by Alexa Cohen – February 2018/Shevat/Adar 5778
During the first week in December nearly 6,000 Reform Jews gathered in Boston for an exciting and insightful conference, the URJ’s Biennial 2017. I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Biennial, which was especially important to me due to my involvement in the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism’s Community of Practice for Full Day Early Childhood Programs.
Bonim Preschool’s Community of Practice Team was represented at the Biennial by Marci Pearlberg, Anne Kirsch, Susan Walden, Rabbi Evan Schultz and me. Marci and I also attended a Pre-Biennial at Temple Beth Shalom (TBS) in Needham, MA, where we were able to meet in person with our cohort of CoP educators. Normally we only see these people via video conference during our monthly convening sessions. The staff and clergy of Temple Beth Shalom presented the history and evolution of their Family Center and School. We learned about the uniqueness of their congregation and the transition from part time early childhood programs to full time early childhood programs. Marci and I were fascinated to learn about the development of all of Temple Beth Shalom’ s programs and tour the Congregation & Family Center (ECE) facilities. Ellen Dietrick, Director of Early Childhood Learning, Rabbi Jay Perlman and Rabbi Todd Markley shared the TBS Guiding Principles of Intention-Community–Leadership-Conversion Strategy with the group. Parents of TBS ECE Families answered the questions: “WHY they came to TBS, WHY they stay at the school/center, WHAT they tell their friends about it and WHAT Relationships-Meaning-Impact has the school/congregation had on their family?” We are so grateful to the entire TBS community for sharing a snapshot of what makes their synagogue so special.
Equally inspiring, we the workshops at the Hynes Convention Center where we joined the rest of our Bnai Israel team. Marci had to head back to Bnai Israel to teach her Pre-K class at Bonim on Thursday, but I was able to stay until the end to attend many thought provoking sessions such as “Bringing God Into The Early Childhood Conversation” with Ellen Allard and Nancy Bossov and “Engaging with Families of Young Children” led by Tracy Newman and Eva Stern from PJ Library. All the sessions I attended were excellent and I am so excited to put all I learned into action.
The overarching theme of Reimagining Jewish Life, as well as the daily themes of Diversity, Innovation, Action, Faith and Community, shaped our week through worship, plenaries and learning. From a fantastic speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren to Rabbi Jacob’s d’var torah, we were all motivated to be help the world be a better place for all.
The highlight of the week was Shabbat. There is no accurate way to explain how powerful it felt to attend Shabbat services with other B’nai Israel members and thousands of others in a huge auditorium.
I am looking forward to the next Biennial in 2019. I hope you will consider joining in.