9 Reasons the MRJ International Conference Was a Success

Inside Leadership

9 Reasons the MRJ International Conference Was a Success

Steve Portnoy and Steve Fletcher with the proclamation from the city of Minneapolis

Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ) recently concluded its international conference, “MRJ Today: Past the Curb, Beyond the Parking Lot,” in Minneapolis, MN. The agenda was packed with experts and inspiring speakers whose insights and perspectives will help all of us in both urban (curb) and suburban (parking lot) congregations address issues and answer questions that affect progressive Judaism today.

Although MRJ functions primarily by offering programs, we also need to go beyond the four walls of our congregations, particularly because of the rapid-fire ways our world and the political landscapes of both the United States and Israel are changing daily. These conference speakers and leaders raised our awareness about various issues, offering us their expertise, viewpoints, and gracious hospitality throughout the conference weekend.

  1. Moran Birman, the Consul for Public Diplomacy, Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, who spoke during the conference’s opening dinner, noted that he could be married in Israel only under Orthodox auspices. Instead, he and his bride – Reform Jews – chose to travel to Cyprus, where they were married by a Reform rabbi. He also told our group that although they are not being discussed publicly, talks about a truly egalitarian worship space at the Kotel (the Western Wall) are ongoing. Tough and thoughtful questions – with no easy answers – followed his remarks.
  2. Brian Serle, president of the Brotherhood in our host congregation, Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, MN, led Friday morning’s prayer service, where everyone was extremely warm and welcoming.
  3. The congregation’s senior rabbi, Adam Stock Spilker, decked out in a cap identifying him as a member of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, spoke to our group about two timely and important initiatives: the Brit Olam (Covenant with Our World) and the Civic Engagement Campaign, both of which the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) is spearheading.
  4. Allison Rosenfeld, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Chicago, offered startling and sad statistics about hate crimes and anti-Semitism. According to the FBI's annual report on hate crimes, Jews continue to be the most frequent victims of these crimes. In addition, the ADL’s Center on Extremism reports that white supremacist propaganda on college campuses increased an astounding 77% over the previous year and 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets appeared on social media in English – an average of more than 81,000 per week!
  5. On behalf of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, City Councilman Steve Fletcher presented a proclamation to MRJ that declared July 12-15, 2018 as “Days of recognition of the Men of Reform Judaism and its historical and current contributions and impact on its individual members, its local Temples, and the world at large.”
  6. Dr. Ron Wolfson led two separate sessions for conference attendees. The first offered an overview of his book, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, and the second was devoted to practical lessons from his newest book, Relational Judaism Handbook: How to Create a Relational Engagement Campaign to Build and Deepen Relationships in Your Community. He graciously signed a copy of the latter book as a keepsake for each session participant. He also spoke to the Mt. Zion Temple community following Shabbat services and dinner at the congregation.
  7. Shabbat services were led by Brian Serle, Rabbi Spilker, and Rabbi Andy Shugerman, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), the MRJ’s partner organization. Demonstrating both audacious hospitality and relational Judaism, MRJ honored the conference’s first-time attendees by calling them for aliyot (being called to recite the blessings before and after the reading of the Torah during a worship service).
  8. A panel discussion later in the day featured Dr. Steven Windmueller, Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service and former dean of the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Benjie Kaplan, executive director of the University of Minnesota Hillel. Moderated by MRJ executive council member Charlie Niederman, the conversation centered on the distortions, lies, and threats – verbal, physical, and emotional – perpetuated by boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) activists and groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine.
  9. Finally, MRJ member Ross Schriftman spoke to our group about his mom, her journey through Alzheimer’s disease, and the movie, “My Million Dollar Mom,” that resulted.
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Steven Portnoy is president of Men of Reform Judaism and a member of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.

Steven Portnoy

Published: 7/24/2018

Categories: Conferences & Events

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