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May 2022 Rabbi Arnow's Article

The Rabbis Are Coming!
Back in March 2018, I had lunch at Gokul (the kosher vegetarian Indian restaurant in the Loop) with two friends who work for the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the organization of Conservative rabbis.  They were in St. Louis scouting out potential locations for the RA’s November 2020 convention.
I became a chair of that convention and was working throughout 2019 and early 2020 to plan it.  We were thinking about issues of racial justice, of gender equity, of climate change, of intermarriage.
Then Covid happened, and that convention was cancelled, and eventually rescheduled for November 6-9, 2022.
I’m chairing the convention, working together with a staffed-up Rabbinical Assembly team.  I’m much more in the volunteer role, with some wonderful colleagues who work full time for the RA doing much of the work.
This will be the first time Conservative rabbis will be gathering in a large group since before the pandemic, and we’ve learned so much over the past two years.
Like many organizations (including Kol Rinah), the RA quickly shifted to operating virtually.  The virtual convention they held in March 2020 had over five hundred attendees, more than three hundred more than had attended a convention in the last ten years.  It was cheap ($36), and easy to drop in and out of for an hour.  And it was short—just a couple of days.
But we felt the need to meet in person again, because there’s a quality of relationship and experience that cannot and does not happen on Zoom.  But we also realized that there’s much that we can do on Zoom, a medium that’s more inclusive and accessible than gathering colleagues from around the US, as well as South America, Europe, and Israel.  So, at this convention, we’re not going to conduct the formal business (elections, resolutions, budgets) of the organization.  We’re also not having big movement conversations, because it’s going to be a limited group of rabbis who will be able to travel and be here, and for important conversations we want to be much more inclusive.
For rabbis to invest the time, money, and carbon to travel to St. Louis, we need to make it an experience they could not have on Zoom.  So, we’re focusing on experiences that can only take place in person, where a virtual or hybrid experience wouldn’t work.  This means more play, more physical movement, singing, and conversation, and fewer big speeches and plenaries and passive experiences.
And there is a hunger for people to come together, to just be, to hang out, to eat, to sing, to reconnect.
I’m looking forward to welcoming colleagues and friends to St. Louis, and I’m so proud to be helping to lead this gathering.
Most of the programs will be for rabbis, but in the days preceding, during and following the convention, there may be some opportunities for our Kol Rinah community to connect with the convention in different ways.
The hunger to reconnect is not unique to rabbis, though.  I’m finding it with our congregation too.  May we find ways to gather and reconnect over the coming months, to build and rebuild the relationships that sustain our community!
Mon, December 11 2023 28 Kislev 5784