Reflections from Day One of Convention 2018 in Chicago

By Rabbi Michael Friedland, Chair, Rabbinical Assembly Convention 2018

The Convention opened with several outstanding Limmud sessions from local and Masorti scholars. Thank you Annie Tucker and Paul Kerbel for organizing our wonderful Limmudim!

Our first session was a celebration of Israel on the occasion of her 70th anniversary and our Masorti movement on the occasion of her 40th. Seth Adelson led us in song, reaching into the past to sing Israeli classics. Avi Solkoff, a recent graduate of Nativ spoke about his experiences on the program. Nathalie Lastreger brought words of greeting and dreams from Israel, Bob Slosberg, chair of the Masorti Foundation, exhorted us to give financial weight to our moral support for Masorti. The tremendous achievements of the Masorti movement are only limited by budget constraints. We were honored to have Aviv Ezra, Consul General of Israel for the Midwest, address us. Thank you to Paul Kerbel for coordinating this initial celebration.

Professor Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, gave the opening address and in keeping with our celebration of Israel gave a very personal talk: “The Religious Significance of Israel:  A Personal Love Story and Accounting”. In his talk, the Chancellor sought to battle against the pessimism that Israel is no longer the Israel we longed and desired for – an Israel that is committed to democracy, respect for all citizens and, most importantly, a Judaism of meaning. Ironically studying American Judaism for his Phd at Hebrew University as opposed to any number of Jewish Studies departments in the United States made a difference in how he saw his subject because he was studying in an organic Jewish cultural center, surrounded by the greatest Jewish scholars, learning in Hebrew. 

Chancellor Eisen spoke of his views on Israel as a Sefer Devarim Zionism, that is, a Torah to be lived in the public square in which issues of the day were needed to be interpreted in the light of Torah. To speak of Israel being “the beginning of the flourishing of our redemption” should be interpreted not as a fact but an aspiration that places an obligation on us to make that a reality. He concluded that when he recites Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut what he is doing is truly thanking God for allowing us to actualize Torah in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.

The evening concluded with a hilarious performance by the Second City Improv All Stars, generously sponsored by Dignity Memorial. Following the performance, they then joined us for a 45 minute Q&A led magnificently by Stewart Vogel on how they do improv. One of the questions which has meaning for us was “What do you do when you bomb?  How do you recover?”  One response was there are no mistakes because every mistake is a gift. One can either use the mistake to further the humor or to lean into stumbles and turn them into something positive. Bombing also helps one become more resilient. Another response elicited the principle in improv work of ‘yes, and...’ Whatever the scenario offered, rather than fight it, go with it and beyond. It teaches one the value of a willingness to agree and create relationship with one’s ensemble or with the audience suggestions and then develop and elaborate in creative ways, that may even dissent from the original suggestion. But the relationship has been established from which one can work. 

Looking forward to Day 2.