Israel Engagement in your Congregation
  • Pursuing Justice: Becoming a Community of Action (with the Religious Action Center)
  • Finding the Sacred in the Mundane: Reimagining Financial Support
  • Engaging Congregants: Small Groups With Meaning

As you may know, February is "Strengthening Congregations Webinar Month" here at the URJ. At the halfway point, more than 300 congregational leaders have joined live webinars to learn more about what makes a congregation strong and how the URJ is evolving to help you become or continue to be a strong congregation. The feedback and engagement on the webinars has been productive and valuable.

There are still eight live webinars that will take place over the next few weeks, and I hope you will join one. Join a webinar to learn more about how you can:

  • Connect with geographically-based URJ Communities to help your congregation's lay leaders network and learn together
  • Join The Tent to get answers to your questions and to join discussions with peers across North America
  • Learn about the forthcoming "Leadership Institute," which will expand leadership development opportunities for your congregation
  • Contact the Knowledge Network for answers and resources related to all aspects of congregational life (1.855.URJ.1800 or urj1800@urj.org)
  • Learn about the corps of volunteers available to run board workshops at your congregation or congregational retreat
  • Tap into the corps of experts (in conjunction with other Reform institutions and individuals) that is available for specialized advice
  • Help your congregation's new president get off on the right foot with the specialized training available at the Scheidt Seminar (registration now open)

by Amy Asin and Lisa Lieberman Barzilai

Two years ago, the Union for Reform Judaism launched its Communities of Practice (CoP) initiative. We began with five separate cohorts, comprising lay and professional leaders from congregations throughout North America:

  • Pursuing Excellence in Your Early Childhood Centers
  • Engaging Families with Young Children
  • Engaging Young Adults
  • Reimagining Financial Support
  • Revolutionizing B’nai Mitzvah Engagement

During the course of 18-24 months and with guidance from URJ staff, each cohort came together to learn from experts in the field and from each other, ask big questions, and share ideas and best practices. Leaders from nearly 90 congregations participated in the five inaugural CoPs, and more than 75% of them have since launched pilots to apply newfound knowledge in their own communities.

Throughout the process, we developed significant intellectual capital, and gained important insights about how CoPs strengthen and enrich congregations. Here are five important lessons learned.