For Nathalie Rethazy, a co-chair of Temple Sinai Congregation’s young families committee, it’s important to show her children that she’s “involved, and that the synagogue is our community, our second home.”
Rethazy – along with Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg, Rabbi Ilan Emanuel and nursery school principal Bibi Golberg – travelled to Chicago recently to take part in a three-day conference run by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the umbrella group for 900 congregations.
Temple Sinai, a 1,700-family congregation, was the only Canadian synagogue among 32 at the late January conference, where the URJ launched three of its new “communities of practice,” or congregational networking groups.
The groups, which will collaborate for the next 18 months, revolve around
• emerging young adult initiatives
• successfully engaging young families, and
• pursuing excellence through the congregations’ early childhood centres.
Rethazy said it was a “phenomenal” weekend and that, in the next year and a half, she hopes to connect with people she met at the conference and pick up new ideas that she can use at the temple to engage young families.
“It was lovely to come together as a whole and know that we’re all in the same boat,” she said.
Recent young family initiatives at Temple Sinai include tot Shabbats, home Havdalahs and mitzvah days.
Golberg and Rabbi Emanuel, who is in charge of young families programming at the temple, work with the same cohort of congregants.
Golberg noted that many parents “are looking for Jewish opportunities rather than just secular choices.” As well, she added, parents want to be more involved in their children’s Jewish education.
“We’re looking at how we can reach these young families,” she said.
“This is the first step, where we are going to be working together creating some new programs that will come out of this.”
According to a URJ news release, participating congregations will work together to “push the boundaries of existing congregational efforts, experiment in their own communities, receive peer support and guidance,” as well as learn from URJ faculty.
At the conference, the organization’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, worked with each group, and URJ faculty member Amy Asin led workshops on experimentation and evaluation.
Rabbi Mikelberg, who is in the “young adult” community of practice group and works with congregants in their 20s and 30s, said that “the hope is to join together congregations across North America focusing on similar challenges. The idea is that we can help each other to grow and blossom and embrace this challenge.”
He said Temple Sinai’s programming for young adults focuses on social action, a social aspect, and an “entrepreneurial” series that offers mentoring opportunities.
“It’s all about synagogue life and community life, and supporting one another.”
One change in recent years, Rabbi Mikelberg said, is that synagogue life is no longer contained within the walls of the temple. Most of his programs are off site.
Although the other synagogues represented at the conference are American, those in big cities share similar challenges and opportunities, Rabbi Mikelberg noted.
“It’s definitely very exciting. I now feel I have colleagues across North America, with whom I can brainstorm.”