Monday, November 9, 2015

The Union of Reform Judaism Biennial in Orlando: Part One

Biennial Blog

I have been here in Orlando with our delegation starting our third day. I am so proud to say that again we have a strong turnout from our congregation totaling 12 individuals. There are about 4500 Jews here at the Marriott Convention World in Disney World.
One of the features I see as unique this year is the amount of technology. This is the ultimate tech savvy convention with apps created to chart every activity you can imagine minute by minute. Texts messages going out announcing every change of schedule. This is the ultimate wired in URJ Biennial Convention.
In terms of speakers, there have been a host of speakers from all over the spectrum of religion, culture and Politics. Yes, of course the reform movement is squarely in the corner of the political left. That is a longtime practice in Reform Judaism. We may have read the recent resolution passed at the convention putting its blessing on Transgender Jews and all transgender Americans. It is fair to say that the normal spectrum of political issues that the left embraces is given center stage at our conventions. That is simply our movement’s orientation.

On Wednesday night we listened to a speech by Rabbi Rick Jacobs the spiritual leader of the URJ. He spoke for 45 minutes about his vision. He tried to show what he believes to be Reform’s support for Israel but criticized the government’s support of the occupation of the west bank territories. He reiterated the need to condemn Israelis who commit hate crimes against Arabs while noting the responsibility to oppose random Arab acts of violence. My sense is that he was outlining a vision of moderation for Progressive Jews in a set of Israel security issues. IN addition he absolutely attacked the Israeli Rabbinate for its silence on all social justice issues afflicting Israeli society.
As a personal note what I saw missing in the speech was no mention of the need to build an ecumenicism for diverse political views within the tent of Reform movement. From what I see today partisan politics have really been a divisive factor in many kinds of relationships that have adversely impacted not just our politics but also have hurt our relationships. Can Reform Judaism be a big enough tent to embrace a plurality of political viewpoints? Can politically conservative Jews find a place under the tent of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world? Rabbi Jacobs never addressed that question. 
One final point I could see by the speakers in the program the focus on youth and particularly the URJ Camp movement. Jacobs and the URJ leadership is putting their emphasis on building a strong youth movement in the camps and especially in NFTY National Federation of Temple Youth. One of the most moving speakers was Paul Fishman the current US Attorney for the district of New Jersey. He spoke about Tikkun Olam and how the work he does is reflective of his life commitment to this principle. He was a Reform Jewish youth who participated in mitzvah corps volunteer activities in poverty stricken areas in America’s cities during the 1970s.

On Tuesday night we listened to a panel discussion on the Interfaith married issue. A New York Times journalist Joy Fisher led the question of famed actor Michael Douglas and two other participants who had unique stories of being either raised in an interfaith family or finding a welcoming home in a reform temple for their interfaith family. I must say that while all the speakers in this panel were interesting the presence of Michael Douglas was quite impressive. He told us how his son led the family to Judaism and down the road to a Bar Mitzvah. It not only impacted the kids but also Douglas himself. He really came to grips with the realization that he felt like he was a Jew (at age 70)!

So where is reform Judaism? Its central philosophy is Tikkun Olam in the politically liberal context  of social justice. It is youth oriented with its focus on youth grouping and camping. It is a movement about experimentation with worship and trying to assert a presence for itself in Israel. It is a movement about welcoming interfaith families. These are the major areas of foci for
Reform Judaism.
I am looking forward to the rest of the convention and especially the wonderful experience of Shabbat worship, song and study.
From Orlando I wish you all the best and a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Brad Bloom

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