From Audrey Porter:

I attended the Union of Reformed Judaism (URJ) Biennial last month in Boston as a “first timer.” I had other TBJ congregants come back from previous Biennials brimming with enthusiasm, inspiration.

I traveled to Boston with an open mind, ready to have my own experience and form my own opinions. The Biennial experience was delightful and astonishing, humbling and inspiring, emotional and transformative, and I am grateful.

I was grateful to attend the URJ Biennial with Rabbi Kaufman and 2 other TBJ board members, to get to know them better and have a better connection with my local community.

I was grateful to spend 5 days with 6,000 Reformed Jews from all over North America and feel like an integral part of this larger community.

I was grateful to attend talks and have conversations on a variety of diverse topics, including one on civil discourse, with Jewish values and keeping the relationship primary as the place to begin and end. I will use that model in every relationship that I have. 

I was grateful to hear talks from national leaders, such as William Barber II and Senator Elizabeth Warren, reminding us that we have work to do and we must persevere in our fights against injustice.

I was grateful to hear the 8 congregations receiving the Belin congregational awards for  audacious hospitality programs tell us what their congregation did to be chosen.

I was grateful to hear Reformed Jews passionate about and engaged in meaningful social action.      I was grateful to hear the Charlottseville rabbi, along with the head of the ADL, talk about current anti-semitism and our role as Jews in every congregation and community. 

I was grateful to share spiritual Shabbat evening and morning services with thousands of other reformed Jews.

There were many moments at Biennial when I was deeply touched by the vulnerability, authenticity, and courage of my fellow Reformed Jews, and those are feelings that I treasure  and bring back to Des Moines with me. My hope is that when the URJ Biennial comes to Chicago, December 11th-15th 2019, that many more from Temple B’nai Jeshurun will be able to attend.  This is an event that is for everyone. Let’s block out our calendars and make it happen.

From Mark Davis:

I spent five days in Boston last December at the URJ Biennial. When I left Des Moines that Wednesday, I had no idea what was about to happen. I had no idea what I was in for.

From the moment we landed, from the airport to the hotel and then to the convention center, it was ever larger numbers of Jews all congregating together. I hadn’t been around that many Jews, cumulatively during my entire life. And there I was; one of 6,000, all in the same place. All learning from one another, praying and singing together, telling their stories, sharing their experiences. 6,000 Reform Jewish voices.

How do I share this experience in a way that explains what it was like to be there? It’s not possible, there were just too many moments. Too many stories I could tell you, but I’ll share this one because it made clear what is possible. It was a discussion about building connections and growing our community. Rabbi Marc Mande, explained that on any given Sabbath night Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, hosts 90-100 congregants and guests, who all find a table to sit and enjoy and catch up on the week with those gathered around them.

“Is it always like this?” is a question people often ask him. “How is it that this intergenerational, diverse, and delicious experience is happening every week?” The answer is simple he said; It’s happening because we are intentional about making it happen. We’ve made it a priority.

That simple story is at the heart of the 2017 URJ Biennial experience. It was one small slice, one look at what is happening in synagogues around the country. Congregations of 50 or 500, Jews are reaching out to each other, across generational divides, political divides and focusing on Jewish values.
During those days in Boston, I attended dozens of sessions on a variety of subjects, not one missed the mark. Each was truly incredible. There were more than a few times when a session would end and all I could do is sit in my chair in silence. Literally not able to speak or move, sometimes for 10 or 15 minutes. I sat in my chair more than once with tears on my cheeks with a feeling in my heart that anything was possible and for me, an understanding that being a Reform Jew means more than just saying that’s what I am.

There were some messages that were so timely. So that now every time I read the paper or listen to the news. When I realize that we now live in a world where suspected pedophiles are running for the US Senate. Where the name “Pocahontas” is used as an insult by Americans against Americans. That we once again live in a world where Nazi’s are marching in the streets. I realize that we all have work to do.

To that point, one message stays with me. Al Vorspan, Past President of the URJ and co-presenter with Rabbi David Saperstein spoke on the role Jews have played in the long history of social change. One of the most powerful moment comes when he asks, “What does it mean to be Jewish?” His answer was simple. “We are Jews” he said. “We are not spectators. We are not observers.”

I spent five days in Boston, last December and those five days changed my life. In two years the URJ meets again, this time in Chicago. Register and go, you won’t be sorry.