One of the many consequences of the pandemic was the cancellation of in-person meetings of national organizations. My own professional organizations switched over to virtual meetings, while other organizations cancelled them entirely. So it was with great anticipation that over 700 members of the USCJ came together in Baltimore this past December for the 2023 Conservative | Masorti Shabbaton & Convening.
I was privileged to be among them, if only for one day. During that one day I was part of a musical morning service, with beautiful melodies and prayers preceding breakfast. I attended a session on how to build a better synagogue board, sponsored by Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. An innovative general session on Halakhah, focused on Hanukkah and its observance, led to good discussions among two other attendees and myself on what Halakhah is and how it guides us as Conservative Jews. A session on racial justice and inclusion and how crucial it is for all of our congregations to examine how they incorporate these values in all aspects of their operations made me think of how Rodef Sholom has worked to make sure that all members of o
ur congregation, as well as those who visit us, are welcomed and valued.
After lunch, Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers from Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh reflected on the past 5 years and how his congregation continues to deal with the aftermath of the horrible events of October 27, 2018. For me, the events of that day had a special resonance, as our son, Moshe, was married in the chapel of Tree of Life Synagogue in 2005, and he knew some of those who were murdered on that sad October day, 13 years later. It was a sobering hour of reflection but also hope. And throughout the day I took the opportunity to wander through the Exhibitor Village. One of the highlights, as I went from table to table, was to talk with George Fowler of Levin/Brown Architects, the firm that designed our beautiful building. In fact, the building was one of two that were highlighted as part of the backdrop to Levin/Brown’s table! I told him how much we like our building and that it always draws wonderful comments from our visitors.
After dinner, we were treated to a fabulous concert by Divas on the Bima: four wonderfully talented Conservative cantors whose voices blended together for an inspiring end to a packed day.
But the important part of that day was not just in attending sessions but in the personal connections that I made not only with people I already knew, but with people I’d never met before. Dinner that evening was on our own, and as I stood in the hotel lobby, looking for a familiar face, I realized I had to be brave and approach an attendee I didn’t know, to ask if they’d like to join me for dinner. Soon there were 4 of us—each of us unknown to the other until that moment—who went to a nearby restaurant to eat. As we talked—one from New Jersey, one from Kentucky, one from Massachusetts, and me—we learned that we had a lot in common, even though our congregations are quite different. We swapped stories and suggestions, as well as some laughs, and that was good. In fact, it turned out that the man from New Jersey had a connection to RST: he’d been at the bat mitzvah of his cousin David Kashy’s daughter, Rachel! It is indeed a small Jewish world!
I am grateful for the support of our Board of Directors and of Rabbi Eligberg, who encouraged me to attend the Convening. I brought back a tote bag of information and suggestions that I will pass on to committee chairs and ideas that I’ll bring to the Board. It was good to get a wider view of what is happening all over the Conservative Jewish world: Knowing that other congregations in other places face many of the same challenges as we do and have found good solutions was inspiring. And bringing the perspective of the wider Conservative Jewish world back to Newport News will benefit us all.
Tsvi joins me in wishing all of the Rodef Sholom Temple family a happy and healthy 2024.
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