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Rabbi Esther L. Lederman

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Gears, each marked with various business words: Standards, Policies, Rules, etc.

Our world is rapidly changing, throwing challenges at us that frequently have no known solutions. Congregations are on the front lines of these challenges as they strive to strike a balance between delving into ancient traditions and finding relevance for 21st-century people.

To succeed, all congregations need to focus on developing appropriate governance structures that allow them to be both mission-driven and flexible in how their leaders achieve that mission.

Here are four ways to cultivate a 21st century governance structure in your congregation:

1. Strike a... Read More

Triangular British bunting/flags in foreground; out-of-focus garden party in background

Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, I looked forward to Victoria Day, which falls this year on Monday, May 21, as the official start of the summer season. With it comes some combination of beach, beer, barbecue, and, finally, an excuse to wear sandals and a t-shirt. This year, the long weekend will mark a more historic moment for the British Crown and the rest of the Commonwealth – the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

I admit I am a royalist, but it comes naturally; my mother is British. Waking up in the early morning hours of July 29, 1981 to watch Lady Diana Spencer marry her...

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Wooden blocks reading CHANCE and CHANGE

One of my favorite cartoons shows a speaker standing in front of a group of people. In the first frame, he asks the group, “Who wants change?” They all raise their hands. In the second frame, he inquires “Who wants to change?” This time, not a single hand is raised.

This cartoon captures an essential truth of being human: We all want change, but we usually want someone else to do it. This is true not just in our personal lives but also in congregational life. In order to bring about change in a congregation, its leaders need to be ready for it.

Over the years, as the URJ...

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Beekers and other laboratory tools filled with colorful liquids as though ready for scientific experimentation

One of eight principles the URJ has articulated for driving strong congregations is experimentation. That may seem like an oxymoron: a synagogue – steeped in thousands of years of tradition, experimenting? But if we’ve learned anything from the trajectory of Jewish history, it’s that we are an adaptive people. From the paradigm shift after the destruction of the Second Temple to the birth of the State of Israel and the growing richness of the North American Jewish community, ours is an inventive tradition. 

Why do congregations need to experiment? Professor Marty Linsky of the...

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More than three years ago, four visionary congregations – Central Synagogue in New York, NY, Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX, The Temple in Atlanta, GA, and Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, CA – began to work together, in partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism, on a new strategy and vision for congregational life. That vision centers around “small groups,” a concept adapted for our purposes from the world of mega-churches. 

Temple Emanu-El in Dallas articulated the vision this way: “Imagine hundreds of Temple members gathering regularly in small groups to learn and...

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