Monday, 2 November 2009

The Circus is Coming to Town

They are about to descend upon my city. 3000 or so of North America's finest, and certainly most committed, progressive Jews are coming to my hometown this week in order to engage in the Union for Reform Judaism's biennial conference. It has been 30 years since the Union has brought its sideshow north of the border, and we Canucks have been anxiously awaiting and planning for the return engagement. For the neophyte amongst you, allow me to explain why this is such a big deal in my world. Every other year the union brings its travelling medicine show, complete with member rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders, the finest that Jewish music has to offer, and the best of the best in the Reform movement to a city heavy with anticipation to discuss, converse, study, pray and generally examine the health of progressive Judaism in North America and around the world. The study sessions engage in everything from fundraising possibilities for member congregations, to music workshops, to board training, to political activism, to t'fillah engagement, to outreach programs, and so on and so on and so on. It is a chance for us in the "biz" to recharge our batteries, reconnect with colleagues, re-engage with our chosen work and re-energize our professions. It is a chance for lay members to learn anew, bring fresh ideas back into their congregations and to just understand that others find themselves in similar situations as do they. In short, it is a major undertaking and the fact that all of these Jews will be descending upon the Great White North this week is fairly significant.

Volunteers from our member congregations across the GTA have been working for weeks to prepare for the onslaught. Twin Son's Better Half saw her phenomenal skill-set put to good use as she was anointed the volunteer co-ordinator. It has been her task to assign shifts for all of the 800 or so volunteer workers, and to adequately train said volunteers. Needless to say she has been swamped for weeks. Last week, she half-jokingly said it was a good thing that she wasn't presently employed because then her sleep schedule would have been non-existent. Volunteers from the GTA synagogue choirs have been busy as well. Many have agreed to take part in the biennial choir which will encompass singers from across the continent and which will perform at Shabbat morning services. We were tasked with learning 21 pieces of music in a 3 week time frame, and have committed to 10 hours of rehearsal over the next 3 days. Needless to say, Toronto has responded overwhelmingly to the call for volunteers.

While I am excited for what the upcoming week has in store and I am truly thrilled at the prospect of connecting with old friends and listening to some great new music, I am not blind to the challenges facing our movement. We need to move the model of the synagogue forward into the 21st century. We need to actively re-engage our youth. We need to find a way to blend the spirituality that many crave in a post 9-11 world, with traditional Jewish prayer models. We need to find ways to better reach out to our interfaith families and we need to find ways to honour those who volunteer. The URJ has always been a North American movement, but speaking as a Canadian, its leadership has always appeared to be somewhat tone deaf to the distinct society that is Canada. (Even if that statement is only partially true, the appearance is real!) It will be interesting to pose some of these questions to our leaders this week, and I intend on blogging several times from the conference. Stay tuned.

One last side note. H1N1 has been all the talk around our city, and most others lately. A gathering of approximately 3000 Jews who like to hug, kiss, shake hands and eat copiously, seems a likely breeding ground for the virus, so I will be armed to the teeth with a healthy stockpile of Purell and the hope that friends will understand a hearty elbow bump as a sign of true affection.

See you at the Convention Centre all!

1 comment:

  1. I'm into the elbow bump as a true sign of affection these days...I think most people should understand and if they don't....who needs 'em! See you there.