Rabbi's Message: December 2015

Rachel Gurevitz
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

State of the Union: Reflections on the URJ Biennial

Back in November, a delegation of eleven of us from B'nai Shalom headed to Orlando to join nearly 5,000 Reform Jews from the USA, Canada, Israel, the UK, Australia, Russia, and more for the biennial gathering of the Union for Reform Judaism. The convention consists of several plenary sessions where panel discussions and presentations focused on inclusion (actor Michael Douglas was on a panel to speak of his family's journey to Jewish life), Israel (featuring author and journalist Ari Shavit and youngest member of the Knesset, Stav Shaffir), and Rabbi Rick Jacob's keynote address which, likewise, addressed these topics. Additionally, there are many workshops and sessions on a wide range of topics that are of particular relevance to congregational life. These provided an opportunity to learn about best practices and gain inspiration from what is working well elsewhere. Workshops covered social justice issues, synagogue governance and management, engagement and inclusion, financial sustainability, and much more.

Beyond the formal programming, bringing together this many Jews provides incredibly rich opportunities for networking and schmoozing. Kathy and I had a wonderful meeting with a colleague whose congregation has been in a process of re-visioning and helping the board work more strategically on planning the future -- work that we have begun here at B'nai Shalom. These kinds of opportunities, in addition to the workshops, help strengthen our sense of being on the right path and help us be more directed as we do our work here.

Sharing ideas and information with so many people from so many congregations, we can see that we have been focused on the important things these past few years -- ahead of the curve in some areas and still learning in others. We've made great strides in developing a more communally-oriented and flexible religious school program, broadening our commitment to engage our youth in many different ways, and keeping our teens involved in congregational life as both learners and leaders. Youth engagement is one of the primary areas of focus for the URJ. We also see that the re-launch of our Social Action work, with a central focus on homelessness, working to build our congregation's capacity to do effective advocacy work in this area as well as continuing to provide opportunities for local volunteering, is taking this part of our congregation's mission to a new level. On the final day of the convention I visited one of the local mega-churches. Serving the wider community is one of their primary missions and they have developed incredible teams of volunteers who work on many different projects. They understand this to be the practice of their faith, just as giving of our time and passion to social justice work is an expression of our faith that we hope that all members of our congregation will find a way to experience together.

Some of our members attended workshops that brought the focus to those in our communities who are fifty-five and older. This is when we begin to enter a stage of life where those of us with kids are less likely to have them at home and we have more space and time for our own spiritual and cultural needs. We've been expanding the opportunities for meaningful gatherings here at CBS with our book group, spirituality programs, Chai Mitzvah adult learning group, and the introduction of adult-oriented festival gatherings, such as Sukkot, Purim, and some special Shabbat programs. Over 120 people joined us for our co-sponsored cultural program Baking with the Brass Sisters last month. At Biennial we heard about some additional ways of bringing our members together in this life stage. Please look out for some invitations to be part of some social gatherings in the New Year that can help us bring this growing segment of our congregation closer together.

Finally, Biennial is always a place that brings together some of the best musicians working in the Reform Jewish community. I enjoyed listening to some younger up-and-coming performers on the "Jewish Rock Radio" stage, as well as better-known names at some of the late evening shows. Once I've had an opportunity to work through the CDs and music lists that I brought home, I suspect that one or two of the best new settings will be making their way into our Shabbat worship over the coming year.

In two years, Biennial will be in Boston. It is quite an experience to pray and celebrate with 5,000 Reform Jews -- I hope that many of you will take the opportunity when it comes our way in December 2017.

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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