The largest gathering of North American Jews in history opened Wednesday as 6,000 descended upon National Harbor near Washington, D.C., for the 2011 Union for Reform Judaism Biennial.
The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center was the scene of controlled chaos as convention goers registered, embraced old friends and made plans for the next five days, which will address, not only the future of Reform Judaism, but pressing issues across the Jewish world, including reaching out to young and disillusioned, Jews, bringing back unaffiliated families, taking Jewish lessons and values beyond the synagogue walls and dealing with the heady issues of Israel, social justice, the environment and prayer.
It will be a bittersweet convention as URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the largest Jewish denomination in the world since 1996, formally steps aside for his successor, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.
It also will be a historic conference when President Barack Obama addresses the gathering Friday — the first sitting American president to address a Reform convention.
Representatives from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia are here in droves. Some of the familiar faces I and my colleagues have seen so far are Rabbis James Gibson and Ron Symons, and soloist Sara Stock Mayo, all from Temple Sinai; Rabbi Barbara Symons from Temple David in Monroeville; Rabbi Jessica Locketz of Temple Emanuel of South Hills; Rabbi Beth Jacowicz Chottiner of Temple Shalom in Wheeling, W.Va.; and Ed Gerson, president of Congregation Tree of Life in Morgantown, W.Va.
I’ll be blogging every day from the biennial, so keep checking in.