How the URJ Helps Congregations Welcome and Engage People in the Jewish Community

Inside Leadership

How the URJ Helps Congregations Welcome and Engage People in the Jewish Community

Introduction to Judaism classes

For more than 30 years, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), in partnership with our congregations and clergy, has offered A Taste of Judaism® and Introduction to Judaism programs, welcoming tens of thousands of individuals and couples into Jewish conversations and the Jewish community. With the goals of offering greater support to more congregations and reaching many more people, we are expanding our resources toward these in-person courses. In addition, we are expanding the URJ’s Introduction to Judaism online program to support congregations that do not offer in-person courses.

Congregations that offer A Taste of Judaism® or in-person Introduction to Judaism courses are invited to share course details with us so we can offer help with registration, marketing, and administration, as well as educational resources and consulting. Tell us about your A Taste of Judaism® program. Tell us about your in-person Introduction to Judaism course.

According to Rabbi Andrew Vogel of Temple Sinai in Brookline, MA, a congregation that has long offered A Taste of Judaism® and Introduction to Judaism classes:

“It’s not an overstatement to say that some of our most devoted lay leaders and most active congregants are folks who came to us through A Taste of Judaism® or Introduction to Judaism. These classes have been a powerful entry point for newcomers to Judaism, Jews reconnecting with their Judaism, and interfaith couples who are exploring what it could mean to create a Jewish home and family together. Through these experiences, their eyes have come to ‘shine with the light of Torah,’ with joy, curiosity and enthusiasm. Our congregation is enriched by their presence, and so is the Jewish people.”

A Taste of Judaism®

For individuals who have little or no experience with Judaism, entering a Jewish space can feel overwhelming and intimidating. They may worry: Will I be accepted? Will my questions be welcomed? Will I be pressured to make a commitment?

A Taste of Judaism® aims to ease those concerns and eliminate perceived barriers of entry to the Jewish community. This free, three-session program offers an easy access point to liberal Jewish life for those who are curious about Judaism.

Program participants include interfaith partners, spiritual seekers, Jews who are interested in reconnecting with Judaism, individuals considering conversion, and individuals who are exploring Jewish family heritage. Many have never before entered a synagogue or met a rabbi or cantor. For those who are interested in a deeper or ongoing relationship, the program fosters a connection with the host congregation and its rabbi, cantor, or educator who serves as faculty. 

After completing the three-session A Taste of Judaism® program:

  • Eighty-nine percent of students say they are likely to seek additional opportunities for Jewish engagement
  • Thirty-three percent subsequently enroll in an Introduction to Judaism course
  • Thirteen percent seek a connection to a rabbi or cantor to explore conversion

Rabbi Michael Pincus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT, whose experience includes teaching A Taste of Judaism® had this to say:

“It was a joy to teach A Taste of Judaism®. We never would have reached this diverse group of people without it. For the Jews who took the class, they learned more about their heritage. For those in interfaith families, it helped created greater understanding. And, for those who knew little about Judaism, they came away with information to be more informed…. The financial, educational, and organizational support [offered by the URJ] made this an easy and effective program that touched many lives.”

Introduction to Judaism

Congregations that offer in-person Introduction to Judaism (or similar) courses should share course details with us so we can provide support around registration, marketing, and administration, as well as educational resources and consulting.

Specifically, URJ staff will:

  • Post the congregation’s course offerings on ReformJudaism.org, a site with 300,000 monthly visitors
  • Create a customized marketing toolkit, branded for your congregation
  • Administer participant registration and review every submission
  • Place paid, geographic specific social media advertising – up to $300 per course – on Facebook and Instagram
  • Respond directly to all inquiries from prospective students, including those who express interest through our website pop-up boxes, and as appropriate, refer them to congregational clergy and/or staff
  • Forward detailed and up-to-date class rosters to congregational liaisons for follow-up about specific course requirements, course materials, and tuition
  • Administer a student feedback survey and share collated feedback
  • Provide a customized digital template for the Certificate of Completion
  • Offer curricular resources and one-on-one consulting to faculty and congregational leadership, as well an opportunity for them to subscribe students to a congregationally co-branded edition of Ten Minutes of Torah

In addition, through the generosity of the National Center to Encourage Judaism (NCEJ), a limited number of marketing grants are available to URJ congregations that meet minimum requirements.

The URJ looks forward to continuing to offer relevant, meaningful programs and resources that welcome and engage individuals, couples, and families in Jewish conversations and the Jewish community.

For more information, email Julie Zupan, Audacious Hospitality’s director of learning and engagement.

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Rabbi Julie Zupan serves as the director of learning and engagement for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism, where her work focuses on supporting interfaith couples and individuals exploring Judaism. She was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1999 and is a member of Temple Sinai of Sharon, MA.

Rabbi Julie Zupan
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