3 Ways to Broaden Your Congregation’s Tent Through Jewish Learning

February 18, 2020Rabbi Miriam Wajnberg

The Union for Reform Judaism, in partnership with our congregations and clergy, has long created opportunities to learn about Judaism through A Taste of Judaism® and Introduction to Judaism classes, making Jewish learning accessible to those seeking to learn more, whether they’re on a conversion path, recently discovered Jewish heritage in their family tree, have a Jewish partner, Jewish children, or Jewish grandchildren, or are just curious!

1. Tell Us About Your Congregational Classes

The URJ has significant administrative and curricular resources available to support congregations that offer these programs, whether for the first time or the fortieth time. Congregations are invited to share course details with us so we can offer help with registration, marketing, and administration, as well as educational resources, faculty webinars, and one-on-one consulting.

To begin, tell us about your A Taste of Judaism® program, and/or tell us about your Introduction to Judaism class.

2. Apply for Marketing Grants

This year, we are pleased to announce a generous grant from the National Center to Encourage Judaism (NCEJ) to support congregational marketing efforts. The URJ will spend up to $300 per course on digital marketing for each course, striving to reach those who are not already connected with congregational life.

In addition, URJ congregations are invited to apply for one of 12 marketing grants of up to $1,800. Preference is given to: congregations working in collaboration; congregations offering one of these programs for the first time; and congregations that offer both Intro to Judaism and A Taste of Judaism®.

Rabbi Andy Koren of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C., notes the impact that marketing in the broader community had on his recent class:

“This year's URJ grant for Introduction to Judaism gave Temple Emanuel Greensboro a full presence on social media; it allowed us to run spots on local radio. Many noticed and told others. 

“A long-serving academic dean who had not had meaningful contact with the Jewish community in decades is now in our class. A local church leader and fiction writer is studying with us to gain first-hand knowledge on Judaism for an upcoming book. Beyond that, we have attracted a larger group of spiritual seekers who may ultimately up their involvement or choose Judaism than any time in recent memory.”

Apply here for A Taste of Judaism®, and apply here for Introduction to Judaism.

3. Learn More About the Value of These Programs

For congregations that haven’t offered A Taste of Judaism® or Intro to Judaism before, or haven’t in several years, getting a new course or program off the ground doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can be energizing to the clergy, professionals, and community at large.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield, MA, a 150-household synagogue, writes:

“This is my first time teaching Intro to Judaism, and it is the first time Intro has been offered at our congregation in many decades.

“Our class is diverse and multi-generational. An interfaith couple with a 40-year history in the congregation sits next to a newlywed interfaith couple expecting their first child next month. A young community organizer shares her story of faith, race, and her journey to Judaism with a 70-year old widow reengaging for the first time since her childhood.

"Intro creates a space for these unlikely and extraordinary relationships to flourish, knitting powerful ties between members and potential members of our temple community.”

Lynn Anne Cutler, the educator at Temple Beth Am in Parsippany, N.J., says she’s been energized by running and teaching Intro to Judaism for the first time at her 165-household congregation:

“Our class includes congregants looking for meaningful adult connections with Judaism, community members considering conversion, a mother-and-son pair who decided to embark upon a journey of Jewish education together, and me, an instructor who studied in an earlier incarnation of this course 18 years ago, when I was preparing for my own conversion to Judaism.

“Every student contributes from different life experiences, and we are enjoying practicing Judaism together, through Shabbat and holiday celebrations with the congregational community. I don't know why it took me so long to think of offering Introduction to Judaism here, but I cannot imagine not offering it again in the future!”

To learn more about how the URJ can support your congregation’s A Taste of Judaism® program and Intro to Judaism course, we invite you to join an informational webinar, “Expanding Your Congregation’s Reach with Introduction to Judaism and A Taste of Judaism®,” on Tuesday, March 17 from 1-2pm EST, or Wednesday, March 18, from 8-9pm EST.

Join us for this webinar to hear from URJ staff and congregational leadership who will share best practices for offering these programs, utilizing URJ resources and marketing grants, and opening your congregational tent through Jewish learning. Register now for this helpful and informative webinar.

For more information, please email us, the URJ’s program manager for learning and engagement for Audacious Hospitality.

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Introduction to Judaism: Five Best Practices to Try

Supporting newcomers to Judaism and helping them find belonging is one of Rabbi Marina Yergin's greatest joys in her work at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, Texas where she has served since 2015. Known affectionately to her students as the "Resource Queen," Rabbi Yergin designed a dynamic Introduction to Judaism program where each spring, students learned "Stepping Stones to Basic Jewish Knowledge" followed in the fall by "Choosing Judaism," a discussion-based class geared specifically for those working to become Jewish.