By almost every measure, whether objective or subjective, our November, 2018 convention was a success. More than 730 Reconstructionists from across North America (and from Israel and the Netherlands) shared their spirit, energy and intelligence with one another in study and song, and prayer and fellowship. There were 125 learning sessions, taught by roughly 175 lay leaders, faculty members, students and rabbis from across the movement. We prayed and sang and danced and ate together. We were drawn together and energized in ways that we, as a movement, have not experienced for many years.
But there is one measure left. How will we build on the success we achieved? If, a year from now, convention is nothing more than a really pleasant memory for those who attended (“Remember that? That was great!”), then we will have ultimately failed by the most important metric of all. How will we seize the opportunity that 730-plus Reconstructionists created for one another in Philadelphia? How will we build on convention to strengthen our home communities and our movement?
I do not think that it is fair to say (although I have heard it said) that the 2018 convention signaled some sort of rebirth of our movement. The vitality that was revealed so clearly to those of us who were blessed to be in Philadelphia did not spring to life in the overflowing meeting rooms of a Philadelphia hotel. It was present all along.
- It was present in the close communities built by our affiliates — from the musically innovative CBH Chorus, Band and Strings of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, to the community activism of Congregation T’chiyah in Oak Park, Mich., to the liturgical innovation taking place in scores of communities from Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia, to Oseh Shalom in Maryland to Congregation Beth Evergreen in Colorado, and beyond.
- It was present in the rabbinates of our young (and less young) rabbis serving congregations and on college campuses, in chaplaincies, in organizations working for social justice, and beyond.
- It was present in the leadership of our faculty in areas like multi-faith studies and initiatives, ethics, social-justice organizing and activism, and contemporary approaches to understanding the Torah and Talmud, and beyond.
- It was present in the work of other professionals (and lay members) who serve our communities as religious educators, executive directors, music leaders, and beyond.
- It was present in our camping movement, through which we will provide uniquely Reconstructionist and profoundly Jewish summer experiences to a growing community of well more than 500 children and teens from across North America this summer, and beyond.
- And it was present in the work of Reconstructing Judaism itself: in our work nurturing innovation through mentorship and grants; in our online offerings like Ritualwell, Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations, and Learning Networks; in regional Days of Learning and Shabbatons; in presidents’ forums and online resources for affiliated communities; in podcasts and video offerings; in our joint commissions and other partnerships with the RRA; and in our active partnerships with other movements and social-justice organizations that are designed to make sure that our highest values are given a voice in the public square in North America, and beyond.
The “magic” of convention was that it enabled us to see all of this with a renewed clarity and to feel in a visceral way the power and potential of our combined vision, intelligence and energy. It enabled us see the momentum that has been created and is accelerating across our movement. The convention made it clear that we each — as individual communities, as rabbis, as lay leaders, as teachers, as learners, as spiritual searchers and as activists — have the capacity to both give strength to, and draw strength from, one another through true community and collaboration. We each have so much to learn and so much to teach. We live so much of our lives in our own local communities (and our own heads). Philadelphia reminded us that we are much stronger (and we have so much more potential) as a community of communities than any of us can be as disconnected dots on a map.
Convention also made it clear that there is an emerging consensus about the nature of our greatest shared challenges:
- The need to secure our future by building intergenerational communities that attract young people, embrace Jews of color, provide a home to interfaith families, adapt to changed and changing conceptions of gender and family, and eliminate barriers to those challenged by disability;
- The importance of achieving financial sustainability;
- The urgency of combating racism, economic injustice, Islamophobia and resurgent anti-Semitism — not just across society, but also as they exist (consciously or unconsciously) in our own communities and in ourselves;
- The difficulty of maintaining community across difference — of engaging in respectful, but also honest and substantial, dialogue about issues that have the potential to divide us, from domestic politics to Israel/Palestine.
The best metric of whether or not our convention can ultimately be judged a success will be the extent to which we can apply what we have learned about our power and potential to find ways to chip away at our shared challenges.
Over the next few months, it’s important that we talk and listen to one another about ways in which we can continue the collaboration that energized our convention. Certainly, there will be more conventions. But we will not achieve our potential by coming together every few years and bringing back what we learn to our isolated dots on the map.
Rabbi Deborah Waxman and I, together with our Board of Governors and the senior leadership of Reconstructing Judaism, are committed to building and sustaining the platforms and pathways that will enable our movement to thrive. This requires not just talking and listening, but also building the resources (financial, intellectual and otherwise) that will enable us to harness the momentum that was made so evident by our convention and to work together towards our shared future.
In our official welcome to the convention, Rabbi Waxman and I wrote: “We expect that all of us will return home full of renewed energy, ideas and relationships that will invigorate us as we continue the holy work of reconstructing Judaism and building communities in which we and our children can live and thrive.” When we wrote that, in the weeks before convention, it felt like a goal. Now it feels like a challenge. Ultimately, our success in embracing that challenge and bringing to life the promise it represents will be the measure of our success.