This is the first of what will be many reports sharing highlights of the 42nd JRF Convention that took place in Boston November 13-16, 2008.
As the Jewish Reconstructionist movement enters its sixth decade as a major force in Jewish life, JRF dedicated its 2008 biennial convention in Boston to exploring the theme "Transformative Judaism for the 21st Century."
Following a two-year strategic planning process launched at the JRF biennial in 2006, the JRF board ratified a plan whose strategic priorities were reflected at this year’s Convention. The “next generation” took center stage and was explored in a variety of ways throughout the four-day event and included the many college students and young adults in attendance. Participants engaged in dialogue with a diverse group of experts about the important role the Reconstructionist movement is playing through its innovations in Jewish education, Jewish camp, and all aspects of Jewish communal life.
The convention’s opening plenary, entitled Jewish Identity, Community and Leadership: A Dialogue Between the Generations, looked at similarities and differences between the Havurah movement of the 1960s and ‘70s and a recent phenomenon of small, independent minyanim and Jewish programming collectives currently on the rise, and explored why the younger generation is choosing, by and large, not to affiliate with traditional synagogues and how the organized movements can respond to current trends. Two of the four panelists, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld and Rabbi David Teutsch, were early shapers of the Havurah movement now serving as leaders of the Reconstructionist movement and two, Sarah Liebman and Zachary Teutsch, are Jewish leaders in their 20s involved today in creating and participating in these "emerging communities." Contemporary Judaism owes much to the Havurah movement and its “do-it-yourself” spirit, evident in the new wave of independent minyanim. The creative approaches witnessed in both of these trends, and exemplified by the Havurah movement’s broadly popular guide A Jewish Catalog, have much in common with Reconstructionism, where Judaism is seen as belonging in the hands of the people.
Rabbi Strassfeld, who was a co-author of A Jewish Catalog, now serves as rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in Manhattan. Rabbi Teutsch, who has served as chief executive of JRF and as president and dean at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, directs the college’s Center for Jewish Ethics. The two shared observations that earlier generations committed to institutions, whereas the younger generation commits to programs—seeing this as both an American and Jewish trend – and that movements have much to offer the unaffiliated, lending “pungency and choice” into Jewish life.
Sarah Liebman is founder of both Machar, a nondenominational group that gives “difficult-to-reach and under-served” 20- and 30-something Jews a chance to increase their leadership skills and engage their peers in Jewish activities, and Urban Jews PDX, a burgeoning social network for Portland’s young Jews. Zachary Teutsch is active with the Washington, DC based minyan Tikkun Le’il Shabbat, a serious davvening community that integrates social action, and with Jews in the Woods, a grass roots community of college and immediate post-college Jews who come together across denominational and ideological lines for a deep experience of Shabbat. In order to integrate young adults, the two said, synagogues and organizations have to understand how to make them feel comfortable and to apply the lessons we learn from young leaders to reaching the 60% of Jews who are unaffiliated and to share the blessings of community with them. Rather than expecting them to join our synagogues, movements should build relationships and offer support to these groups, which themselves will likely evolve as their members marry and have children.
JRF Executive Vice President Carl Sheingold gives an introduction to the plenary in advance of David Teutsch's remarks.
At the end of Zach's talk, JRF Executive Vice President Carl Sheingold presents some closing remarks.
|The 42nd JRF Convention Evaluation.doc||54 KB|