Three Innovative Congregational Initiatives that Use Tech as an Engagement Tool

October 1, 2015Jessica Ingram

As liberal Jews in the modern world, we are not only willing to engage with the modern world, but we embrace it. Utilizing technology as a means of learning, sharing resources, and building community has not only influenced how Reform Jews develop and express their Jewish identity, but has reinvigorated it.

A number of Reform congregations selected as URJ Belin Outreach and Membership Awards winners and honorable mentions have created programs that are inspired by technology and use technology to make Judaism more accessible and relevant.

  • Bringing the virtual into reality: Congregation Emanu El in Houston, TX, created JED Talks, short for “Jews Exploring their Dreams” and inspired by the well-known TED Talks that have reshaped how people think about, discuss, and share big ideas. JED Talks, a monthly lecture series, creates opportunities for young professionals to come together in a Jewish context and meet with inspiring Jews in the Houston area, including an Olympic athlete, a celebrated harpist, a brewery founder, the head chef of a popular local restaurant, and the congregation’s new senior rabbi.
  • Using film as the foundation for learning at any level: The Temple—Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, OH, produced a video adaptation of an established stage play, “Both Sides of the Family,” about an interfaith family’s life and the questions and issues they navigate together. The film was accompanied by a companion guide, created to foster discussion about the nuances of Jewish identity-building in the religious school, family education, and adult learning programs.
  • Going viral for good: Temple Sholom in Cincinnati, OH, launched a video campaign called Sacred Marketing as a means of communicating the core message of their synagogue community in a fun, innovative way. Congregants wrote and starred in a series of 12 videos, with a keynote production titled “The Synagogue Revolution: a Musical!” The videos were a critical element of a major initiative to think differently about outreach and member engagement. Posted online and viewed more than 8,000 times, the videos helped the congregation double donations, reach the highest rate of new member affiliation in a decade, and bring in more young adults and baby boomers to services on an ongoing basis.

Creating meaningful opportunities for connection in our communities is critical, they be engaging on-ramps for those who have not been previously involved or new ways to help individuals and communities think more deeply about their own Jewish identity.

Congregations who willingly experiment with the resources and tools at their disposal successfully meet people where they are and continue to uphold the values that shaped Reform Judaism from its earliest moments – to fully embrace both our Jewish traditions and our modern world, and find ways for each to enhance the other.

The URJ’s Belin Outreach and Membership Awards – funded through the generosity of David Belin, z”l – are presented to up to 16 congregations for initiatives that demonstrate the concept of audacious hospitality by actively welcoming and integrating those new to Judaism, creating relationship-based engagement models, or engaging and retaining members with innovative practices. This post is the last in a series highlighting Belin Award-winning programs and the principles that guided their development. 

To learn more about audacious hospitality strategies and tools, attend the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2015, from November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. With 5,000 attendees from around the world, the Biennial is the largest Jewish gathering in North America. Learn more and register at

Jessica Ingram, a member of the URJ’s Strengthening Congregations team, is the manager of Communities of Practice.

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