Book Reviews, Literature

From Longing To Belonging by Shelly Christensen

It’s the book every Jewish institution has been waiting for – a comprehensive and practical approach to making inclusion an actionable organizational principal. While nearly all synagogues, educational programs and community service providers WANT to be accommodating and attentive to the needs of their stakeholders, knowing HOW to do this is where so many get stuck. And for those, who like the 4th child in the Passover seder, don’t have the language to ask where to begin, From Longing To Belonging may seem like a literal God-send.

Shelly Christensen has been leading the movement for greater inclusion in the Jewish community from her home base in Minneapolis for decades, and her focus on clear plans that real people and organizations of all shapes, sizes, and budgets can implement is reflected in this new book. With her emphasis on participation and strategic planning, Christensen highlights how supporting inclusion for all members (and potential members) strengthens the organization’s mission. While the book could certainly apply across faith and denominational communities, Christensen’s professional background with Jewish communal service agencies, as well as her personal Jewish identity and practice all put the North American Jewish experience at the center of her writing. This is a refreshing change from the many excellent guides to inclusion in faith communities that focus on the Christian experience that can be adapted for Jewish audiences. From Longing To Belonging keeps Jewish thought, belief, and practice at the forefront of the conversation. Christensen makes it nearly impossible for readers to respond “this doesn’t apply to our shul/temple/federation/school/JCC…!”

From Longing To Belonging doesn’t just belong on the bookshelf of every rabbi, cantor, Jewish educator, or executive director of a Jewish communal institution. It should be required reading for all of these professionals, as well as the lay leaders who serve on the committees and Boards of Directors of Jewish community organizations. While every chapter may not apply in every situation, Christensen’s book provides the lens and tools that the Jewish community needs to encourage all of our constituents to feel connected and to be included as valued participants. Not many books have the potential to fundamentally change the way the Jewish community sees and organizes itself for a more powerful future. Shelly Christenen’s From Longing To Belonging does.

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