URJ Biennial in Retrospect, by Jennifer Ellett

Twice this year I have stood surrounded by my people. Once secular, at GenCon (largest tabletop gaming convention in North America), and once spiritual, at the URJ Biennial in Boston this past December. There is an indescribable joy in being surrounded by those who understand you and whose stories are like your own. We all experience it on a small scale at services and temple events. It is something else when it is at a convention hall full of people. It is easy to forget, living in the Northeast, how few we are. We should embrace the opportunities we have to congregate.

To say I am glad that Adrian and I went would be an understatement. The week at Biennial was full of learning, spiritual growth, and the opportunity to make new friends. I spoke with Jews from California to South Africa. Adrian made a new friend from NJ. There were classes on all aspects synagogue life, and many worship opportunities. It is the latter that were my favorites. The weekday services, though very early, were

well attended and spiritually uplifting. Though the Friday service, with its 6,000 attendees, was an experience, my heart belongs to the smaller services. It amazed me to see the variety of ways that Reform Jews worship. I even saw both men and women wearing tefillin. It reminded me what differentiates us from the other Jewish movements, and what makes the Reform movement so exceptional and welcoming.

The classes varied widely and covered all aspects of synagogue life. They ranged from diversity and inclusivity to finances. If anything, there were too many good options to choose from. That’s not to say all were perfect.  I went to seminars that inspired and ones that I could have slept through. This happens at all large conventions where you have a variety and depth of speakers.  What is important to me is that that I left most of them with something useful or a new insight.

I don’t know that I’ll go to the biennial in Chicago, but I would not miss another opportunity to attend a biennial so close to home.