Friday, December 16, 2011

The president speaks

Now he moves to israel and the peace. He supports israel. Peace is in the long term interest of israel. A strong israel transcends all politics. He cites tikkun olam again. Unshakeable commitment to israel and its security, he proclaims. No administration in history has done more to secure israel than obama, he proclaims.
Iran now. Us will take no options off the table.
US was there to help israel . "Dont believe others who tell a different story. Those are the facts." Now he quotes from pirke avot. , we are not obligated to complete the task. Neither can we desist from it. Heneni he says. He will keep america's promise no matter how long it takes. Our best days are still to come.
The crow is applauding wildly.
Thats's it. Commentary to come later.

The president speaks

Compliments urj religious action Ooooo center. The crowd cheered.
He is talking about his daughter attending so many bar and bat mitzvah services. She is the expert on jewish ritual in the Obama house.

Now he is talking about this weeks' torah portion. He quotes the hebrew word heneni! Joseph is the central figure. He sees and feels that the biblical jewish story and his own story resonate together.
He quotes the term tikkun olam repairing the world. He has captured the convention.
Now he is talking about the value of change and how his administration hss made changes. Health care, gay rights, economic justice, ending the war in Iraq and so forth.
The crowd loves it.he speaks of the shared values that transcend all faiths. his mission is about about the struggle to enable all americans to enter the middle class. He says" heneni here I am. " he is willing to fight for all americans to achieve this objective.

The president speaks.

We have just spent the last hour listening to the Religious Action Center celebrate its 50th anniversary. Videos, testimonial speeches and a jazzed up version of America the Beautiful. We are still waiting. Patience.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day Two the URJ Biennial Convention

Blogging the URJ convention: Day Two
It is after midnight. I am sitting outside of my hotel with my computer in the unusually balmy night here in National Harbor. So much to say and so little strength to say it at this hour. Maybe that is a blessing for all my readers.
One of the reasons why I love this convention is the kvell moment. I mean those precious moments where one can run into a dear friend be it a colleague or former congregant. But when suddenly a former youth in my congregation who I officiated at his bar mitzvah comes over to me and is now a junior in high school and gives me the biggest hug and with his wonderful smile greets me.  I feel the presence of the Eternal with me in this moment. To know that we are making a difference in the lives of our congregants is what it is all about. This teen is in the regional leadership of the reform movement and that makes me so proud. He has not only grown in stature but in his maturation as a young man. We are blessed to have such fine young people. Truthfully the URJ conventions are reunions of an extended family that defies the imagination. Years ago our relatives used to attend the cousins clubs. Now we have the Biennial convention. Here we are all cousins under the big tent of mishpachah.
Tonight there were three highlights. One was listening to the honorable Deputy Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak. What I shall remember about him was his posture, that is, the way stood with such pride and joy as the crowd stood up and applauded him. It was not that he was relishing the adulation and respect from us all. It looked as if he was this senior statesman and so proud of his country and his role. Think about the rough and tumble fisticuffs of Israeli politics. Here was a night when he could absorb progressive Judaism’s appreciation and respect for the man who has served Israel so honorably over the decades. He gave a great speech reassuring us that he was committed to Israel being a democratic state despite what we may read about the legislation in the Knesset. He applauded us for what we have contributed to the state. And he also acknowledged that it was important for him to listen to us. That is no easy task for an Israeli political leader or for any Jew given our penchant for verbal combat on the drop of a dime. Two Jews and three opinions proclaims the old adage. He said that in Israel it was two Jews and four or five opinions!
The next event was honoring the legal team of David Boies and Ted Olson both of whom received the Maurice Eisendrath Bearer of Light award. Both of these men are famous lawyers who have represented their respective Democratic and Republican parties in some of the most important legal cases of the last two decades. Remember they were adversaries in the election results of the Bush-Gore presidential election. Now they have joined forces to take on the state of California to oppose proposition eight which discriminates against same sex marriage. There are getting ready for their appearance at the Supreme Court and they are doing their best to educate the country that the government should no longer discriminate against its citizens regarding choosing a partner. The fact that these two giants of American jurisprudence could stand together and transcend the partisan divide on this issue was truly an inspiration to us all.
Finally the evening program concluded with resolutions. The most important one to mention was Reform Judaism’s stand on economic justice for all. Our temple President Ted David was invited to serve on that committee. Kudos go to Ted and the committee for his work to bring the resolution to the plenary.
I do not want to skip the fact that the Republican House Majority Leader Representative Eric Cantor spoke to the assembly.  The fact that he is Jewish was a wonderful addition to the role he was playing as the Majority leader of the House of Representatives. Briefly he assured the audience that his party and the congress would stand behind Israel and do everything in its power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. His received a warm welcome and applause. We were fortunate to have him at the Biennial. Tomorrow we shall here from President Obama.
I enjoyed going to the session this morning on Progressive Judaism in Europe today. We had several rabbis from Germany, Great Britain, and Poland talking about the challenge of maintaining Jewish life in these countries. There is the competition with Habad and the Orthodox establishment and the cultural differences of Jewish identity issues in Europe in a post Holocaust era and migrations of Jews from the former Soviet Union into Western Europe.  The World Union of Progressive Judaism works with our movement all over the world. Of course the governments in Europe support through taxes the different religions in Europe. What a challenge and yet more congregations and even a rabbinical school for liberal Jews in Germany are growing each year.
Last but not least I went over to one of the halls to listen to an Israel jazz group called Seeds of the Sun. Fantastic. The leader Mattan Klein who I know personally is a flutist. We have to find a way to bring them to Hilton Head one day. Good night to all and Good morning to you all.

Blogging the Union of Reform Biennial convention: Day One

On the road again with Rabbi Bloom at the Union of Reform Judaism Convention

I am driving on Interstate 95 in the Washington D.C. metro area heading onto I 295 into National Harbor, Maryland. To my surprise I see a charming convention city town. The Gaylord Hotel and its convention center is the centerpiece along with other nice hotels and boutiques settled along the Potomac River. National Harbor, Maryland and the Gaylord Convention center plays host to the Union of Reform Judaism Biennial convention.
Here there are 6000 Jews, the largest population to date attending the Biennial convention, gathered together to learn, celebrate, worship, study, socialize in myriads of workshops and learning sessions. Congregation Beth Yam is well represented with 10 participants. We should be proud of the commitment our leadership is making by joining this sacred community of five days.
In addition to the URJ convention the Women of Reform Judaism are having their convention concurrently with the URJ. Suffice it to say that the experience of so many reform Jews together in one convention center is sure to be a an enriching experience. For many it is a reunion and for the first timers the experience of walking through the enormous exhibition hall and seeing so many booths with fantastic Jewish artists and Jewish organizations from all over the world might feel overwhelming in a wonderful way.
This afternoon I entered a workshop of about 100 participants and listened to the panel discuss different ways congregations can welcome and integrate interfaith families. Our own Marcia Frezza was one of the panelists. The Outreach movement devotes itself to this effort to create the kind of environment inside congregations where families can feel like they really are part of congregational life.
Dinner followed and then we returned to the convention hall for the rest of the evening. All I can say tonight was that I felt like I was on a 3 and one-half hour tour without ever moving an inch. I say this because the diversity of activities on the program was so broad and diverse. Truthfully I could not see any real connection between these programs but they were, nevertheless, fascinating.
We heard from Rabbi Eric Yoffe, the retiring president of the URJ and he brought out the incoming successor Rabbi Richard Jacobs.  Rabbi Jacobs announced the new URJ initiative for the next ten years on youth engagement.   We listened then to a famous and incredibly humorous psychologist and author Dr. Wendy Mogel who gave an insightful and astute analysis on the state of Jewish parenting while making us laugh at the way Jewish parents today over indulge their children. “Good Jewish parents gone bad.”
After Dr. Mogel, we were watched the next speaker introduce Natan Scharansky. Remember he was the famous prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union until he was freed in 1986. He became the symbol of the free soviet Jewry movement. He is a short man but a giant of Jewish conscience. Scharansky immigrated to Israel and eventually wrote several books, served in the Israeli cabinet and now heads the venerable Jewish Agency.  He spoke to us about the tremendous importance of sending young people to Israel with the birthright program that over 300,000 Jewish young people from America have gone on the Birthright program. He also spoke about the contribution that American Jewry has made to Israel especially in teaching Israelis about Jewish spirituality that they might not experience in Israel. Scharansky acknowledged that both Israel and American Jewry can benefit each other.
Next the program was going to honor the memory of the beloved singer of Israel Debbie Friedman. She died this past year.  She was an amazing soul who turned around the world of Jewish music for the synagogue and, therefore, the spirituality of Reform Judaism. The tribute to composer Debbie Friedman continues even to the point that the Reform movement’s Cantorial School was renamed as the Debbie Friedman School of music. A band performed one of her compositions. Then they announced the first Debbie Friedman award for someone who excels in Jewish music. The first recipient of the award was Theodore Bikel. At 87 years old, Bikel came out on stage and spoke about Debbie Friedman and in respect to Debbie; he sang three songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and ladino.
At that point the official activities concluded. I was grateful. Yet then the entertainment began with several prominent musicians entertained the late night enthusiasts. I would say that was enough for the evening.  It is an amazing and exhilarating experience to be here and we are just getting started!