Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The district conference of the Reform Movement in Atlanta

We just finished a brief weekend kallah, the first one in the new district model that resulted from the organizational restructuring of our national movement. Over 150 volunteers, rabbis, cantors and educators attended a busy schedule of activities held at the Marriot near the Atlanta airport.
This kallah (conference) gave evidence of the enthusiasm and the desperate need for community at the local and regional levels if Reform Judaism is going to survive. The enthusiasm was there and we met some of the Union of Reform Judaism’s specialist’s staff in areas such as adult education and early childhood education.  The rabbis and cantors who attended did a fine job inspiring us with our favorite contemporary songs and with exciting teaching sessions.
Rabbi Dan Medvin gave a fine talk about Judaism and Technology helping us to envision how we can enhance so much of our communal worship by employing the latest techniques in computer graphics that will enable us to engage our families in the worship experience and thereby inspire them to take us to the next level of high tech and high touch.
There is no question that the reorganization of the movement has had a disorienting impact upon the movement’s identity and direction.  I should exclude the bedrock of reform’s success story as exceptions such as the camping movement and NFTY (the youth movement) when drawing these conclusions.
The staff is doing its best. They have enthusiasm, knowledge and experience to prove that the movement is going forward. But they can’t do it by themselves. What was missing was a strong representation from the highest ranks of the reform movement. I am referring to the absence of the URJ’s top national leadership  cadre of volunteer and clergy leadership.
District conferences that stretch over a thousand miles across the country face a challenge to connect everyone. I am not yet convinced that the district model is the way to go in fashioning a permanent organizational structure. It is too early to make a final appraisal. A movement like Liberal Judaism needs to grow and renew those time honored bonds that grew out of the previous regional model in order to influence the agenda nationally.
Kudos to the union for putting together this long needed first try at organizing the conference. I think they really need to broaden the participation and do a much better marketing job to recruit people to attend. If the top tier of volunteer and professional leadership hope to inspire giving to the Union ,both in terms of time and financial resources, then maybe they should  think about showing up and demonstrating that they really care about the folks they serve.
The success of this weekend’s retreat proves that they are on the right track even though there is a lot more work to be done. The Union of Reform Judaism needs to promote more face to face contact of people with likeminded interests.  There are social networking strategies that many of us are already employing within our congregations. The more we can meet others from around the district and the nation the greater collaboration and enthusiasm we can build for the future of the URJ. We need to create the spark. This weekend was the beginning. Let’s keep up the momentum.

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