USCJ Announces Recipients of the 2019 Solomon Schechter Award

USCJ Announces Recipients of the 2019 Solomon Schechter Award

Posted on December 08, 2019

Award Ceremony on Sunday, December 8th, The Westin Boston Waterfront

December 8th, 2019 (New York, NY) — USCJ has announced the 2019 winners of the Solomon Schechter Award, which will be presented during a special reception during the 20/20 Judaism convention on Monday, December 9th at The Westin Boston Waterfront. USCJ's Solomon Schechter Awards recognize initiatives that shape the authentic and dynamic experience of Conservative Judaism.

More than 150 entries featuring the most inventive synagogue programs were submitted from across North America. These were vetted by a diverse panel of 12 judges representing member synagogues. Each winning congregation will present their selected initiatives at the 2019 20/20 Judaism convention.

USCJ Founder and Legacy

The Solomon Schechter Award, named for USCJ’s founder, has been presented to hundreds of accomplished congregations since its premier in 1949. Dr. Schechter’s work always emphasized the importance of meaningful, dynamic congregational activity. Those values are also reflected in USCJ’s Roadmap, which seeks to elevate stories of successes within its network. By sharing their programs with USCJ, Schechter award honorees are contributing their stories of creativity and innovation with the USCJ network.

“It’s heartening to see the innovative work that the congregations in USCJ’s network have created to strengthen their synagogues and connect more deeply within their communities. Dr. Schechter’s vision lives on in their dedicated approach,” said Ned Gladstein, USCJ International President. We are immensely proud of the award winners and incredibly grateful to all of the synagogues that submitted entries. Awards aside, all of these communities serve as wonderful examples of both institutional and individual leadership and ingenuity.”

The 2019 winning programs are:

Highest Award for Innovation and Impact

Beth Shalom Congregation, Columbia, Maryland - Courageous Conversations (Inclusion)

In response to rising hate crimes and bullying in local schools, Beth Shalom Congregation joined in a county-wide interfaith initiative to develop skills for discussing issues of faith, race, and discrimination across different faith communities. Courageous Conversations provides a platform for people to learn how to talk across their differences about religion and race. Led by trained facilitators (members of Beth Shalom congregation), groups of 6 to 10 people of diverse backgrounds come together to discuss difficult topics about stereotypes, preconceptions, and biases toward each other. The multi-week program allows each group to become comfortable asking and answering very personal questions about experiences with bias, and poses the overarching question: “How do we work towards creating a connected community of different people rather than a community that lets different people in?”

Recognition of Excellence - Prophetic Voice - Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World)

Ohavi Zedek Congregation, Burlington, Vermont - NADAV Teen Internship

NADAV Teen Internship program offers Hebrew school graduates the opportunity to remain connected to their synagogue community. Teens are mentored by a synagogue community member and participate in a variety of internships. They give 45 hours of their time, including volunteer hours and monthly educational/ social gatherings. Internships include challah baking, making food for kiddushes, assisting the cantor with music, writing and producing theater productions for holiday celebrations, working in the rummage room, helping in the preschool, and more. Upon successful completion of the internship, teens receive a stipend.

Hewlett East Rockaway Jewish Centre, Hewlett, New York - The Mitzvah Garden

The Mitzvah Garden at Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre has donated more than 3200 pounds of produce to the soup kitchen at the Far Rockaway Outreach Center since 2011. Congregants participate with nursery school students and teachers in the cultivation of produce as well as the harvest. As an additional benefit, nursery school students often have fresh-picked produce added to their lunch during the growing season. Dr. Larry Gottlieb is the backbone of this ongoing project, along with his wife, Rita Gottlieb, former President of the congregation. In 2011, he and other congregants created four garden beds in the synagogue’s back yard, which now covers 512 square feet. The garden is entirely organic and crops include lettuce, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beans, kale, and cabbage. No insecticides or sprays are used; native insects control the pests. Crop rotation and composting both enrich the soil; harvesting is done weekly.

Recognition of Excellence - Torah and T’fillah (Learning and Prayer)

Temple Israel of Natick, Natick, Massachusetts - Havruta and Art

Twice a year for three to five consecutive weeks, religious school students in grades 3-5 and artistic synagogue members come together to study, create art, and reflect. Each afternoon begins with 30 minutes of havruta (learning) focused on a classical Jewish text. Each week, the students return to the same text to deepen their understanding. During the next hour, the volunteer artists and faculty members lead students in creating a piece of art that relates to their understanding and interpretation of the text. Each artist offers a different medium, and students elect the medium in which they are going to work for the duration of the unit. The final 30 minutes of each day is spent sharing, reflecting, conceptualizing, and practicing the Hebrew of the text.

Congregation Har Shalom, Potomac, Maryland - Changing Definitions of Jewishness, From Ruth to Roth

In an effort to expand participation in learning about and experiencing Shavuot in the community, several congregants were asked to open their homes to a maximum of 20 other congregants, and to host a "living room learning" program on Erev Shavuot. The theme was "Changing Definitions of Jewishness, from Ruth to [Philip] Roth." Information source packets, discussion questions, and background information was provided to all hosts and participants, as were instructions for how to make Havdalah at the end of Shabbat/beginning of Yom Tov as well as Kiddush.

Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Minnetonka, Minnesota - Pirkei Avot

On Erev Shavuot, the community studied the entire book of Pirkei Avot in one evening. Across six locations covering four cities, including the synagogue, three homes, a yoga studio, and a senior living complex, over 120 participants ages 25-85 engaged in rich, meaningful and thoughtful discussions. Volunteers and clergy hosted and taught at each location, which were hosted by and/or marketed to specific demographics: 20s-30s, 50s-60s, and seniors. Each of the six locations studied a separate chapter of Pirkei Avot, contributing to the whole effort, and the learning format varied.

Recognition of Excellence - Kehilla - (Sacred Community)

Greenburgh Hebrew Center, Dobbs Ferry, New York - Mitzvah Mavens

Greenburgh Hebrew Center's initiative called Mitzvah Mavens has every grade in the religious school take on a mitzvah project for the school year. These mitzvot include feeding the hungry, respecting the aged, welcoming guests, etc. Throughout the school year, students learn about their assigned mitzvah with the Rabbi and their teacher, and come up with creative ways to put this mitzvah into action themselves. A community-wide kick off of Mitzvah Mavens took place during the opening day of the religious school in September 2019. During the closing day in May 2020, all grades will present to the Greenburgh Hebrew Center community how they embraced and worked on their mitzvah together.

West Suburban Temple Har Zion, River Forest, Illinois - The Order of the Golden Kippah

The Order of the Golden Kippah encourages engagement and participation in synagogue life. There are five levels of kippot that are earned through a combination of ritual actions, , good deeds,and study. The aim is to encourage members to go outside their comfort zone and try new activities. Once a year, on Chanukah, the three highest levels of kippot (purple, silver, and gold) are awarded in a special ceremony.

Temple Beth Shalom, Mahopac, New York - The Caring Collective

The Caring Collective of Temple Beth Shalom consists of 6 small groups of congregants with a shared purpose: to work together on an aspect of building and maintaining a caring community. Following five “Find Your Purpose” workshops in spring and summer 2018, we identified 10-12 areas of shared interest among participants. Leaders volunteered for six workshops: Crisis Support, Supporting the Sick or Elderly, Helping Kids, Cooking Together, Deepening Relationships, and Health and Wellness/Mental Health. Each collective created and implemented a project or projects over the 2018-2019 programming year.

Congregation Beth David, Saratoga, CA - Moving Meditation

Moving Meditation Combines elements of the Shabbat morning worship service with moments of inward reflection, dedicated time for community building, and light exercise. During hikes in the woods, participants are encouraged to call out various blessings when they are moved - often by a beautiful tree, a fragrant flower, a wild animal, or when they are grateful to find their footing. The framework of a Shabbat morning service is followed, but participants chant the essence of the prayers rather than recite all of the words. Stops are made at various points along the way to pray together and to study Torah. Being in nature opens participants to the surrounding beauty, and the prayers take on refreshed meaning when recited outdoors during physical movement.

Recognition of Excellence - (Inclusion)

Anshe Emet Synagogue, Chicago, IL - La’Atid

Through the La’Atid program, Anshe Emet Synagogue has radically re-envisioned religious school education based on four pillars: knowledge, community, diversity, and flexibility. The Community was in need of new skills to meaningfully include children with learning differences in religious school. Through a partnership with Keshet, the Chicago-area Jewish disability inclusion experts, children’s experiences have been transformed. Professional staff, clergy, and religious school teachers worked with Keshet to develop skills around universal design and classroom inclusion. A Keshet staff member was included on the religious school team to provide on-site services. Over the course of this year, many special needs students have gone from spending 80-90% of their time out of the classroom, to spending 80-90% of their time in the classroom, integrated with their peers, learning and building their Jewish community together.

More information about the Solomon Schechter awards is available here.

About USCJ

Founded in 1913, USCJ is the network of nearly 600 Conservative Jewish communities across North America. We represent the values and beliefs of an authentic and dynamic Judaism in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Israel. Our work strengthens kehillot (Jewish communities inside and outside the walls of a synagogue) by providing visionary leadership training, creating opportunities for Jews of all ages to learn and grow, sharing essential resources, and seeding innovative ideas. Learn more at www.uscj.org.

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