Andrea Hirschfeld, President of Congregation B’nai Israel, attended the bi-annual convention of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) last week. Held in the Chicago area, the convention was built around the theme of, “Shape the Center,” and was billed as the world’s biggest workshop to reshape the center of North American Judaism, designed so that participants can build their capacity to address the major issues facing Conservative kehillot (sacred communities) today. Viewpoints of the whole Conservative Jewish world were heard, from emerging leaders to established clergy, supporters to dissenters and everyone in between…discussing pressing issues such as interfaith marriage, engagement of all ages, LGBTQ and special needs inclusion, connection to Israel, financial sustainability and spirituality.
Here are some brief thoughts from Andrea from the convention:
By Andrea Hirschfeld
I stumbled into this crazy scene of USYers from far and wide singing, dancing, talking and engaging in a joyous way to the music of Josh Warshawsky, our 2015 CBI Artist-in-Residence from California. The enthusiasm was simply infectious. Anyone in the room was literally surrounded by these USYers within this large conference center that was just waiting for 800 participants to come in for the opening address to the 2015 United Synagogue Convention-Shape the Center.
What was this “shape the center?” Fortunately, the international USY president framed it perfectly: Conservative Judaism wasn’t a ladder that you climbed but a horizontal continuum where we constantly found our “center” of Jewish life. It’s a beautiful metaphor for our Jewish lives. We are always on a pendulum; sometimes we need more ritual, sometimes more community, sometimes we focus on education. Think of how we all start –young, barely interested in ritual or history but really happy with our Jewish friends. And, for some as we age, study becomes all important. Understanding the religion opens the way to our spiritual selves, more often than not led by our Clergy or Jewish educator.
This very complicated personal relationship that we have to our Judaism is what makes us comfortable with today’s Conservative Judaism. It’s messy. It’s not dogmatic. And the issues that accompany this — the role of prayer, the role of staff, the type of outreach and to what demographics, the program’s we provide, the importance of branding and marketing, and finally the future existence of our synagogue models — were all topics for this conference!
My time at the convention was exciting, invigorating and honest. We are not a movement in trouble, as some might suggest…we are in transition, as we always have been. But I truly feel we are close to emerging. We have great programs and support available to us from USCJ. We have tremendous support for these conversations, and just as USCJ has engaged for the past several years in their own transformation, it is trickling down to Conservative congregations everywhere. Being a member of this movement at this time is very exciting and I invite you all join the conversations by attending future programs at CBI, and those provided by USCJ!
In fact, USCJ is bringing a slice of the national convention to NJ on Wednesday evening, December 16 at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford: “The Face of Change: Adapting to New Realities.” If you are interested, please let me know! (Sponsorship money is available to cover registration cost.) Please email me if you will attend at CBIAndrea@gmail.com.