Reform Judaism

Pilot Congregations to Revolutionize B'nai Mitzvah

Annette Powers

August 23, 2012, New York, NY Why are so many teens leaving congregational life after their b'nai mitzvah , and, too often, taking their parents out the door with them? This major new initiative is one of several strategies the Reform Movement is launching to address that critical concern. This week fourteen Reform congregations across North America were selected to participate in an innovative pilot program to more fully engage families, institute new methods of teaching and keep teens and their families engaged in their communities. With seed funding from the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution , a joint initiative of the URJ and HUC-JIR, these congregations will pave the way for creating a community in which b'nai mitzvah are not seen as a graduation party.

"The dropout rates post- b'nai mitzvah in the vast majority of congregations are staggering. Approximately 50% of Reform Jewish teens return to congregational life after b'nai mitzvah and about 20% stay beyond 10th grade," said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. "We cannot afford on any level to allow our teens to leave our Jewish institutions just as they are entering critical identity-making years." We require no less than a revolution to change these statistics. As part of the Reform Movement's Campaign for Youth Engagement , the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution initiative aims to empower synagogues to improve the quality of Jewish education and provide depth and meaning to Jewish learning for teens and their parents."

Teams of lay and professional leaders from each of the pilot congregations will meet in November at the Pearlstone Conference Center in Reistertown, MD, for an intensive seminar where they will explore revolutionary approaches to b'nai mitzvah observance and preparation, as well as more effective models for learning Hebrew, kavannah (intentionality) in prayer, and other related curricular areas. The pilot program will last approximately two years (January 2013-2014) and will conclude with a conference to share ideas and successes with a wider audience.

The following congregations have been selected to participate in the pilot program:

• Temple Shalom (Dallas, TX)
• North Shore Congregation Israel (Glencoe, IL)
• Temple Brith Achim (King of Prussia, PA)
• Congregation Har HaShem (Boulder, CO)
• Temple Isaiah (Los Angeles, CA)
• Anche Chesed Fairmount Temple (Beachwood, OH)
• Temple Beth El of South Orange County (Aliso Viejo, CA)
• Temple Beth Elohim (Wellesley Hills, MA)
• Temple Israel (Columbus, OH)
• Temple Isaiah (Lafayette, CA)
• Temple Sholom (Scotch Plains, NJ)
• Temple Beth-El (Hillsborough, NJ)
• Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (Elkins Park, PA)
• Stephen S. Wise Temple (Los Angeles, CA)

"We are thrilled with the initial response. The quality of the applications was remarkably high, which made the selection process quite challenging," explained the URJ's Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, who co-directs the project with Dr. Isa Aron of HUC-JIR. "We are excited to begin and to share what we learn as we are learning it."

There will be future opportunities for additional congregations to participate in a second pilot program in the coming year. For more information visit or contact

NOTE TO EDITORS : Annette Powers can connect you with appropriate spokespeople at pilot congregations. She can be reached at 212-650-4154.