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Reflections on Convention 2018

Three OrH members, along with Rabbi Liz, attended the 2018 Reconstructing Judaism convention in Philadelphia November 15-18. What follows are their reflections on the experience. For some convention highlights, please visit the movement's web site or Facebook page.

Sarah Waisvisz

I was delighted to attend my first Reconstructing Judaism Convention this November in (snowy) sunny Philadelphia. I attended Convention thanks to a new fellowship program for young(ish) people: The Shapiro Fellowship for Emerging Reconstructionist Leaders. As Shapiro Fellows we had several opportunities to learn together at Convention and we will continue to learn together digitally throughout the next few months. In our Fellowship sessions we shared experiences, resources, and connections, and we spoke about the work we are doing in our communities. During these sessions I got to brag about Or Haneshamah, and I was proud to realize I could speak to my nearly 10 years of lay-leadership in our lovely community.

In addition to the Shapiro Fellowship, I also had the pleasure and great honour of leading two sessions for convention attendees. First, I facilitated a creative movement workshop entitled "Embodied Storytelling," and during this session the 26 participants (including Rabbis Amy Loewenthal and Bob Gluck!) wrote biographical stories and then developed beautiful and meaningful silent choreography through which to share their stories. Second, I performed a pared-down, hotel-conference-room version of my solo show Monstrous, which some of you know. This couldn't have been done without the work of my valiant sound technician ... our very own Rabbi Liz, who perfectly supported my performance. The show was a hit: those who managed to get in at all had to stand and sit on the floor when the 40 chairs were filled. The performance was then followed by a meaningful Q & A period during which we discussed spirituality, mixed-race and multicultural Jewish identities, Mordechai Kaplan, and how our ancestors continue to live within us Jewishly, no matter if they were Jewish.

Overall I was thrilled with my time at Convention. I loved connecting with our beloved past OrH rabbis (Rabbis Evette, Bob, Amy, Alanna!) as well as with other teachers and rabbis I had met before in Philly when I visited the College in 2015. Now that I am home, my great hope is that I can share with you some of the palpable energy I felt when I was there. It was amazing to be with 700 other Reconstructionist Jews and especially to pray, sing, and dance together.

Dear haverim: our movement is simply amazing. We have so much ruach and our spiritual leaders are so wise and inspiring. I left Philadelphia convinced, more than ever, that our Reconstructionist approach to spirituality and social justice WILL help us to bring about olam haba, that better world we all dream of ... and I hope you are ready to build it together.

Jean Hanson

It was wonderful to be among so many thoughtful, caring, forward-thinking Jews. Overall highlight: the day-long workshop on racism and anti-semitism, which, though it was US-centric, was still useful and provided much food for thought. Other highlights: the instant choir, hilariously conducted by our own Rabbi Liz, which led to a brief performance during Thursday evening’s entertainment; and a workshop on a feminist critique of Leviticus, which provided not only interesting ideas on Leviticus but also ideas about how to think about the words and stories of the Torah.

Diana Ralph

This was my first Reconstructionist movement conference, a transformative, joyous, though provoking, and awe-inspiring gathering of over 700 people. To be in this welcoming space full of proud, ethical Jews thinking, singing, and praying together was deeply moving for me. Highlights included:

  • Sarah Waisvisz’s workshop on embodied storytelling and especially seeing her perform Monstrous again to an over-packed and enthusiastic audience.
  • The music!!!! Participating in Rabbi Liz’s instant choir as she magically turn strangers into shared voices, at shabbat, having 700 voices wafting over me like a powerful wave, and all the smaller creative, new musicians.
  • I was especially thrilled that the conference included MANY sessions on racism among Jews and within Zionism, including a full day workshop on antisemitism and racism (which had standing-room only attendance) where the facilitators (one Black one white) modelled clear, inspiring thinking.
  • Many opportunities to discuss and think about Israel-Palestine with an open heart and mind. Learning effective communication skills from Resetting the Table with space for the full range of perspectives to hear each other. I was there as a part of the RJ’s Joint Israel Commission (JIC). The JIC has a 3 year mandate to : (1) find and create models to promote constructive discussion about Israel-Palestine in congregations, (2) advise the Reconstructing Judaism leadership on policy and advocacy statements around Israel-Palestine (that’s the group I’m in), (3) grow relationships with and support progressive Israeli groups working for justice in Israel, (4) create templates and resources for Reconstructionist congregations to educate adults and children around Israel-Palestine. I came away excited and hopeful about this project and the prospect of working with this outstanding group of people.

Fri, December 14 2018 6 Tevet 5779