Sacred Partnerships: Essential in Congregational Life and Beyond

Inside Leadership

Sacred Partnerships: Essential in Congregational Life and Beyond

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I attended religious school from an early age and have beautiful, loving memories of practicing Hebrew with my father, who was raised in an Orthodox family. My mom was fiercely proud of being Jewish, but had no interest in practicing Judaism. I became a bat mitzvah and confirmand at our small Reform congregation, but after my confirmation at age 16, I didn’t have any formal connection to the Jewish community for many years.

It wasn’t until Artie and I were looking for a rabbi to marry us (whom we found at URJ Eisner Camp!) that I tried to connect Jewishly. After the birth of our sons, Aaron and Joshua, I became more appreciative of my dad’s role in sharing his love of Judaism with me. I clearly felt that it was my turn, and my responsibility, to do the same for our boys. I became involved in their religious school and began to develop relationships with other parents, teachers, and clergy. While my involvement was initially premised on my kids, over time I realized how much I valued my new relationships and sense of belonging to the community.

But it was the delivery of a Shabbat basket the first Friday after my dad’s death that deepened my commitment. I was so moved by this gesture of caring, understanding and connection that I wanted to participate more meaningfully in this community.  

I never expected to feel so passionate or committed to my efforts as part of a team of lay leaders within our Jewish community, but for nearly two decades, my life has been greatly enriched by my involvement at Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany, NY. I have been privileged to serve in varying capacities culminating in my two-year presidency. Even now, I continue to serve as co-chair of our development committee and our 180th anniversary celebration. Broadening that commitment, I have been honored to serve as a member of the North American board of the URJ for the nearly three years.

In each of these capacities, the relationships – as well as developing them and nurturing them –have been pivotal in moving efforts forward. As with any relationships, these, too, require a willingness to listen, respect, and trust each other, as well as an appreciation that what we can accomplish together is much greater than what we can do individually. At Congregation Beth Emeth, the officers, board, clergy, executive director, and congregants all work in sacred partnership with each other, helping to create an atmosphere of openness to innovative ideas, a recognition that change is vital to staying vibrant, and for many of us, a joyfulness in participating in Jewish life. We’re also able to engage in a congregation-wide effort to learn what matters most to our congregational family and to make desired changes.

Working in sacred partnership extends beyond my own congregation, and as my role as a lay leader continues to evolve, so too does my appreciation deepen for what being Jewish means to me:

  • In more than a year as a URJ Community co-chair, working in partnership with the URJ, we could create an event that provided an opportunity to have a meaningful give-and-take with Rabbi Jacobs while burgeoning relationships with the URJ development team added a potentially important component to Rabbi Jacobs’ time in our community.
  • In another instance, I was moved when leaders from within our URJ Community reached out to me confidentially to share some congregational concerns. Based on the relationships we’d developed, my staff partner and I provided information and referrals to URJ services that could help them meet specific needs within their congregation.
  • Similarly, as a new URJ board workshop facilitator I worked with a mentor whose professionalism, commitment, and skill demonstrated how crucial it is to build connection and trust with and among congregational leaders to help them catalyze change effectively.
  • And lastly, sharing our amazing URJ board mission to Israel with more than 30 trustees and staff this past spring, deepened my understanding of contemporary Israel while enhancing friendships and working relationships with my fellow participants.

In each of these instances, the premise for our work is shared Jewish values; the fuel for our work is relationships that reflect these values. Because we believe all are created in God’s image, we must listen to each other, respect each other, trust each other, challenge each other, and appreciate each other. Doing so enables us to bring more people to our sacred work, strengthening and enriching our efforts.

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Jill Goodman is an active member of Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany, NY, and the the Union for Reform Judaism's North American board of trustees, serving as a co-chair of the NENY/NNE URJ Community, a trained board workshop facilitator, and a member of the trustees and nominating committees.

Jill Goodman

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