Temple President Jay Rice:On Friday and Saturday, December 16 & 17, I had the opportunity to attend Shabbat services with 5,000 friends. And, oh yes, the D’var Torah was given on Friday…by the President of the United States!
These extraordinary experiences came about by attending the URJ Biennial Convention in Washington, D.C.
The URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) is the umbrella organization of the Reform movement which encompasses over 900 congregations and 1.5 million members.
Most TSTI members do not know of the URJ and those of us in leadership positions who do know the URJ, often and justly bemoan the cost of URJ membership and the occasional disconnect between the URJ and the needs of an individual congregation.
But there is much about URJ to be commended. Its Religious Action Center, celebrating its 50th Anniversary, has been a leader in numerous fights for civil rights; from the 1960’s marches for racial equality, to support of Soviet Jewry and more recently, for equal rights for gays, lesbian and transgender Americans. MAZON is URJ’s aim to fight hunger and ARZA leads the fight for religious pluralism in Israel. And I have just named a few.
In addition to the President’s address, attendees heard from retiring URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie who gave a passionate address about the historical and continuing importance of progressive activism as a integral component of Reform Judaism.
A further highlight was the award given to and the remarks by Attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson. Boies was Al Gore’s attorney and Olson was George Bush’s attorney in the landmark 2000 Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case. More recently, however, Boies and Olson teamed up to fight California’s proposition against gay marriage. Their strong and eloquent remarks in support of marriage equality were a highlight of the convention.
The Biennial provided dozens of workshops concerning the issues facing TSTI such as budgetary constraints and membership retention. I’ve come to understand that our challenges are the challenges of every reform congregation. Sharing and exchanging ideas on how to solve the problems made the Biennial a most valuable tool and gave me a far greater appreciation of our URJ membership.
President Obama’s speech can be found here:
Best wishes for a Happy and Joyous Hanukah!
Steve Pomerantz: I also attended the URJ Biennial for the first time. We are posting comments on the TSTI blog about our time in Washington, which I hope you will read – as the power of the gathering is hard to imagine until you are there.
This was an incredible experience. I now understand first-hand Hope and Barbara Stoller’s comments after having attended the Houston Biennial several years ago.
Musically, the Biennial was amazing. Debbie Friedman’s immeasurable contributions, music and memory were highlighted. And the most moving experience was our own Noah Aronson. Noah sang, played piano and guitar, accompanied other musicians, and served as the Assistant Musical Director for the Biennial. He shared a variety of music including his original composition “Am I Awake” and Debbie Friedman’s “Tfilat Haderech.”
Cantor – we shared your pride as we saw the wonderful impact Noah had on those assembled.
Personally, the Biennial reminded me of how special and unique it is to be a Reform Jew living in America. I met and spoke with many Jews from across the United States and Canada. Equally as compelling as the threads that bind us all were the power of the group – the speakers who addressed us and the understanding that together, we can influence decisions at many levels.