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Reconstructing Judaism Over the Next Five Years

by Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., and Seth Rosen

In March 2021, the board of governors unanimously adopted a five-year strategic plan for Reconstructing Judaism. The new strategic plan reaffirms our longstanding commitments, transforms our ideological interest in innovation into strategy, and charts new paths forward around engagement of individuals and communities through both in-person and online platforms.

The plan identifies five key goals, equal in importance:

  • Engage, cultivate and strengthen diverse communities that align with Reconstructionist values.
  • Develop, support and market platforms for individuals to connect with one another, find community and co-create their Jewish lives.
  • Invest in the future of Reconstructionist rabbinical education.
  • Join and lead Jewish efforts to dismantle systemic racism, and to advance racial diversity, equity and inclusion within the Reconstructionist movement.
  • Build a sustainable organization.

The first three goals focus on our programmatic work, reaffirming abiding strategies and introducing new areas, especially around engaging individuals and helping them find spiritual community. Goals 4 and 5 are more central and will both shape our work toward the other three goals and invigorate the entire organization. The work and ethos of Camp Havaya are infused throughout the plan.

We launched the planning process in the early months of the pandemic, with keen awareness that tremendous shifts across many sectors created both instabilities and opportunities, and that the existential nature of both the pandemic and the climate crisis are laying the groundwork for a religious revival. We were and are convinced that, as Reconstructionists, our reverence for the past, curiosity about the future and openness to evolutionary change (even in an era of rapid change), combined with our pragmatic spirit and democratic commitments, uniquely position Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist movement to offer a compelling vision of 21st century Jewish life, and to bring that vision into being (see “Why Reconstructionism Now?”).

The process of creating this strategic plan — the research, survey findings and deliberations — has affirmed our conviction and created a clearer, more refined pathway forward. The plan was created by a 14-member steering committee (made of up board members, senior staff, faculty, rabbis and members of affiliated communities) with the help of Third Plateau, a social-impact strategy firm. The steering committee drew on guidance from a short-term scenario planning committee that, with the help of the Jewish Federation of North America and the Mandel Foundation, considered how the pandemic and the resulting economic displacement might affect our work over the next two years.

The strategic plan outlines strategies and tactics to achieve our five goals, including ambitious plans for our major web properties, Ritualwell and Evolve, and a commitment to pursue, with renewed vigor, respectful and constructive engagement within our communities and beyond around challenging issues. We invite you to review the plan’s executive summary or even to study the whole plan. We are especially excited about our new mission and vision statements and our theory of change.

We chose to prioritize these five goals, and we think we can be successful and impactful in implementing them, for a number of reasons.

We believe congregations are central to Jewish communal life and we believe there is both opportunity and need to create new and diverse forms of community. We are investing in platforms because we want to serve individuals on their Jewish journeys without the requirement of formal affiliation, even as we seek to draw them into community and toward the greater mutuality and interdependence that infuses Jewish wisdom. We have more than 50 years of evidence of the exponential impact of Reconstructionist rabbis. We understand racial justice to be the civil rights issue of our era and are determined to help shape a Jewish response to it. We want to continue the outsized influence that Reconstructionist Judaism has had on American Jewish life, while remaining nimble and forward-looking in our organizational structure.

In terms of data, we have many reasons to believe in the promise of this plan:

  • Since March 2020, leaders of Reconstructionist communities have regularly turned to Reconstructing Judaism for resources, guidance and networking help in navigating this unprecedented period.
    • All of our congregations and thousands of individuals have made use of the siddurim, makhzor and haggadah that we swiftly made available online.
    • Leaders from more than 90 percent of our affiliates participated in calls we organized and led to discuss, share ideas and problem-solve scenarios facing their communities.
    • Movement-wide online events — from a virtual day of learning on God, to sharing our teachings from the Chesapeake region’s annual gathering, to RRC’s recent graduation ceremony — have attracted unprecedented numbers.
    • Thousands of movement members have regularly found community and meaning through our virtual Shabbat and holiday boxes.
  • Our digital platforms are reaching individuals around the world, providing meaningful content and fostering interconnection, mutual obligation and interaction in the service of deepening Jewish identity and practice.
    • Last fiscal year (September 1, 2019 – August 31, 2020), Ritualwell had 315,000 unique visitors.
    • In the eight months ending April 30, 2021, our digital properties and podcasts had more than 582,000 unique pageviews, an increase of nearly 100,000 from the same period in 2019-20.
    • In the same nine months, more than 1,750 people registered for our online workshops or immersions.
    • 800 people participated in our ritual marking the first anniversary of the pandemic.
    • Since last summer, as America began what will hopefully be a sustained reckoning with dismantling systemic racism, Evolve’s resources on Judaism and race have been accessed more than 25,000 times.
  • In the words of one of our survey participants: “We are producing excellent rabbis. We’re training them well, we’re educating them well, [and] they’re going out and doing extraordinary work.”
    • Third Plateau’s research confirmed what we already knew, that RRC trains outstanding rabbis. Their analysis observes: “Reconstructing Judaism stakeholders across almost all categories spoke highly of RRC-trained rabbis, citing their intelligence, depth of education and impact in the world both within and beyond the movement.”
    • RRC’s enrollment is growing rapidly, with more than 30 new rabbinical students entering the program in 2020 and 2021 (combined).
  • We are thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive response to the appointment of Rabbi Sandra Lawson (RRC ’18) as our inaugural director of racial diversity, equity and inclusion.
    • In her work with the movement, Rabbi Lawson will help Reconstructionists learn and grow, and will empower Reconstructing Judaism and our affiliates to create policies and practices that will move all of us forward in our antiracism work.
    • As reflected by her work as founder and spiritual leader of Kol HaPanim, Rabbi Lawson is dedicated to creating powerful and supportive spaces for Jews of color and allies to flourish.

We are excited to draw on our deep background in innovation to shape the cutting edge of Jewish communal life and implement this strategic plan. With your participation and support, we believe the Reconstructionist movement can have an exponential impact as we move into post-pandemic times. We hope you will partner with us in our efforts to continue our groundbreaking work, not for the sake of radicalism or novelty, but for the promise of engaging a new generation in the holy work of furthering the millennia-old enterprise of Jewish continuity and change.

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., is president of Reconstructing Judaism. Seth Rosen chairs Reconstructing Judaism’s board of governors.

The Reconstructionist Network