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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776
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Biennial Reflections

  1. I went in 1999 and I was overwhelmed by how many people were there. I am from a congregation that is very small; we usually have fifteen to zero people at a service. I had never been to a service anywhere with more than four hundred people. I think they said there were five thousand people at the Biennial in 1999. I loved the music after dinner Friday night. It was a huge Oneg with lots of music, singing and dancing in the aisles. One of my favorite workshops was with Cantor Wally when he talked about all the NFTY songs. Carol 20 families

  2. As usual, the Biennial was memorable, and filled with the kind of dynamic mix of worship study, dialogue and swapping of ideas and concerns that makes one appreciate the rich human capital of the Reform Movement. In that spirit, I'd like to engage in a bit of "idea bartering."

    First, a congregational need. During his Shabbat address, Rabbi Yoffie presented a new initiative called "Unpacking for College"--a series of text lessons and workshop activities for reaching post-confirmation teens. Over the years, some of our strongest teen leaders have gone on to college, and the current crop (much smaller in number) have become increasingly difficult to motivate due to a mixture of frightful over-scheduling, fragmentation and classic teenage questioning and intellectual rebellion (perfectly normal). What, if any, strategies are working in small congregations to keep this vital segment of our congregation actively engaged in worship and study? Has anyone tried a parallel approach during Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukah, and Tu BiSh?vat where congregational activities such as building the sukkah and dancing with the Torah are rejected as being "too babyish"? If so, we'd love to hear from you.

    In exchange, we'd be happy to share some of our successes with Tot Shabbat activities combining tot and children?s High Holy Day services with craft activities and using the Brit Kodesh model to involve congregants in worship and outreach issues, cultivating lay service leaders, Torah readers and lay-led groups to organize Torah discussions during Shabbat eve services (so successful that a lay led "Prophet Study Chavurah " is organizing itself after one such experience). Burt

  3. I'm the lay leader of a group (now in its third year) trying to involve more people in our Adult Ed programming. I am pleased that the Union is taking this on as a program, and the awards should help. I think the most interesting and intriguing proposal from Rabbi Yoffie is "10 minutes of Torah". I've asked our president to spread the word on it, and I do hope it catches on as well as iWorship has done in the last four years.

    I did not go this year, though I was at 99 in Orlando and 01 in Boston. Though our congregation is large (now about 875), it was a thrill to see so many people in the halls for Shabbat services.

    I also led sessions, as well as took part in a variety of them. It is wonderful to know how many of our colleagues are active. I think it wakes us up to the fact that our own occasional sense of frustration is not the only way to feel.

    As for what to "take back," I think the packet of material that is available should be distributed to members and--especially--rabbis. "10 Minutes" should definitely be discussed with ritual committees. Not everyone should be on it daily, but someone can monitor it several days a week. It might be a great resource. I'm looking forward to joining it next month.


  4. The Biennial was a wonderful, rejuvenating experience. I attended an "All Singing" Service and a "Form a Band" Service. Each had fifty to seventy enthusiastic worshipers filled with ruach. The Shabbat evening and morning services were nice but, for me, they lacked the enthusiasm of the smaller services. The exception was the five NFTYites who played and sang Ashloshah Devariem (sp?) during the hakafah on Saturday morning. It was a teary-eye moment.

    I thought that the current version of the Mishkan T?filah used for Shabbat services was easy to use. I found it interesting that despite the newness of the book and the great variety of options presented within the text, the rabbi leading the service felt it necessary to use additional readings.

    The most moving moment of the convention for me was the speech by the NFTY president during the debate on the name change. Regardless of one's position on the issue, her articulate impassioned speech made me proud to be involved in the Reform Movement and optimistic about its future. I hope everyone will try to come to Houston in two years. This was my fourth Biennial, and each has been a great experience.

    Richard 2600 Families

  5. I was at the Biennial and, as always, enjoyed it immensely. Worshiping with so many Reform Jews at the same time is an awesome experience. Being part of the name change from "Union of American Hebrew Congregations" to "Union for Reform Judaism" was an historic moment in the life of our Union. In the coming years, we can expect to heed Rabbi Yoffie's initiatives which include a grassroots effort to raise funds to support the building of Reform communities abroad; "10 Minutes of Torah," study on Jewish texts and issues which will be available on line; more interfaith dialogue with Christian churches; and "Packing for College: Where Does Judaism Fit?," a curriculum for high school students and their parents. That's a capsule review of what we will be implementing in our congregations, but does not begin to express the magnitude and scope of the biennial experience. For me, the most incredible personal experience was, as a regional president, carrying the Torah, at Shabbat morning services. It was a moment I shall treasure forever. In two years, we'll be assembling in Houston, Texas, and I hope all of you who were not in Minnesota will be able to join us there. Diana

  6. I was at the Biennial and loved every minute of it. I also went two years ago to the Biennial in Boston. Highlights this time included:

    • Sharing the experience with my daughter.
    • Attending the pre-convention class on Social Justice taught by a professor from HUC-JIR; it was a truly intense and enjoyable class digging out the social justice concerns in the Torah and Talmud from the texts themselves which were presented to us in both Hebrew and English translation.
    • Attending a workshop where David Sapperstein and Al Vorspan discussed the political dilemmas we face in the world today--including Iraq, the Christian right, and their involvement with Israel, reproductive rights, etc.
    • The early morning services which were varied and beautiful--at least the ones I attended.
    • Using the new prayer book at both Friday night and Saturday morning service.
    • Hearing about the initiatives that Rabbi Yoffie has laid out for the Movement, including having a ten-minute on line study every day; supporting the Israeli rabbinic students, the Progressive Israeli congregations, and the newly emerging congregations in the former Soviet Union. This is not a vague plan but a specific way to attend to each of these groups through small donations from all Reform Jews in America (at least hopefully everyone will be willing to get on this band wagon).
    • And, of course, the entertainment in the evenings including the sing-along with all the cantors and entertainers like Jeff Klepper, Debbie Friedman, Julie Silver, etc,etc.
    • Then, too, was the simple pleasure of running into old friends from various places and making new friends in workshops, in the coffee shop, or even in the elevator--just a fun week.


  7. To the other comments on t?filah at the Biennial (and I did not participate in any of the daily services, only the two on Shabbat), let me add a comment on the t?filah-related workshops. I had the privilege of moderating the program titled "Who Moved My Melody"--and if you weren't there, I encourage you to order and listen to the tape. A cantor, a rabbi with a guitar, and a musically erudite lay leader were the panelists--and opened my eyes to some of the nuances of building a service musically. (My eyes, more than my ears, because I have no ability to carry a tune, or even to keep time!) The rabbi with the guitar at the panel was replicated by the rabbi with the guitar at Kabbalat Shabbat. Which raises another interesting question that may become a thread in this discussion: As our movement is blessed with more invested cantors, and as they are increasingly recognized as clergy, not just as voices, how are the distinctive roles of rabbis and cantors merging/blurring? And is this, as my grandmother would have asked, good for the Jews? Larry

  8. Kabbalat Shabbat and Shacharit at the Biennial were both a home run. Yes, they were great shows, but the depth of emotion especially at the hakafah and Mourner?s Kaddish at the Shacharit service was unbeatable. The NFTY kids remaining standing throughout the Shama, the sincerity of the rabbonbim and chazanim and Eric Yoffie's d?rash gave reason to stand up and cheer for what our movement can be. We can be all that B?nai Jeshurun is in New York. We can make Judaism irresistible in prayer, in education and in living a Jewishly communal life. Leaving Minnesota was difficult, almost as difficult as leaving our Progressive friends at the Libertad synagogue in Argentina. Michael


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