By Lisa Lieberman Barzilai and Vicky Farhi

“Across North America, people hunger for real connections.  They want – they need – to be part of meaningful communities.  The URJ’s new initiative, Expanding Our Reach Communities of Practice, is designed specifically to meet that need.  Please join us in this holy work, as Reform congregations come together, taking risks, exploring new ideas, innovating, refining, retrying, and, ultimately, reimaging Jewish life.”  Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Congregational communities cannot exist without strong relationships and those that succeed in creating relationships in every area of Jewish life craft communities of vibrancy and meaning. Pirke Avot teaches us “One that does not learn dies” (Avot 1:13).  As a Jewish people and a congregational community we must continue to explore both the old and the new to renew our community. This emphasis on learning and its role as a change catalyst is part of our tradition.

To encourage this sacred relational work, Expanding Our Reach is launching four communities of practice in the winter and spring of 2013.  The first three will be introduced this month.  They are: Successfully Engaging Young Families, Pursuing Excellence through Your Early Childhood Center and Emerging Young Adults Initiatives.  The fourth will be introduced in December: Reimagining Financial Support for Your 21st Century Congregation.

What is a community of practice? “Communities of practice are defined as groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice; A Brief Introduction) Through participation in a community of practice congregations will be emboldened to take risks, experiment and learn from both successes and challenges that arise. The process, by which congregations will experiment, aligned to the congregation’s mission and vision for the future, will be a catalyst for ongoing congregational change. Study, research and experimentation utilizing best principles in the subject will ultimately lead to new knowledge for the field.

Each community of practice will begin and end with an in person meeting.  The inaugural meeting serves to share important learning to initiate the work on the particular topic and for building of relationships among the participants.  Following the meeting the community of practice will convene monthly for learning opportunities from research in the field, best principles (the principles that are at the heart of the subject and should be considered when trying to experiment and innovate) and practitioners.  This will assist the congregational task force or committee devoted to the creation and implementation of the experiment within their synagogue.  Additionally, when experimentation has begun these monthly encounters will be one avenue for congregations to share successes and receive assistance with challenges they face.  Throughout the process the idea is that each community of practice and each congregation will learn, reflect, experiment, reflect, share and reflect.

Although most communities of practice will learn, experiment and reflect together for 18 months, ultimately they are designed to serve as change agents, assisting congregations in their transformation into communities of belonging, meaning and purpose. The relationships that will emerge from the communities of practice will last well beyond the 18 months of formal assembly.

To learn more about the Expanding our Reach communities of practice and the application process, visit the URJ website.

Lisa Lieberman Barzilai and Vicky Farhi are the Co-Directors of Expanding Our Reach.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah, a daily e-mail on a topic of Jewish interest. Sign up now to add 10 minutes of Jewish learning to your life each day!