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.
- A safe place to celebrate: For individuals in recovery from addiction, celebrating Jewish holidays can be a challenge. North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL, recognized this and created a “Community Recovery Seder” to give those in recovery seeking a genuine Passover experience a safe place to celebrate with loved ones and connect with others. Read more about the seder that the congregation's rabbi calls "a homecoming in many ways."
- 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.
- If you can't be in Israel...: Seeing an influx of new Israeli congregants, Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, CA, created a pathway for their engagement in the local Jewish community by celebrating Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. “Creating a Home Away from Home” offered special services, most of them solely in Hebrew, that connected these congregants to one another and the B’nai B’rith community-at-large. Read more about how this congregation embraces Israelis and draws them into Jewish life.
- No initiative needed: Sometimes, a formal initiative isn’t necessary to be audaciously hospitable, as Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, MA, proved with its “LGBTQ+ Uninitiative,” a series of audaciously hospitable actions dedicated to making the congregation more inclusive for LGBTQ+ congregants. Read more about the many ways this synagogue continues to welcome and support its LGBTQ+ members.
- Summer camp for all: The Torah commands us no fewer than 36 times to love and protect the immigrant, and the many refugees living in America are no exception. Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, CA, fulfilled this mitzvah by creating "Camp Nefesh,” a summer day camp for newly-arrived refugee children living in the Sacramento area. Read more about this effort, initiated by a URJ Mitzvah Corps teen.
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.