For the first time in almost two decades, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) and the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) held a collaborative convention from Dec. 6 through 10 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. Titled “20/20 Judaism: A Collaborative Convention,” the five-day event brought together more than 1,400 attendees from across North America to discuss the future of Conservative Judaism along three tracks — The Future of the Synagogue, The Future of Our Jewish Community, and The Future of our Jewish People.
“The attendance at ‘20/20 Judaism’ actually surpassed our expectations,” said Ned Gladstein, USCJ international president. “The overwhelming amount of positive energy and optimism experienced over the course of the Convention indicates a real pivot point,” he continued. “Conservative Judaism is vibrant and we are eager to tackle 21st century challenges together with the Rabbinical Assembly and our other movement partners.”
The convention featured Jewish thought leaders discussing and strategizing over critical questions, including how the movement approaches Israel, the Jewish family, spirituality, hatred, inclusion, systemic justice, and other key issues that shape the future of Conservative Judaism. A key goal of the convention was to inspire and empower constituents to work both locally and in partnership with each other. The two organizations have been exploring how they can work more closely in service of a shared vision of Conservative Judaism and its future.
In a telephone interview with the JT, Rabbi Joshua Rabin, USCJ’s Senior Director of Synagogue Leadership (and a Baltimore native), briefly touched on the three main themes guiding the convention.
“Regarding the future of our synagogue, there is a consensus about how we are going to serve the Jews of the coming decade, particularly those who do not see the synagogue as a home to them naturally. You see all in North America, taking a playbook from Chabad, in terms of taking nontraditional ways of delivering to people — in the end, there is a lot that is quite valuable for us to think about.”
“As far as the Jewish community,” Rabbi Rabin continued, “the synagogue of today is much more diverse in all kinds of ways than when it was first founded. For example, in terms of interfaith families, we can just as easily talk about different definitions of being a family, or multiethnic, multiracial, LGBT. There is a broader mosaic of Jews in our community who I think we want to be better prepared in serving. If our community is going to look differently, we should be prepared to serve differently.”
Regarding the future of the Jewish people, Rabbi Rabin said, “Bari Weiss, one of the main speakers, said it very well: On the one level it is impossible not to be concerned about anti-Semitism, and not be concerned from an area of protection, and we always need to be asking as Jews, survival for what purpose? Starting with the why becomes really critical at this point, we look at prayer and music, and the coming together. It is about ideas that challenge your thinking as much as recharging your batteries all together.”
Rabbi Aurora “Rory” Katz, a Gladstein Fellow and the newly ordained rabbi of Chevrei Tzedek, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Baltimore, attended the convention for the first time.
“I have spent the past five months immersed in my congregation and learning about Baltimore,” Katz told the JT. “One of the main takeaways [from the conference] is you come away with a sense of being connected to a larger world than you get in your everyday life, so some of the conversations that [take place]in my congregation are also happening in other places.” These include conversations about how to grow congregations and how to engage and include interfaith families.
“There is always a sense that anyone should feel welcome walking into shul and our doors should not be closed to anyone.”
The USCJ and the RA will convene once again, along with at least 20 other organizations in the Conservative Movement, Dec.10-14, 2021, in Toronto, Canada.
~ Haydee M. Rodriguez is a freelance writer for the Baltimore Jewish Times.