Posted December 19, 2019
Last week, a delegation of more than 20 staff and congregants from Central Synagogue joined with 5,000 fellow Reform Jews at the URJ’s biennial conference in Chicago. Central was well represented at this important event, with Rabbi Auerbach leading several sessions on small groups and adult engagement, Rabbinic Intern Rena Singer leading a session on Millenials, and our own Cantor Dan Mutlu leading an incredibly uplifting and moving service to thousands at Friday night services with Rabbi Jill Maderer.
A few of the participants shared some thoughts after attending:
Richard Markowitz, Central Synagogue Board of Trustees, URJ North American Board
Attending my first Biennial was a wonderful experience. I was impressed by both the sheer number of attendees from all across North America, as well as the diversity of people and congregations. It is amazing to witness the energy and passion of our movement in one location. Central Synagogue, its Clergy, its staff and, of course, our sanctuary are well known and respected by Reform Jews across the nation. It is humbling to hear people talk about their visits to New York and how they make a point of attending Friday night Shabbat services at Central. Biennial also allowed me to learn about exciting new programs and engagement that other Congregations, both large and small, are providing their members. Being in the audience of over 5,000 people as Cantor Mutlu led Friday night Shabbat services was definitely a highlight.
Danielle Rodnizki, Cantorial Intern
My experience at the URJ Biennial last week reminded me once again how powerful it is to gather together as a Reform movement every other year. Celebrating Shabbat with 5,000 people was beautiful beyond description, especially since the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service was led by Cantor Mutlu, whose voice and presence brought us a small taste of the world to come! This year, I led a weekday morning service with HUC-JIR classmates and teachers, which, despite the super early hour of 7:30 am, succeeded in helping each member of our makeshift congregation connect with one another, with something holy, and with their own still, small voices. I also got to help with the Shabbat Song Session on Friday night, leading 5,000 Biennial attendees in communal song with some of my closest friends and mentors, which truly felt like the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Most of all, it was sweet to be together in Chicago as a Central community. I am incredibly grateful to be part of this wonderful congregation and the wider Reform movement.
The Biennial, for me, has always been a professional highlight. I’m so appreciative of the work, and thought, that goes into providing hundreds of workshops for thousands of people, all representing such a variety of roles within the life of the Reform Movement. An added highlight of this particular Biennial was the opportunity to be led in prayer by Cantor Mutlu on erev Shabbat. Wow!
The chance to convene with colleagues and friends from across the country, to grapple with some of the challenges we are wrestling with in our respective congregations, and to be exposed to some best practices in the field make the Biennial a unique experience. Often, conversations that start in workshops continue out into the hallways, in line for coffee (!!), or over a shared meal long after the workshop itself ends. I walk away from each Biennial with a new cadre of connections, and thought partners, who become an invaluable part of my professional network. This year in Chicago was certainly no different.
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