A Microcosm of the Biennial

Today was the first day of the URJ’s 71st Biennial Convention.  Bob Abrams and I left the Hudson Valley early this morning.  We drove down to the Washington DC and made very good time, arriving just after noon.  We found the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD.  This will be our home for the next 5 days.

Once we checked into the hotel and received our credentials we were offer to explore the conference area and get our bearings.  Today ended up being a microcosm of what makes up a biennial.  First I attended to 2 very well done learning sessions.  The first was on Technology and Your Synagogue.  The focus of the session was more on the philosophy of incorporating technology into congregational life rather than the nuts and bolts of how to do it.  The second session also had a technology focus.  It was titled The Social Sermon.  In this session, I learned how a congregation had used social media to work with their rabbi over the period of 1 week to generate a sermon which was delivered at Friday night services.  Both of these learning sessions gave me real concrete ideas which I will be able to bring back to Vassar Temple.

After dinner, we went to the exhibit hall which had just opened.  We were able to explore about 1/2 of the hall before it was time to head to the first plenary session.  The exhibit hall many vendors displaying art, jewelry, and other Judaica.  There were also vendors who are more on the business or management end of synagogue life.

The first plenary session this evening officially welcomed us to Washington DC.  There were a number of speakers from the URJ including the incoming chairman of the board, Steve Saks, Senior VP of the URJ Rabbi Dan Freelander, current president of the URJ Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and incoming president of the URJ Rabbi Rick Jacobs.  We learned that this is the largest biennial in history.  there are 6,700 attendees representing 541 of the 900 URJ congregations.  The biennial is completely sold out.  On Friday night over 4,000 Shabbat dinners will be served.  This will most likely be a world record for the largest Shabbat dinner.  More on this Friday night.

There were 2 main speakers this evening.  The first was Dr. Wendy Mogel who is the author of Blessing of a Skinned Knee, and Blessing of a B-.  Dr. Mogel talked to us about raising Jewish children today.  It was both funny and inspirational.  The second main speaker was Natan Saransky.  He spoke to us about what we can do for Israel and what Israel can do for us.

The plenary session concluded with a special tribute to Debbie Friedman.  There were spoken and musical tributes to Debbie.  The tribute culminated in the announcement of a new award, The Debbie Friedman Award For Contribution To Music.  The first awardee is Theodore Bikel.  Following a short speech, he performed 3 songs for us.  One each in Hebrew, Yiddush, and Ladino.

Following the plenary session, we headed over for some late night entertainment.  We saw a great song session featuring Julie Silver, Rabbi Joe Black, Beth Schafer, and Doug Cotler.

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  1. Barak Day 1 « Vassar Temple Blog

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