Rabbi’s January 2020 Column

Shalom All,

As many of you know, I recently returned from the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial Convention. This year’s convention was held in Chicago and both Nancy Margulis and Naomi Homrighausen were able to attend with me (along with 5,000 other Jews from all over North America, Israel, and the rest of the Jewish world).

As always, it was an excellent convention. There are so many wonderful workshops, sessions, classes, services, musicians, that it’s impossible to do everything. Particular highlights, for me, included text study with my Hebrew Union College professors and the daily minyan (especially the Shabbat services that I don’t have to lead).  

Though every Biennial has an amazing list of Jewish vendors selling everything from trinkets to sanctuary design, this year I specifically sought out two of them. The first were the publishers at Behrman House, a major supplier of Jewish curricula for our religious schools. We’ve used a lot of their books over the years, and have even begun using their “Hebrew in Harmony” software on the iPads in our Hebrew School. After a nice conversation with them about our school and our needs I came away with a new curriculum to use next year with our Confirmation students.

The other vendor I sought out was the Sofer on Site – a torah scribe who will come out to Cedar Rapids and evaluate our Torah scrolls. We have seven scrolls that are all in need of some care, so with the Board’s permission, I spoke to Rabbi Druin about visiting. One of the wonderful things about the Sofer on Site, as the name suggests, is that he does all his repair work on site so we will have the unique opportunity to watch how this is done. We’ll be sure to let you know when we have these details. 

Finally, no Biennial would be complete without a keynote address from the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs. During this address, Rabbi Jacobs sets an agenda for the next two years. Some years he pushes us to examine how we educate our youth, other years he’s focused on programs for adults. This year’s theme was inclusion. In particular, he spoke of expanding our tent, of being open and welcoming to all who identify as Jewish – Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews, non-binary Jews. He reminded us that the demographics of the world are changing, that the Baby Boomers are no longer the majority of our population, the Millennials are, and that this large, young group of Jews has very different expectations from our communities. We know that religious affiliation, across all religions, is decreasing rapidly. One of the ways we can fight this trend is to be open and welcoming to all. 

There are wonderful highlights and video clips from the Biennial here.  I look forward to sharing more about my Biennial experience over the coming year.

For now, may you all have a Happy Chanukah and a Wonderful New Year.

Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Todd