President’s January 2024 Column

“What an uplifting event …”

I took an early flight a few weeks ago to attend the Union for Reform Judaism annual convention in Washington, DC. I arrived midway through the morning and decided I had time to go visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I walked from the hotel to the museum and didn’t realize it was a  4-story museum which started on the top floor and worked its way down to the first floor. It was a long, arduous journey for me, but not as long as for those documented in the museum. I was shocked by what I saw and was a little down on the walk back to the hotel. I went up to my room on the 8th floor and found my key didn’t work. I called the front desk, and they said they would send up a security person to unlock the door and bring new keys. I sat down on the floor outside my room and a young women walked by, turned, and asked if I was alright. I said I was just worn out (mentally and physically) and was waiting for security to come up and open my door. I said thank you and waited. This young lady is someone I would see later in the conference.

I attended the afternoon, opening session with Nancy Margulis and Rabbi Todd and then went to dinner with them. We ate a variety of different Jewish foods for dinner then went to the Friday night Sabbath service.

As I sat in a ballroom surrounded by over 2,196 (don’t know an exact number…but it seemed like a lot of…) other Jews, I was totally blown away by, and immersed in the Friday evening Sabbath service. The Cantor filled the room with the deep sound of his rich, baritone voice. The sermon was uplifting and seemed like the Rabbi was speaking directly to me.

We attended the Saturday morning Sabbath service which I felt was also well done and then went to afternoon sessions. I attended a break-out session on Justice and was surprised to see the young woman from the hallway leading the breakout group I attended. She was introduced as a Rabbinical student in her last year of school from Washington DC. She did a fantastic job.

We met up for Saturday dinner (another experience of Jewish foods) and it was followed by a spectacular presentation of 150 years of the URJ through music and spoken words. It was very moving and emotional and at times I was in tears! It brought back fond memories from the 1960’s and 1970’s of growing up on Long Island, NY and attending Temple with my brothers and parents. Also, on the stage, was the young Rabbinical student from the hallway … who read an excerpt from a sermon she gave on Martin Luther King, Jr. What a great experience.

Afterwards we attended a late session by a Rabbi and Cantor who developed Jewish music for use in services the past 50 years and witnessed 4 different Cantors sitting in and joining them… an unbelievable event!!

I returned home, drained, but exhilarated by the experience. In retrospect, the weekend had me wondering what we could do at Temple Judah to create this same excitement and feeling of being surrounded by fellow Jews with an interest in praying, singing, and spending time together during services. Don’t sit on the outside, looking in. Donate, participate!!

Brian D. Cohen