Support of Continuing Jewish Education for Volunteer Leaders, Jewish Professionals and Adult Members of Union for Reform Judaism Congregations

Submitted by: Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick, NJ; Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY; Woodlands Community Temple, White Plains, NY; Joint Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning; Union for Reform Judaism Adult Learning Committee; Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; National Association of Temple Administrators; National Association of Temple Educators;PARDeS: Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools; and American Conference of Cantors

"The advancement of learning is the highest commandment." (Maimonides)


Reform Judaism has a unique approach to the celebration of life through Jewish values, ideals and commitments. Throughout its history, the Reform Movement in North America has valued the study of and engagement with Torah-the synthesizing of Jewish knowledge and learning from the wisdom of many different sources. All of this has enabled Reform Jews and Reform Judaism to encounter the world in which we live, to learn from it, to be guided by it and to contribute to it.

In the 21st Century it has become increasingly clear that Jewish study and learning lead to growth and understanding. This is true, not only in personal endeavors, but in professional and communal life as well. The Union for Reform Judaism has recognized this through its encouragement of Torah study and learning in all of its departments and throughout its educational and programmatic system. Rabbi Eric Yoffie has championed such learning throughout the Reform Movement and has been a true leader in encouraging individuals and Union member congregations to make Torah study and lifelong Jewish learning integral parts of their lives and the foundation for synagogue and Movement programs.

Since the approval in 1999 by the General Assembly of a resolution on Lifelong Jewish Learning, the Reform Movement has made significant advancements in several areas of Jewish learning. We celebrate and applaud the efforts of our religious schools, camps and day schools. They are introducing new and vibrant educational initiatives.

This year the Adult Learning Committee completed a think tank focused on the status and future of adult Jewish learning. Members of the committee were joined by experts in adult Jewish learning who shared current trends and best practices. The conclusions drawn from the sessions include:

? The Union's programs such as 10 Minutes of Torah, Eilu V'eilu, Significant Jewish Books, the Scheidt Seminar and others have sparked a significant cultural change within the Movement.

? Members of Union congregations are increasing their participation in adult Jewish learning programs offered by their congregations, other organizations, colleges and universities and on the internet.

? There is a growing interest in and commitment to adult Jewish studies offering exploration of the breadth and depth of Judaic knowledge.

? There is a growing need for teachers with the knowledge and skills required to respond to the increasing interests in adult Jewish learning and the wide range of experience of the learners.

Recent studies, such as the Feld Study [1], designed by the Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning to research the state of congregations' educational programs and systems, have identified a significant change in the composition of membership units of our congregations, with a growing number of households consisting of one partner raised Jewishly and one raised in another faith. Through our outreach efforts we have welcomed non-Jewish partners into our communities and, as they move beyond introduction to Judaism programs, they and their partners seek more advanced Jewish learning opportunities. Adult learning programs are vitally important not just in light of these demographic shifts, but are necessary to enable our congregations to continue to build vibrant Jewish communities.

In addition to adult education for our members, the building of lifelong learning communities will be greatly enhanced if we encourage and create opportunities for volunteer leaders and professionals to develop and improve their skills, raise the level of their Jewish learning and Hebrew literacy, and improve their expertise in teaching and disseminating the wisdom of our faith. Congregational leaders and professionals committed to continuing education will benefit themselves and their congregations significantly by bringing new ideas and new energy to their congregations and by creating Jewishly literate and sacred communities.

In nearly every profession today, continuing education is expected, if not required, in order for those in the profession to provide continued expertise in their work. We should expect no less from those who commit themselves to careers in Jewish life. Many of the professional associations within the Movement provide certification programs and opportunities for continuing education for their members. Professionals should be encouraged to take advantage of such opportunities and acknowledged when they do. Affiliates that do not have such programs for their professionals should develop and/or expand continuing education opportunities.

Adult learning should become a Movement-wide priority, enabling our professionals, volunteer leaders, and members at large to synthesize Jewish continuing education with everyday living. By doing so we will significantly deepen the meaning of our lives as Jews and will become even more passionate and committed to assuring that our work serves to create vibrant and life-sustaining congregations and communities. We believe in torah lishmah-that Jewish learning has value for its own sake-and that participation in Jewish learning will enrich spirituality (k'dushah), build community ( k'hilah), encourage repairing the world (tikkun olam) and sustain Jewish continuity (brit olam).

THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:

1. Create new and expanded opportunities for its leaders throughout the Movement to engage in Torah study, Jewish learning and programs for their personal growth and development as leaders of a sacred Reform Jewish community, and encourage them to embrace such opportunities and model lifelong Jewish learning;

2. Help members of its staff to expand their Jewish learning by:

  1. Encouraging and supporting their efforts to achieve the highest level of certification offered by their professional organizations;
  2. Providing opportunities for continuation of Judaic and professional studies;
  3. Encouraging and providing time for staff members to take advantage of professional development opportunities, distance learning and similar endeavors;

3. Encourage and assist congregations, affiliates and all arms of the Movement to create and/or expand:

  1. Opportunities for members of their staffs to increase their Jewish learning by:
    1. Encouraging and supporting their efforts to achieve the highest level of certification offered by their professional organizations;
    2. Providing opportunities for continuation of Judaic and professional studies;
    3. Encouraging and providing time for staff members to take advantage of professional development opportunities, distance learning and similar endeavors;
  2. Opportunities for volunteer leaders and members to fulfill an ongoing commitment to Jewish learning;
  3. Recognition of completion of significant steps along the pathway of lifelong Jewish learning and continuing professional education by volunteer leaders and staff; and

4. Work with and encourage the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Central Conference of American Rabbis, American Conference of Cantors, National Association of Temple Administrators, National Association of Temple Educators, Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism, Program Directors of Reform Judaism, PARDeS: Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools, and other professional affiliates to continue and expand their efforts to provide significant opportunities and standards for a lifelong commitment to professional education and development programs.

[1] Feld Study, Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning, spring 2007.