The High Holidays are a time for reflection. As I approach the conclusion of four years as international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on what I have learned from this incredible vantage point and hope for the future.
USCJ envisions an authentic and dynamic Judaism that inspires Jews to seek meaning, find connection and experience a sense of wholeness in a very complex world. Our network of 600 kehillot is dedicated to strengthening Jewish communities inside and outside the walls of a synagogue, ensuring there are thriving centers of Jewish practice that celebrate both tradition and contemporary life. When we rebranded USCJ last year, we selected the tag line “Seek Meaning Together.” Its multiple levels of interpretation convey individual, organizational and communal relationships. The phrase is also a perfect fit for my message here to you.
We seek meaning together when helping others on their journey. This summer on a USY On Wheels bus trip the teens convened in the visitor’s center at the Paper Clips Project in Whitwell, Tennessee, to celebrate the bat mitzvah of a USYer who had never considered such an experience possible. Her bus mates embraced her desire, taught her the blessings and encouraged her every step of the way in this life-affirming ceremony.
We seek meaning together in worship. At Beth Am in L.A., I participated in an awesome, uplifting weekend of creative worship. Our USCJ conventions showcase creative prayer, but what would be the response to this new opportunity? One hundred thirty congregational leaders traveled from across North America to be part of it and to imagine the ways and elements they could convey back home to deepen the experiences within their diverse congregations.
We seek meaning together when we acknowledge the diversity of our congregational communities, recognizing that even as we live under obligations of the covenant, we also hold powerful responsibilities of community. After much thoughtful study, USCJ recommended we change our congregational membership guidelines, enabling each affiliated congregation to establish its own guidelines for membership and creating thoughtful materials to support those internal discussions. Our member congregations voted overwhelmingly in favor.
We seek meaning together within our diversity. Welcome means something different to everyone who enters our spaces. And the common expression of welcome is respect. Through its inclusion learning cohorts, USCJ has helped dozens of kehillot examine their attitude and practice toward people with disabilities, those seen and unseen. One participating congregation reimagined their planned infant daycare room to make it disability compliant, the only one in the city. Another made every aspect of their sanctuary redesign reflect their value of inclusiveness. And this year at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, the annual AIDS quilt display was hung for the first time in the main sanctuary. The panels cascaded from the balcony, creating a powerful backdrop for reflection and connection.
We seek meaning together in Israel. From the Kotel to the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center for Conservative Judaism, USCJ stands firmly by the tenets of pluralism and Israel as a homeland for all Jews.
To seek meaning together has inspired me in this role. Though the institutional Jewish landscape may be rocky, I believe we have the motivation and tools to navigate it and the will to create a path forward. The people I have had the honor to work with, volunteers and professionals, are a testament to that. Together we address our future with intentionality, aspiring to a shared vision of an authentic and dynamic Judaism. So at this time of reflection, I look forward to the blowing of the shofar. May its call jolt us from complacency and compel us to seek meaning together.
On behalf of Larry and our whole family, best wishes for a sweet new year.