The “T’nuah B’yahad: Building our Movement Together” Shabbaton and Convening, a five-day convention of Conservative and Masorti Jews from across North America, recently came to a close in Baltimore.
From Friday, Dec. 1 through Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront played host to hundreds of rabbis, cantors, religious leaders and teenage synagogue representatives.
The convention was comprised of a two-day Shabbaton as well as an educational portion, during which clergy, scholars and others from across the country hosted panels that touched on subjects ranging from mourning in the time of the Israel-Hamas conflict to Bob Dylan. Many Baltimore rabbis and representatives from local Jewish organizations took part in leading services and discussions as well.
The convention, organized by the Rabbinical Assembly, was previously held in Baltimore in 2017, though it took place at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor that year.
“Baltimore is a strong Jewish community that includes some of our most vibrant congregations, clergy, educators, schools and programs. It is also centrally located on the East Coast,” said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, on why Baltimore was chosen as the convention’s location.
During the Shabbaton portion of the event, Cantor Melanie Blatt of Congregation Beth El led an all-ages minyan service. Blatt noted that she was a part of the Shabbaton committee, and had a hand in planning the service portion of the event.
While she was the only Baltimore lay leader to lead part of the Shabbaton, others led panels during the convention’s educational portion.
“Jewish Peoplehood & Planethood: Climate, Sustainability & The Future of Jewish Life” was led by Jakir Manela, CEO of Adamah, the Jewish environmental organization formed in early 2023 following the merger of Pearlstone and Hazon. Adamah Chief Development Officer Rachel Siegal and Jewish Youth Climate Movement representative Morgan Robb also spoke at the panel. Manela is from Reisterstown, while Siegal is from Baltimore and Robb is from Pikesville.
The panel primarily focused on Adamah’s work in the field of sustainability and climate-friendly policy, and how the Jewish people have deep ties to the work of environmental stewardship.
“Jewish people have planted the idea of a sustainable future as something we can all agree on and work towards, but we literally need all of us,” Manela said during the discussion. “We need all of the Jewish people’s brilliance, resourcefulness, passion and wisdom to help move our people and the planet as a whole in this direction.”
The panel offered representatives and lay leaders from synagogues across North America the opportunity to learn more about how they can operate sustainably, as well as the resources Adamah and the rest of the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition can offer to those who want to take the first steps toward a greener worship space.
Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Synagogue also led a panel. His focused on the validity of patrilineality and intermarriage. “Can We Talk About Patrilineal Descent?” saw synagogue representatives discussing how they can better service interfaith families on the 40th anniversary of the Reform Movement’s Resolution of Patrilineal Descent. The resolution declared that any child of a Jewish parent was also Jewish, but children of interfaith families with Jewish fathers still face discrimination due to their lack of a matrilineal connection to Judaism.
“Children of intermarriages raised in Reform congregations may be finding their way to ours, only to discover that the Jewishness they’ve always felt is called into question,” Burg said. “In many cases, they feel like second-class citizens.”
He spoke at length about the views of different Conservative Jewish scholars on the subject, as views on patrilineal Jews in the Conservative movement vary.
Other Baltimore-area panelists included Rabbi Aaron Alexander of Adas Israel Congregation, who hosted a panel on halachah and ethics and spoke at another panel about sabbaticals for synagogue staff; Babette Cohn, director of education and programming at Shaare Tefila Congregation, who was one of several speakers at an education-focused panel; and Rabbi Emeritus Jay Goldstein of Beth Israel, who discussed the Shleimut initiative that focuses on supporting the spiritual and mental health of congregants.