Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day Two the URJ Biennial Convention

Blogging the URJ convention: Day Two
It is after midnight. I am sitting outside of my hotel with my computer in the unusually balmy night here in National Harbor. So much to say and so little strength to say it at this hour. Maybe that is a blessing for all my readers.
One of the reasons why I love this convention is the kvell moment. I mean those precious moments where one can run into a dear friend be it a colleague or former congregant. But when suddenly a former youth in my congregation who I officiated at his bar mitzvah comes over to me and is now a junior in high school and gives me the biggest hug and with his wonderful smile greets me.  I feel the presence of the Eternal with me in this moment. To know that we are making a difference in the lives of our congregants is what it is all about. This teen is in the regional leadership of the reform movement and that makes me so proud. He has not only grown in stature but in his maturation as a young man. We are blessed to have such fine young people. Truthfully the URJ conventions are reunions of an extended family that defies the imagination. Years ago our relatives used to attend the cousins clubs. Now we have the Biennial convention. Here we are all cousins under the big tent of mishpachah.
Tonight there were three highlights. One was listening to the honorable Deputy Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak. What I shall remember about him was his posture, that is, the way stood with such pride and joy as the crowd stood up and applauded him. It was not that he was relishing the adulation and respect from us all. It looked as if he was this senior statesman and so proud of his country and his role. Think about the rough and tumble fisticuffs of Israeli politics. Here was a night when he could absorb progressive Judaism’s appreciation and respect for the man who has served Israel so honorably over the decades. He gave a great speech reassuring us that he was committed to Israel being a democratic state despite what we may read about the legislation in the Knesset. He applauded us for what we have contributed to the state. And he also acknowledged that it was important for him to listen to us. That is no easy task for an Israeli political leader or for any Jew given our penchant for verbal combat on the drop of a dime. Two Jews and three opinions proclaims the old adage. He said that in Israel it was two Jews and four or five opinions!
The next event was honoring the legal team of David Boies and Ted Olson both of whom received the Maurice Eisendrath Bearer of Light award. Both of these men are famous lawyers who have represented their respective Democratic and Republican parties in some of the most important legal cases of the last two decades. Remember they were adversaries in the election results of the Bush-Gore presidential election. Now they have joined forces to take on the state of California to oppose proposition eight which discriminates against same sex marriage. There are getting ready for their appearance at the Supreme Court and they are doing their best to educate the country that the government should no longer discriminate against its citizens regarding choosing a partner. The fact that these two giants of American jurisprudence could stand together and transcend the partisan divide on this issue was truly an inspiration to us all.
Finally the evening program concluded with resolutions. The most important one to mention was Reform Judaism’s stand on economic justice for all. Our temple President Ted David was invited to serve on that committee. Kudos go to Ted and the committee for his work to bring the resolution to the plenary.
I do not want to skip the fact that the Republican House Majority Leader Representative Eric Cantor spoke to the assembly.  The fact that he is Jewish was a wonderful addition to the role he was playing as the Majority leader of the House of Representatives. Briefly he assured the audience that his party and the congress would stand behind Israel and do everything in its power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. His received a warm welcome and applause. We were fortunate to have him at the Biennial. Tomorrow we shall here from President Obama.
I enjoyed going to the session this morning on Progressive Judaism in Europe today. We had several rabbis from Germany, Great Britain, and Poland talking about the challenge of maintaining Jewish life in these countries. There is the competition with Habad and the Orthodox establishment and the cultural differences of Jewish identity issues in Europe in a post Holocaust era and migrations of Jews from the former Soviet Union into Western Europe.  The World Union of Progressive Judaism works with our movement all over the world. Of course the governments in Europe support through taxes the different religions in Europe. What a challenge and yet more congregations and even a rabbinical school for liberal Jews in Germany are growing each year.
Last but not least I went over to one of the halls to listen to an Israel jazz group called Seeds of the Sun. Fantastic. The leader Mattan Klein who I know personally is a flutist. We have to find a way to bring them to Hilton Head one day. Good night to all and Good morning to you all.

No comments: