Bringing it Back Home: 5 Ways to Share Biennial with Your Congregation

Inside Leadership

Bringing it Back Home: 5 Ways to Share Biennial with Your Congregation

Overhead shot of full plenary hall at URJ Biennial 2017

What an exciting, amazing, energizing experience!

You have prayed together with more than 5,000 people – accompanied by a huge volunteer choir or by 100 cantors, and an orchestra led by Josh Nelson. You’ve participated in song sessions and deep discussions. You have been called to service by Reverend Dr. William Barber, recharged by the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren, and inspired by Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

These examples are only a few of the highlights of this year’s amazing URJ Biennial 2017, just concluded in Boston, MA. There were workshops, song sessions, and networking – both formal and informal. You had a chance to meet and discuss issues with people throughout North America and, sometimes, the world, who share your concerns, your joys, and your frustrations. Perhaps you also had the opportunity to converse with or to seek advice from one or more of the exceptionally wise and helpful URJ professional staff, who helped you to problem-solve or generate a novel approach to an ongoing issue in your synagogue.

Biennial is an intense learning experience just begging to be shared with your home congregation. Boston marked my second Biennial experience, and, like the first, it has left me energized and ready to apply what I’ve learned to my work in my own synagogue community.

Here are five ways I have found to share effectively:

  1. Decompress: If others from your congregation attended, meet with them to review highlights and determine which things seem most applicable to your congregation. If you were the only one attending, meet with a friend or two to discuss your experience and help you to prioritize actions you’d like to take.
  1. Meet with Board Members: Share with them as a group one or two overriding concepts or new ideas you would like to explore with them. Based on their response to the ideas, construct an action plan for moving forward. Asking the board to come up with ideas helps them to own the action plan with you. Try to devise a task list and a realistic timeframe for committing to one or some of the tasks.
  1. Involve Other Congregants: Team up with one or two other people on your board, or with your rabbi, and come up with a list of congregants who may be potential leaders. Take time to meet with each of them individually, or in pairs if you like, and tell them about your experience at Biennial and some key things you took away from the experience. Ask them what questions they may have for you and try to get them to commit to a small project or a piece of your action plan, and ask them to choose a partner with whom to work. If that seems to overwhelm them, offer to help to find the right person to work with them.
  1. Host a Viewing Party: If you found one of the Biennial plenary sessions has inspired you, invite a small group to your home (or ask someone to co-host at their home) to watch and discuss it. You might also check whether those in the group are familiar with the URJ and with how your synagogue community has benefitted or can benefit from being a URJ member congregation.
  1. Use Your Enthusiasm to Engage Others: To engage others in becoming more active in the synagogue community, I have found two guiding principles that help me. The first I learned at the Scheidt Seminar for Congregational Presidents and Presidents-Elect, which I attended this past spring: Build sacred relationships. Treat each interaction with congregants as a sacred partnership. Remember that when we engage, we are elevated to a higher, more sacred place and that we are doing holy work. The second I learned from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who was, at the time, teaching about readying oneself for the new year. Rabbi Jacobs began with a quote from Rav Abraham Isaac Kook: “Hayashan yitchadesh v’hechadesh yitchadesh” – The old will be made new and the new will be made holy. Not every idea you bring back will be new, but by giving that idea new life, by using that idea to enrich our community, we can continue to bring holiness into our congregations.

Pre-register for the URJ's 2019 Biennial in Chicago, IL, to be held from December 11-15, 2019. The deadline to lock in the 2017 Biennial Early Bird rate and get a $100 credit toward your registration is December 31, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

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Bayla Belofsky Lovens, M.Ed., MSW, serves as co-president of Port Jewish Center (PJC) in Port Washington, NY, where she has been a member since 1987. She credits her hometown synagogue, Temple Emanuel (now Temple Emanuel Sinai) of Worcester, MA, with engendering in her a lifelong love of and commitment to Judaism and to the Reform Movement. From 1980 until her retirement in 2014, Bayla worked primarily in Jewish communal service in New York City. Both her children are alumni of URJ Eisner Camp. She is also a life member of Hadassah.


Bayla Belofsky Lovens
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