Men of Reform Judaism: A Brief History
Hinei Matov… ‘How good it is’… when brothers come together and celebrate! It was in this spirit that on January 23, 1923, sixty five Reform Jewish brotherhoods and men’s clubs came together at the Hotel Astor in New York City to form The North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods (NFTB). The stated mission of NFTB was to encourage local brotherhoods to engage in projects and activities that would provide meaningful services to their congregation; to sponsor and promote vitally important nationwide community-building projects; and to give local brotherhood members the opportunity to explore and celebrate fellowship.
Nearly 85 years later, the national organization adopted a modified mission statement: “To serve Jewish men, Reform Judaism, and its local congregations.” And thus, two years later, in 2007, the North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods (NFTB) officially changed its name to Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ).
For the first time, MRJ’s mission statement explicitly stated that its primary function was “to serve Jewish men,” rather than simply be either a resource for local affiliated brotherhoods or as a conduit through which national and international service projects might be conducted. Fully committed to our traditional brotherhoods, the national organization’s mission now demanded it create new partnerships and relationships with hundreds of congregations throughout the Reform Movement currently without affiliate brotherhoods; rather, MRJ is now prepared to sponsor and promote any and all formal or informal local organizational structures that will serve as an effective delivery system of MRJ’s Men’s Programs to the adult men of a given congregation.
The History of MRJ’s National Programs
Jewish Chautauqua Society:
Historically, perhaps the most important and effective of MRJ’s national programs has been its sponsorship of the Jewish Chautauqua Society (JCS). Adopted as MRJ’s interfaith education arm in 1939, The Jewish Chautauqua Society was originally founded in 1893 by Rabbi Henry Berkowitz. Founded on the principles of the Chautauqua Institution of upstate New York, which sought to spread education and values, the Jewish Chautauqua Society built its image on the dissemination of Judaism and Jewish history. Over the years it moved from the education of Jews about Judaism to the interfaith work it is now famous for. JCS continues today to educate the non-Jewish public about Jews and Judaism. By employing the knowledge and teaching skills of Jewish clergy, JCS has found its way into many of America’s educational institutions and religious organizations. Through a variety of lectureships, book grants, and films, JCS has earned its place among the many tried and true interfaith organizations.
Reform on Campus:
Continuing in the spirit of education, MRJ has been the forerunner to Jewish education on the college level. NFTB’ Sambatyon (College Youth Program), initiated in the 1960’s, became the predecessor to the UAHC Youth Commission and provided Reform Jewish college students the opportunity to remain Jews while away at school. This program, which offered funding for lecturers, programs, retreats, and spiritual concerns became a major force in keeping Judaism part of college life. Reinventing itself in the 1990’s as the Reform On Campus (ROC)program, ROC, still sponsored, has opened doors to the Reform Jewish college youth of America. Through the continued funding of programs and other activities such as Shabbat Dinners and weekend retreats with Jewish clergy, ROC has successfully kept Reform Jewish college students in touch.
Today, our members - our brothers, our sons, our grandsons - find greater meaning in their lives through their involvement with brotherhood ;Men just as committed to their brotherhoods and to their congregations as were their fathers.
Today, MRJ does not take the participation of adult Jewish men in temple life for granted. Today’s Jewish males must be encouraged to learn, to feel, and to appreciate the gift of being Jewish. In the early 1990’s, MRJ initiated a series of projects that are collectively called the ACHIM CORPS Projects. Achim is Hebrew for “brothers” and it refers to the programs and resources we are producing that give our brotherhood members – and all the men in our temple communities – the opportunity to explore and celebrate issues of concern to Jewish men, through study, worship and service. Our goal is to increase our ranks with men ready to transform their renewed links to Reform Judaism into an active expression of commitment to perform mitzvot for their temple and their community.
By confronting various issues, The Achim Corps attempts to create spaces and a language through which Jewish men can share, grow and succeed. Currently, the Achim Corps produces materials for three different areas of concern: Men’s Health, Men’s Spirituality, and Jewish Men’s issues.
The ACHIM CORPS Men’s Health Initiative is the most successful of these programs and has produced materials which provides information and education on Prostate Cancer Stress, and Heart Disease. These three programs, each with its own set of information kits and program guidelines, enables a local Brotherhood to engage the health concerns of Jewish men and bring to light the danger of ignoring a health problem. By allowing each local brotherhood to develop and execute their own health program around the national guidelines, success often occurs.
The Men’s Spirituality Program actively engages the spiritual and religious wants of the Reform Jewish Man. Through the resource guide Men and Shabbat and the upcoming Men and the Holidays, MRJ has established a space for men’s observance and teaches them how to participate in and understand the Jewish Life Cycle in their own lives. Through prayer, discussion, and practice, men are given the opportunity to claim the Jewish calendar and celebrate it as fathers, sons, and brothers.
MRJ is resolved to ensure that local brotherhoods are the temple address for ALL MEN. MRJ and its members are working to improve the quality of life for their families, for their congregations, and our society. We look forward to being partners with other arms of the Reform Movement in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
As the umbrella organization of the Brotherhood movement, MRJ is an independent affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism and stands as one of the pillars of Reform Judaism.