Meet This Year's Belin Award-Winning Congregations

Inside Leadership

Meet This Year's Belin Award-Winning Congregations

Every two years, the Union for Reform Judaism’s Belin Awards honor congregations that have developed innovative and effective programs rooted in the concepts of audacious hospitality that also engage and retain members of our congregations. 

Generously funded by David Belin, z’l, the inaugural chair of the URJ-CCAR Joint Commission on Outreach, the Belin Awards offer the URJ an opportunity to highlight and reward eight of the most innovative and inspiring initiatives in our congregations with a $1,000 cash award and recognition at the upcoming URJ Biennial.

The winners of the 2019 Belin Awards have gone out of their way to exemplify and promote audacious hospitality by listening to the needs of those most marginalized in our sacred spaces and helping to move the whole of Reform Judaism toward fuller diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Here is a brief summary of the winning project in each congregation; click on the project name to access interviews with the clergy and lay leaders who initiated and developed the projects:

  • The power of storytelling: At Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ, “Honoring a Loved One’s Yahrzeit” offers member an opportunity to share memories of their loved ones at Shabbat services during the week of the yahrzeit (annual anniversary of a death), helping to unite the community. Read more about this memory-sharing initiative.
  • The beauty and complexity of gender identity: Recognizing the need to better educate staff and parents of children enrolled in religious school about gender identity, Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX, developed “Gender Identity Training.” This specialized training, helped the community gain a better understanding and appreciation for the myriad gender identities present in our Jewish communities. Read more about what goes into training their Jewish community leaders.
  • Jewish engagement close to home: For individuals and families living on the northwest side of Chicago, engaging Jewishly can be a challenge if it means traveling downtown and to other parts of the city. Oak Park Temple in Oak Park, IL, therefore, created “Blue Line Jews,” which offers disconnected Chicagoans special Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations, providing a local sense of community and audacious hospitality. Aptly named, the synagogue’s Oak Park neighborhood and the neighborhoods where program events happen both are served by the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line. Read more about how this initiative has engaged previously disconnected Jews.
  • Social justice feeds the soul: Members of Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, TX, developed “Neighbors Elevating Faith, Education, Service, and Hope (NEFESH)” to provide learning and service opportunities for congregants to engage with the broader San Antonio community. Using a different theme each month, NEFESH offers members a chance to expand their understanding of social justice and have a positive influence in their community. Read more about how this initiative frames social justice issues through a Jewish lens.

Learn more about this year’s Belin Award-winning programs in The Tent and at the URJ Biennial, the largest Jewish gathering in North America, held December 11-15, 2019, in Chicago, IL. Register now to join thousands of Jews from around the world to learn, pray, share ideas, dance and sing, hear from inspiring speakers, reunite with old friends, create new connections, and more.

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Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. He grew up at Payne A.M.E. Chapel in Hamilton, OH, and converted to Judaism at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, MI. 

Chris Harrison

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