Uplifted and excited about the future

by Rabbi Nathan Martin - January 2019

I still can feel the joyful energy as I joined a chain of a hundred other smiling dancers while we snaked our way through the aisles of the Double Tree hotel conference room and belted out Lekha Dodi along with the 500+ Reconstructionist davveners for the Friday night service. This is one image I will hold onto from the Reconstructing Judaism convention - an image that helps me to remember that we are indeed part of a larger movement of joyful, creative, soulful Jews and allies seeking ways to infuse Jewish meaning into our lives.

While I have much to digest and reflect on from the gathering, I wanted to share a few more immediate personal reflections about the ways that I was impacted. (Also check the Reconstructing Judaism website - reconstructingjudaism.org - for ongoing reflections and content from the event.

We are rooted in justice

I was pleased to be reminded again how central the work of repairing the brokenness is to our movement. The Friday morning plenary session focused on ways in which faith based communities are seeking to repair the brokenness of our food system in America. There were built in opportunities to "pray with our feet,” including volunteering at the broad street ministry (https://www.broadstreetministry.org), and leafletting at a local Wendy’s organized by T’ruah in support of the Coalition of Immokalee workers in their campaign to be fairly compensated for their agricultural work. And there were many additional opportunities to study social justice Torah ranging from the Torah of the metoo# movement to health care reform, to how social justice organizing can be structured at one’s congregation. Our very own Rabbi Linda was on a panel exploring issues of racial justice in the rabbinate that was quite powerful. I left these sessions energized and curious about how to integrate my personal commitment to social justice and how to support us as a BI community to continue our important work in this area.

We are creative thinkers
Perhaps it is the lifelong learner in me but I also made sure to dedicate time to learning about new approaches in how we think about Judaism. Rabbi Toba Spitzer led a fascinating workshop on how the exploration of ancient metaphors for the Divine may actually open us up to new possibilities in our own spiritual lives. And Prof. Tamar Kamionkowski, a master teacher, guided a roomful for eager listeners through a tour of her new feminist commentary on Leviticus (https://litpress.org/Products/8102) where among her many insights she argued that Leviticus was a theoretical instruction manual which the priestly class used as a way to transmit values even though the system may not have ever been put into practice. I know that rabbi Linda and I look forward to continuing to share these and other insights from the convention teaching in the coming year and beyond.
 
We are creating new ways to engage and be in community
The convention was sprinkled with sessions focused on how Jewish communities can adapt and grow in our rapidly changing contemporary environment. In the technology and community engagement session I attended, I appreciated the “torah” of how facebook does not necessarily have to only be a place to announce upcoming events but can also be places to encourage community conversation and reflection. Other sessions focused on disability inclusion, the art of music making, news ways to think about a prayer service and a Torah service, and more. 
 
It was clear from the sessions I attended that it was helpful for us to gather together as a larger community of communities, to create space for us to share ideas and practices, and to draw strength and energy from the fact that we are many different communities bound together in the service of building a vibrant and relevant Judaism for the future. Perhaps, as we begin our new year, may we each find ways to connect to the broader wisdom of the whole and be re-invigorated to continue to Reconstruct Jewish life for the better!
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