The 71st Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is about to begin. The URJ, providing leadership and direction for its member congregations, including Temple Beth Am, and its affiliates, including the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), provides opportunity every other year for Reform Jews from around the world and especially North America to strengthen the bonds of community even across broad geographical and to some extent ideological divides.
No last minute registrations this year — for the first time in its history the Biennial has sold out. More than 6000 attendees, including five from Temple Beth Am, are expected to gather at the Gaylord National Hotel in the Washington DC area December 14 – 18 to learn together, exchange ideas and experiences, to pray together and make policy decisions to guide member congregations and affiliates for the coming years. What Rabbi wouldn’t be thrilled to see the faces of 6000 congregants at her next Kabbalat Shabbat service, and just imagine the oneg!
Policy decisions will be made on Friday, Dec. 16, at the Plenary Session, when Biennial Delegates will vote on a number of resolutions. These include policy proposals addressing conflict minerals, landmines, genocide prevention, and principles of economic justice in a time of fiscal crisis. Other resolutions will also be considered addressing new program areas, honoring the Religious Action Center and Israel Religious Action Center on milestone anniversaries, and others.
To be considered at the biennial, resolutions must follow a well defined process and can originate from a number of sources including congregations. The policy decisions made by the biennial delegates help to direct the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), and also guide congregations in their work. The RAC, in its work on behalf of the URJ in Washington, DC, monitors more than 60 issue areas and is a major resource for member congregations and affiliates of the URJ. Through its weekly news update the RAC keeps subscribers informed and always provides Jewish values and text, the basis for support by the URJ for any issue. You can subscribe to the RAC’s updates here.
The keynote address by President Barack Obama on Friday, following the resolution vote, probably assures a great turnout for the vote. Having a sitting US President speak to the Biennial is rare and wonderful. This is not the only presidential address however at this biennial. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, after 16 years as URJ President, will be giving his last Shabbat morning address in this role. His successor, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, will address the Sunday morning plenary session with a vision of transformed Reform Judaism for the 21st Century. (Read more about Rabbi Rick Jacobs and his vision regarding the role of social justice in the URJ mission.)
This year, for the first time, you can listen online to Rabbi Jacobs, Rabbi Yoffie, President Obama, and others webcast from the Biennial. It appears that the URJ is being the change that it envisions — using technology to transform the Reform Jewish experience during this biennial.