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Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, announced today that April Baskin will join the URJ's executive leadership team as Vice President of Audacious Hospitality. Baskin's role is crucial to the ongoing implementation of the URJ's strategic 2020 Vision plan, and the final staffing decision within a realignment of executive roles that is structured around the 2020 Vision's core priorities of strengthening congregations, audacious hospitality, and tikkun olam (social justice).
Audacious hospitality is the URJ's focused effort to engage seekers - Jews who are unaffiliated, under-engaged, and, in some cases, uninspired - in the sacred work of creating a world of wholeness, compassion, and justice. Congregations and other Reform institutions can play an indispensable role in attracting and serving those looking for ways to connect with their Jewish identity.
As URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs put it recently, "No more than 50% of American Jews are members of synagogues at any one time. Unless we change our approach, there is little chance that Jews in their twenties and thirties will even enter the revolving door of synagogue affiliation. Hoping is not a strategy; the Jewish world needs new approaches for engaging the future. Together we will shape the strategies that will broaden and deepen our movement."
In introducing her, Rabbi Jacobs noted that Baskin is "precisely the right person to lead us in shaping those strategies." Her extensive experience includes diversity inclusion, strategic planning, and program development within organizational and national communities. Most recently, she served as the national director of resources and training at InterfaithFamily, assisting Jewish professionals and clergy in welcoming and engaging interfaith couples and families, helping them make a stronger connection with Judaism. From 2010 to 2013, she was the national president of the Jewish Multiracial Network and worked as an administrator at the World Justice Project.
For two years, Baskin was an Insight Fellow at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Her placements as part of this fellowship were at Maryland Hillel, BBYO's HR and professional development department, and Moment magazine. She participated in the LGBT and Family Diversity Facilitation Training with Keshet, and in Bend the Arc's Selah Leadership Program. As a diversity consultant, program developer, and presenter, she has worked with organizations such as the 92nd Street Y, AmeriCorps, Birthright NEXT, CAJE, Ayecha, JVoices, Jews in All Hues, UC Davis Hillel, Jews United for Justice, and NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. She is a graduate of Tufts University.
Said Rabbi Jacobs of Baskin's appointment,
"April is both a Reform Judaism ‘insider' and ‘outsider.' She has grown up in and been shaped by our Movement, and personifies our core values. And because she has also worked with other denominations and communities, she is perfectly positioned to lead our work reaching beyond the synagogue walls to Jews who are outside our Movement today, but are looking for deeper engagement that Reform Judaism can offer. Creating collaboration, coordination and partnerships that reduce barriers is exactly what April's career and life have been all about. She will be a perfect ambassador for the URJ, developing new ideas for bringing community to everyone looking for a richer Jewish life."
Baskin said of her new role,
"The work of audacious hospitality is about outreach and inclusion; if we do audacious hospitality well, we will be contributing to our other core priorities and values, by helping foster and sustain vibrant, welcoming congregations, and by leveraging the collective power of our diverse community to make the world more just. I know how it feels to be embraced by a community, and I also know how it feels to be ignored. I am passionate about Reform Judaism and the Jewish community, which is a source of my personal strength. Our priority for the URJ is to create and facilitate experiences that help individuals journey from feeling like an outsider to a place of feeling empowered." Rabbi Jacobs added, "In today's Jewish world, we must practice such audacious hospitality with the LGBTQ community, multiracial Jews, Jews with disabilities, and Gen X'ers and millennials - including all those who do not identify as part of the religious community. All of them have much to teach us."
Baskin's appointment was welcomed by leaders across the Jewish and interfaith community.