MRJ Transition

Update on Current State of MRJ and JCS

A Message from the MRJ Management Committee

Stuart Leviton, Dave Oney, Steven Portnoy, Paul Cohen

For the past year, MRJ and JCS have been reviewing their respective missions to evaluate how best to organizationally and programmatically advance both organizations.  Concurrently, the URJ is undertaking a complete review of its own mission, structure, and future direction. What we have tried to do is determine, in this new era of cooperation and collaboration between MRJ and URJ, how we collectively can best advance our respective missions, which should have significant overlap, as we all want to advance the overarching goal of advancing the Reform Movement and the Jewish people.

So where are we?

On the MRJ side, we are articulating a mission, at its core, as one that engages and connects adult men within the Reform Movement.  This includes both Jewish men and non-Jewish men who are a part of our Movement via spouses and/or children. This includes all adult men, from early 20s on.  This includes current brotherhood members, current temple members who are not brotherhood "members," and it includes all adult men who are not yet a formal part of the Reform Movement, but who want to be, or who are at least informally.  Given the URJ's push to take an expansive view of who is and should be a part of the Movement, we too at MRJ want to be as expansive and inclusive as possible in reaching adult men.

In light of the foregoing, we have been taking a hard look at the MRJ structure and whether a North American umbrella organization of affiliate brotherhoods, separate and apart from the URJ/congregation structure, is the best and most effective structure for us moving forward.  To be honest the MRJ leadership has its doubts.  Too many congregations are underserving adult men because they have no structure to serve adult men, and even in congregations with brotherhoods/men's clubs, often these structures are underserving the vast majority of men within the congregation.  Moreover, we are not even trying to reach the adult men who are not yet part of our congregations.
 
We also cannot ignore the changes in the URJ structure and how those changes impact MRJ.  As the URJ changes both structurally and purposefully, we too must adapt and change. We have been working closely with Steve Sacks, the URJ Chair, a lay position, and Mark Pelavin, a senior URJ staff member, to better align MRJ with the URJ going forward.  We have yet to figure it out, but Steve Sacks will be appointing a task force during the next month that will address specifically the issue of men's engagement, and how best to achieve it.  Depending on the recommendations of the task force, the structure and focus of MRJ likely will change.  Whether MRJ remains as a separate entity, or whether it retains a separate identity, or whether another structure is created, remains to be determined.  We do believe, regardless of structure, that the URJ will remain a strong advocate for and facilitator of adult men's engagement.  We just do not yet know how.
 
On the JCS side, JCS and URJ are working together to figure out how best to advance the overarching mission of JCS, which is to advance understanding of Judaism by non-Jews or not-yet Jews.  JCS has concluded that many of its longstanding programs, such as the scholar in residence program, are not as effective as they once were.  At the same time, the URJ is undertaking some very exciting new initiatives specifically in the area of interfaith outreach and inreach.  We are looking to see whether and how JCS's resources can be re-purposed to meet the real 21st century challenge facing the Reform Movement in the context of the significant number of interfaith families who either are or want to be a part of our Movement. As such, the need for JCS funds and support remains at a high level. We are hopeful that as we work far more closely with the URJ, the use of those funds will find an even higher and better purpose, so that your brotherhood's on-going support of JCS will mean even more going forward. As for the structure of JCS, that too remains an open question.  It may very well turn out that in order to be mission-driven going forward, a separate structure no longer is the best way to advance the mission.  That said, we are confident that working within the URJ structure, the mission of interfaith will be well cared for and the needs of a large number of people will be addressed and met.
 
Rest assured, however, that until changes occur, we at MRJ and JCS remain committed to doing all that we can to support our affiliates and to keep us moving forward in this ever-changing landscape.
 
If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to reach out.

Celebrating a Legacy, Embracing Change, and Enduring Transition

A Message from MRJ President Stuart Leviton 

As MRJ continues to celebrate our 90 years of history, we are undertaking an exciting process of outreach and introspection that we believe will lead to a transformative repositioning of MRJ’s mission and MRJ itself.   

Over the past several months, with the assistance of MRJ’s consultant Rabbi David Wolfman, MRJ’s leadership has reached out to MRJ affiliates and the broader Reform Jewish community to seek input as to how MRJ can be more effective, both structurally and programmatically, in advancing a mission of advocating for and supporting compelling strategies to engage and connect all of the men of Reform Judaism.  Overwhelmingly, we have heard of the primary importance of creating and nurturing connections and community for adult men.  To all of you with whom we met during our Listening Sessions across the United States, via telephone calls and e-mails, thank you for your thoughts and insights.  Indeed, you provided the seeds of our future direction. 

At the same time, MRJ’s leadership has looked inward to evaluate our own effectiveness, both individually and collectively.  To better position MRJ to meet the present and future needs of adult men, MRJ is reviewing (and proposing changes when appropriate) its governance structure, staffing, finances, and programmatic priorities. This work and this journey would not be possible without the devoted men who sit on the MRJ Executive Council and, especially, to the Past Presidents. These men, to the last, feel passionately about the MRJ, your individual Brotherhoods and Men’s Clubs and to each other.  I thank them for their wisdom, leadership and their openness to change. 

Throughout its history, MRJ, primarily through its affiliates, has been, first and foremost, a facilitator for men to form and maintain meaningful relationships and to serve a purpose greater than oneself within local URJ congregations and the Reform Movement.  

While we celebrate and perpetuate the best of MRJ’s past, we also must change that which needs changing to remain relevant and effective going forward, and endure what often is a painful and uncertain transition from that which we once were to that which we want to become.      

I encourage everyone to join us in this journey. If you would like to know more about what is happening, or if you want to get more involved, please reach out to me directly, at sleviton@levitonlawgroup.com or my office telephone number, 213.402.4576.  

Times They A-Changin’

Rabbi David Wolfman

The 1960’s brought two songs that are, strangely enough, indicative of the MRJ today in 2013 as we turn toward 2014 some 50+ years later:  Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” and Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changin’”.  With Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, allow me to use some poetic license and name it, “Where Have All The Men Gone?” and as for Reb Dylan, well… isn’t “Times They Are A-Changin’” the definition of REFORM?

NFTB (North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods), Now MRJ (Men of Reform Judaism) was founded some 90 years ago in a time where men dominated our congregations.  All rabbis and cantors were men and men held lay leadership positions in our congregations. Today that is not the case.  And that is a good thing.   Women are now equals with men.  In fact, some would say, women out number men in positions of leadership in our congregations.   Indeed, today’s clergy is completely egalitarian. So what of the men?  What about you?  Where do you fit in, in your congregation? What is the role of men in your congregation? With the iPhone, iPad, Facebook and JDate, so too does MRJ need to change to meet the needs of today’s boys and men on our congregations and the Men of Reform Judaism. What are your thoughts?  How can we meet the present needs of men of Reform congregations and preserve the sacredness of the past: the founders of this great movement?   What do you need?  What would you like? It is a sacred privilege to be working with you as we forge ahead to insure MRJ moves from Strength to Strength.