A convention of Rabbis: Day One in New Orleans
I suppose you could say that being at a rabbi convention is like a doctors or lawyers or any profession’s gathering together for a yearly convention. Maybe there are quite a few similar aspects between all the professions at these kinds of professions. Even spiritual leaders are competitive and like to talk real life stuff that only colleagues can share. Even the spouses can relate to other spouses, male or female, that cope with a career that is supposed to be a calling.
I found myself initially seeing familiar friends. I cannot describe the exhilaration of seeing and embracing them. It almost feels like an adrenalin flow because we have such history behind us. For some we shared the same classrooms in Israel when we began our studies at the Hebrew Union College. Still others, we worked together in communities and developed new friendships over the years. Those bonds are enduring. It is important for all of us to remember that almost all reform rabbis in America went to the same rabbinical school. We attended the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. We all went to the Jerusalem campus and then we attended the Los Angeles, New York or Cincinnati locations. We are bound together to these places and relationships we made in those days, given that we attended HUC-JIR for five years. Just think about how many students one can get to know over the years!
In the afternoon program we listened to Dr. Scott Cowen, President of Tulane University. He told the dramatic story of his experience during Katrina and why he has chosen to make this hurricane ravaged city his permanent home. He urged us to come back and not give up hope on New Orleans. He shared several stories of strides in education and culture that have been made over the last five years. Overall he imbued us all with hope against despair and made us feel good that our national organization had chosen New Orleans for its annual convention.
Then after a large communal dinner, we adjourned to evening services. This time we had a rabbi (no pressure!) leading the services along with the Panorama Jazz Band. They provided the music for the service. It was the first time I had heard a jazz band accompanying a rabbi leading a worship service. The ideas just started to flow inside me for what I can take back to my own congregation. Watch out Bet Yam!
But there was something special about worshipping with four hundred rabbis. Just getting lost inside the group and not leading a service myself was special. It was just me the rabbis and God. At first I felt it a bit contrived in the sense that we might not be able to transcend our roles and worship like anyone else.. But after a while I embraced the atmosphere seeing the rabbis I have known for so long and the ones I do not know join together in worship. I sensed a real spiritual continuum from generations of rabbis who prayed together and bonded in a special sacred camaraderie.
I also observed that I am not one of the young ones anymore. (It took me this long to admit it?)Those wearing the sport coats and jackets are the old ones. The young colleagues are much more informal and casual in their dress. One could identify the diversity of the reform rabbinate in this snap shot. Fifty percent of the rabbis are women and a much larger attendance of gay and lesbian rabbis as well. That big tent idea has worked and it has changed the face of the reform movement including the reform rabbinate.
We are certainly different today. Yet there is enough room for us all to fit inside this tent. This I do believe.