Finally home! Two weeks of travel can take a toll! They concluded with 4+ days at the URJ Biennial convention in Orlando. 4500 of my closest friends. My 19th Biennial. Each was special. Jewish Sacred Aging presented at several sessions. The desire on the part of the over 50 years of age cohort to be heard and supported within congregations was ever present. Full rooms gave voice to the fact that this multi-generational cohort of people are seeking somethinng from their congregations that is often missing. Adult answers to adult situations! There was concern that so many Boomers choose to leave formal affiliation. The reason was rarely money. Rather, it was a sense of search, a desire to have their Judaism impact their changing lives. As we discussed in each session, in different ways, with the gift of time comes the spiritual question of what do we wish to do with it?
Any Biennial is replete with program ideas. Indeed, one session we particpated in featured a bounty of ideas from a few congregations (we hope to publish some of these on the web site). Yet, in the midst of of the plethora of programming ideas that marked this convention (and every one for that matter) and in the air within the hallway conversations on the changing nature of the synagogue, one issue remained constant. You can have great programming and a charismatic leader, but without the sense of personal relationships, it may all be transitory. This goes back to a basic belief that I hold that as we get older, it is relationships that take on greater importance in our lives. The people who were at this convention (yes, all committed Jews) were there in large part because of the on-going relationships that they have with fellow attendees and with the people in their congregations with whom they have grown spiritually. That connection, the spiritual one; which is often couched as friendship, remains the most powerful connection of all.
One of the other take-aways of this Biennial is the reality that those who came and participated, both lay and professional, are deeply committed to the importance of and the growth of synagogues. There are always things to complain about. There are never enough answers and the challenges of modern synagogue life are well documented. However, the power of meetings like the URJ Biennial is in the reinforcement of the fact that we have thousands of people who care and who dedicate part of their lives to keeping communities alive. That is a powerful reality. There is no substitute for the power of community and for feeling that I am part of something greater than my own self. In the end, that is the major fact that these thousands of people will be taking home with them. Maybe that is the real message. Maybe that is enough, enough to sustain people until that next opportunity to connect and be challenged.
Rabbi Richard F Address.