Atlantan Margo Gold laid out a clear, conclusive and inclusive vision of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in delivering her State of the Union address at the opening plenary of USCJ biennial convention Sunday afternoon, Dec. 3, at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.
As USCJ’s international president, Gold leads an organization that drew about 1,000 people to its convention and represents 1.3 million Americans who identify as Conservative Jews.
Welcoming the delegates from 200 synagogues to her hometown, Gold outlined the convention’s “dare” theme — compelling action and mustering courage to embrace change.
“We are like ‘Star Trek’ on a voyage, examining change, the old with the new,” she said. “We are on a lifelong Jewish journey that is much bigger than ourselves.”
She outlined elements of her platform, whose highlights include revitalizing the USCJ website, making innovative and diverse outreach efforts to LGBTQ people, seniors, those in interfaith relationships and people with disabilities, and heralding USY (the youth wing of the Conservative movement) as the crown jewel.
Regarding resources, she said, “In our past fiscal year we raised $2.5 million from 20,000 sources.”
On a relevant hot topic, Gold said USCJ is investigating a sexual harassment situation within USY, for which USCJ has launched behavioral training and a hotline (212-533-7813) for potential victims.
Her vision includes a wide tent of religious pluralism for all Jews.
“We are pursuing new vistas, even reaching out to the seminary in South America,” said Gold, who has served as the president of a few local Conservative congregations, most recently Ahavath Achim Synagogue.
Gold thanked many who contribute to USCJ efforts, including the Buckhead-based Marcus Foundation, and others who funded scholarships for young adults to attend the convention.
She became emotional when addressing the 20-plus Atlanta volunteers on how “our kehillot (congregation communities) came together with months of preparation — stepping up, round trips to the airport, making everything beautiful, even organizing a cookbook on Shabbat dinners. See them (the volunteers) here, all in bright orange shirts!”
Gold introduced the USCJ CEO, Rabbi Steve Wernick, who pondered whether his tone should be that of a truth teller or a rabbi.
He challenged the group to look below the tip of the iceberg, to release the “save me” instinct of recounting typical synagogue problems: dues, financial models, fundraising, membership, recruitment, leadership and public relations.
“Instead, let us enhance the mundane with serous questions of how we convey truth to the next generation, address intermarriage and deal with identity politics,” Rabbi Wernick said. “Growth and change, how we went from horses to cars and now the driverless car. … As we make sense of a complex world, more Jews are willing to marry non-Jews — and more non-Jews are willing to marry Jews. … We have to dare to be life coaches and get to work.”
Last up for the opening session was TV personality and The Atlantic Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, representing his synagogue in Washington, D.C.
Goldberg comically related his recent appearance at another Jewish organization, which wanted him “in 15 minutes to discuss the roots of terrorism, Israel’s future and Iran, but keep it light.”
For the body of his talk, he bashed President Donald Trump, his tweets and the responses to them, the role of rage and extremist speech, the lure of politics for some people who are indifferent to laws and norms, and the potential damage to democracy, with a sidebar mention of Hitler. None of that was new fodder for discussion.
Goldberg ended on more enriching themes.
“I’m a Conservative Jew because the Reform movement favors social justice over laws, Orthodoxy favors laws over social justice. … We can be extremists in only two areas: humility and self-control. Sometimes I wish I was a Haredi. I could sleep better at night, not complicated by the truth,” he said.
“Getting wound up in tweeting, you can provoke others and yourself. The dog barks; the caravan moves on. Be the caravan.”