Last week, November 15-18, 2018 I joined over 700 Reconstructionists from around the world for an outstanding convention which was titled and themed “Deeply Rooted. Boldly Relevant.” The spirit at Kabbalat Shabbat and havdallah was really sweet and enveloping, I saw many old friends and made some new ones. Below is a short report on the sessions I attended. Your comments and questions are welcome.
Joint Israel Commission (JIC)
The Joint Israel Commission is made of 22 representatives of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, rabbinical students, and lay members (including me) of the movement (these three different constituencies account for the “joint” designation). We met for six hours on Thursday November 15. The JIC was deliberately constituted to include people who hold the widest range of views within the Reconstructionist movement, which means including supporters of the Israeli Defense Force and AIPAC on the more conservative end to Jewish Voice for Peace and anti-Zionism on the other end of the spectrum, with of course, a big middle bulge around the J Street positions. Our challenge as a commission is to advise Reconstructing Judaism on ways that our movement, open to members with all of these points of view, can move, grow and act. In addition to the JIC meeting, I attended a “listening session” in which about 40 people were invited to express what they thought the JIC should be doing while we, the commission members, listened, recorded and took notes.
There are four clusters of activities JIC will be engaged in over the next 3 years.
- Thinking and Writing about Israel and Zionism which includes curating articles or books that we’d recommend as bases for congregational discussions.
- Recommending best-practices for creating “civil discourse,” that is holding congregational discussions about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in which each participant can express themselves, learn from others, and evolve.
- Enhancing reciprocal relationships between our congregations and Israeli “Renaissance” groups (those exploring creative Judaism, the arts, and organizing for social justice, etc) and groups or individuals working on shared society, Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation and resolution of the conflict.
- Curating and recommending adult and youth curriculum on Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
RENA (Reconstructionist Educators of North America)
Membership in RENA is limited to current and past directors of education of Reconstructionist schools. I went to two RENA sessions. One was on teaching Israel and the other was led by the master Reconstructionist educator Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Schein, Senior Education Consultant for the Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood. The session featured presentations by curriculum innovators on: outdoor education, teaching Hebrew in small groups outside of the classroom, building whole school curriculum around practice of middot (Jewish ethical values), and grief and suicide prevention. I was also introduced to “Kaplanian Report Card: An Evaluation Tool for Jewish Education,” which grades each lesson for transmission of five qualities:
- Understand and Appreciate Hebrew, Language and, Literature
- Practice Jewish Ethical and Religious Values
- Participate in Jewish Life
- Give Artistic Expression to Jewish Values
- Cultivate Jewish Ideals and Role Models
Congregational Programs on Racism and White Supremacy
This terrific session described programs of two different congregations, The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston and Adat Shalom, near Washington, DC. The JRC program was a “Racial Injustice Trip to Montgomery, AL” where 29 congregants went together to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. The Adat Shalom program was a six session “Racial Justice Discussion Group” that over 60 people attended. They watched videos and had structured discussions on “White Privilege and Implicit Bias,” “The History of Racism in the U.S,” “Wealth Disparity,” and “Racial Bias in the U.S. Justice System,” and then held two “Reflection and Next Steps” sessions. Here is a link to the reading and viewing lists.
Muslim-Jewish Women’s Dialogue Encountering Sarah and Hajar
Finally, I went to a session led by Rabbi Nancy Kreimer, who teaches at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Professor Homayra Ziad, a professor of Islam at Johns Hopkins University. They led us in discussion of sections from the Torah and the Qu’ran that both tell stories of Sarah, Abraham, Hajar and their sons Isaac and Ismail, looking at similarities and differences in texts and commentaries.