Rabbinic conventions to discuss American Jewish life

Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement meets in Las Vegas; while Central Conference of American Rabbis meets in New Orleans.

By JORDANA HORN
March 29, 2011 01:24
2 minute read.
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NEW YORK – Two important rabbinical conventions are taking place in the United States this week, one in Las Vegas and the other in New Orleans, creating stages for discussions of the future of American Jewish life.

The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, an international association of Conservative rabbis, is meeting in Las Vegas this week. There are over 1,250,000 adherents to the Conservative movement of Judaism, with 850 congregations and 1,600 rabbis, most of whom reside in the US.

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Over 300 rabbis are in attendance at the Rabbinical Assembly convention, entitled “Conservative Judaism Out of the Box.” Slated speakers include Israeli Minister of Education Gideon Saar, and Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Arnold Eisen. “The Paradox of Growth for Conservative Judaism” and “Conservative Judaism Out of the Box: Thriving Against Difficult Odds!” are among the topics for discussion.

“Our national Conservative organizations and institutions are not the ‘movement’; they are over 100 years old and in urgent need of rethinking,” Rabbinical Assembly Executive Director Rabbi Julie Schonfeld wrote in The Jewish Week.

“The ideals of our movement, by contrast, are as relevant and inspiring as ever,” Schonfeld continued. “If we keep talking about bricks and bylaws rather than about the vision of the ‘movement,’ we can’t effectively build the institutions we need.

The challenges we are facing in the Conservative movement belong to all of us in the larger Jewish community.

“Our task is to clarify and revitalize our vision for the future while sustaining the power of the large networks of community that still hold so much potential for bringing Judaism forward into the 21st century.”

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Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) is meeting to discuss issues facing the Reform movement. CCAR is the professional organization of Reform movement rabbis. Its members are Reform rabbis ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, as well as Reform Rabbis ordained at liberal seminaries in Europe – and some rabbis who joined the Reform movement after their ordinations.

The CCAR convention, entitled “Prophetic Voice in the 21st Century,” includes topics such as community engagement, Torah Lishmah and professional development.

Citing the city of New Orleans’ dealings post-Katrina, the CCAR convention literature notes that “this city embraces setbacks as opportunities for change, for growth and for innovation. It builds on its vibrant past, grapples with the challenges of the present and creates a new and exciting future – much like the Reform rabbinate of today.”

Approximately 500 Reform rabbis are – like their Conservative counterparts – examining the future of Jewish life in North America, and trying to find ways deal with changing demographics, as well as adapt to the interests of younger Jews.

There are over a million Reform Jews in the US, and nearly 2000 Reform rabbis in the world, making CCAR the world’s largest group of Jewish clergy.

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