Transforming Congregations into Inclusive and Caring Jewish Communities

65th General Assembly
December 1999
Orlando, Florida

The demographics of North American Jewry have undergone dramatic change in the last third of the twentieth century, and our Reform Jewish "family" often looks radically different from the typical Reform Jewish "family" of thirty years ago. Over 50% of the Jewish community is comprised of household units that consist of either one or two people living alone. The traditional two-parent, two-child family now comprises less than 20% of the community.

Today, a "family" may be a single person (never married, divorced, or widowed). There are "blended" families and families with partners of the same sex. There is cohabitation without marriage. Some families are racially mixed, through marriage or through adoption. Interfaith households are common. Increasing numbers of Jewish women defer parenthood. More Jewish mothers work part-time. With longer life spans, the percentage of older adults in our community continues to increase. Yet most congregational programs do not meet the needs of the more than 80% of families that do not fit the traditional model.

These new family structures proceed through life's stages in radically different ways, significantly altering family life experiences and needs and presenting new and complex challenges for congregational membership, family programming, educational and service opportunities, and spiritual connection and growth. Along with changes in family structure and changes in the surrounding culture and society, our congregational families have faced increasingly difficult social, health, and personal problems. These problems include substance abuse, mental illness, eating disorders, infertility, bioethical decisions concerning end of life and other health care needs, disabilities and special needs, and living in split and blended families.

Recognizing that the family in all of its unique and different configurations is still a cornerstone and strength of the Jewish people and of our congregations, and coupled with the belief that our faith to be relevant and meaningful, must address itself to these very real life problems of our congregants, the UAHC has created the Department of Jewish Family Concerns.

THEREFORE , the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:

  1. Assist all member congregations in:

    (A) Developing Jewish Family Concerns Committees and programs that reflect the changing contemporary Jewish family in all its diversity, and

    (B) Creating proactive partnerships with UAHC regions and national departments in the task of synagogue transformation and creating caring congregations, so that the synagogue will be a place of worship, study, and action for member families;

  2. Encourage all member congregations to examine their internal governance to ensure it reflects the changing nature of the family;
  3. Urge member congregations to join with our regions and outside professional organizations in building local capacity to meet the needs of our congregants' families through training and educational opportunities for lay, clergy and professional staff;
  4. Create a training program for congregational and regional staff and laypeople who implement Family Concerns programming;
  5. Urge that Jewish Family Concerns Seminars be offered throughout the Reform Movement; and
  6. Collect accurate demographic data on our family units and household synagogue memberships and work toward a usable information database for the Reform Movement.