Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Vital Center: Thoughts on the USCJ Centennial Shabbaton

Baltmore, Maryland, Motzei Shabbat, Parashat Lekh Lekha:

In a post on my personal blog, I wrote with a touch of sadness that I would not be in Israel for Shabbat Lekh Lekha.  Because the Torah portion begins with the command to Abram to leave his homeland and go to what will ultimately be known as the land of Israel, this is a Shabbat that celebrates Aliyah and new Olim.  As an Israeli citizen for almost two months, I looked forward to being with my family in Talpiyot, Jerusalem to celebrate our arrival in Israel.
While I certainly miss my family and Israel, as I look back on this weekend, I am happy I spent Shabbat in Baltimore, with six hundred others, starting a different odyssey: a journey to the new future of Conservative Judaism.   From energy to options, from kavvanah* to customer service, the weekend exceeded all expectations.  The way the Shabbaton was structured I felt as though I could easily have been in Israel:

 ·      On both Friday Night and Saturday morning, I could shul-hop, with no less than five different options at every service.  There was something for every taste and flavor of Conservative Judaism.

 ·      I enjoyed Shabbat meals with old friends while, at the same time, making new friends. 

·      My spirits were lifted high by energetic zemirot* sessions led by one hundred USYers, over twenty-five Bogrei Nativ, and emerging adults from Marom Olami. 

·      My soul and intellect were enriched and challenged by a vast, rich menu of shiurim – classes – led by superstars of the Jewish world, from Clive Lawson, founder of Limmud, to Vanessa Hidary, the Hebrew Mamita, to my mentor, teacher and friend, Rabbi Bradley Artson, all teaching at levels where every person could walk away having learned something.

Perhaps the greatest difference between this Shabbat in Jerusalem and Baltimore is the quality, the depth and the optimism I heard in conversations about the future of Conservative Judaism.  Before, during and after sessions, the corridors were filled not only with conversations about how fantastic the presenters or the shlihei tzibbur* were but about what the messages were about the future of our approach to Judaism.  People argued passionately, and respectfully, about the implications of the lessons and take-aways.  A few examples: 

In a world where people have multiple identities, how do people identify with and strengthen their commitment to their identification with the values of Conservative Judaism.  Clive Lawson brought the difference between identity and identification to the forefront.  

The Hebrew Mamita, Vanessa Hidary, raised our sensitivity not only to our own self-perceptions but how we perceive Jews from whom we are different.

Rabbi Artson presented an integrated theological approach, weaving our experiencing of the world with discoveries in a variety of fields of science as well as with the layers of ideas contained within our rich tradition.  What are the implications of an integrated theological system on our behaviors, on our relation to Mitzvot and commandedness? And how do we engage members of Conservative Kehillot in this kind of conversation. 

Just to name a few. 

In its variety and quality, this weekend was the demonstration of reaching an understanding that in a world where one can choose not only from five hundred cable channels but can opt out of the regular/cable television system entirely and stream shows from sites like Netflix and Hulu, the one size-fits all kehilla approach needs to and is changing. 

Shabbat ended with a summer camp-style Havdalah.  Our cup overflowed with exceptionally positive energy.  USYers and eighty year olds danced and sang together.  The power of over six hundred voices shouting “Amen” was testimony to the different feeling about our future.

On Tuesday, I will return back home to Israel.  Much of my work there is to help strengthen the lives of North American Jews and Kehillot via intensive learning and experiential programs.  The Shabbaton and Conversation of the Century send me home with a renewed energy and optimism that the Jewish world needs a vital and vibrant center, that we are positioned to be that center in the future in new and exciting ways just as we were in the past, and that there is much exciting work and opportunity ahead. 

To all those who made the Shabbaton and Centennial happen, thank you.

Now go and do! 
Shavua Tov.

This post originally appeared this past sunday on the USCJ Centennial Site,

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

The frequent critique of having 500 channels is that there is still nothing interesting to watch. Unless you already have a really learned and very large congregation then trying to promote the idea off the shul multiplex is detrimental to the real needs of congregations that I have been a part of. We don't need to make demands of shul services to conform to the many individual desires of people. We need people to learn to conform and appreciate the basic sanctity of a traditional shul service. That takes education from pre pre nursery on up. Personally that is something not promoted by my city's local Shechter school. They too promote the multiplex experience when it comes to prayer. My children will not go there. To me the Shechter school doesn't appear to be creating daveners and an easy read on that is you don't see most of those kids or their parents in shul on Shabbos. I owe my children the ability to learn how to daven. Generations of Conservative Jews have been fed the ideas that Judaism could conform to their world view. They don't have to change. Only Judaism has to change. And if that means that a shul is chopped up to look like a multiplex so be it. That may work for a convention setting. But it won't work to create community in the long haul. It will only fraction community. Promoting how joyful it was to have five minyans and telling the baal-habatim to copy that model is not leadership needed for masses of people who have so little ability to daven or understand any semblance of halacha -Conservative halacha or otherwise. I suggest you look at Dr. Hauptman's article in this week's New York Jewish Week. She seems to suggest trying to get one service to appeal to people who are normally not shul goers and go from there. While that may turn out not to be my shul either. I think trying to create a homogenous community is the right way to go. Sincerely, Jonathan Loring Pittsburgh PA