Friday, January 21, 2011

OU Convention

A Day of Learning, just as advertised.  Having made a weekend of it, I arrived refreshed from a night at a nearby Howard Johnson's, stopping at an Exxon station to fill my tank so I would not have to stop on the way home.  At the registration desk I was a little surprised when they asked which Plotzker I was, but by chance I met the other two at lunch.  I picked up my registration badge, checked my coat, went to another table to get my Convention tote bag with its mixture of advertising and schedule, then hurried to get to the first session, one on synagogue development before it started.  By day's end I had also attended classes on Hazanut, another on synagogue development, one on autonomy, one on conversion laws and a plenary session on Mesorah.  In between I grazed and looked at the OU exhibits as well as partaking of a brief but sumptuous lunch.

There were few knitted kippot but few overt Hasidim.  People wore black suits even on Sunday, but they wore ties as well.  Women attended but men far outnumbered them.  Since everything was Kosher, I did not have to scrutinize menus but could just take from any edible display.

To my surprise, I could not identify a subliminal agenda.  There was no sense of being under attack from external forces, no exhortations of the rabbis to rally the lay troops, no hand-wringing to decry adverse demographic or sociologic changes.  The closest I came to that were the Hazanim pushing for the preservation of their declining art.   There was no tone of discontent among the participants nor any sense of threat to what had already been achieved.  Instead there seemed a muted celebration for what had already been achieved and an optimism that the trend would continue.

My two synagogue development sessions took different directions.  The morning session had a professional consultant as its facilitator.  She spoke of Board and Officer responsibilities, primarily governance with all its successful and failing variations.  Congregations need to have a purpose with programming designed to fit that purpose.  I think AKSE really does not, or at least has not articulated it clearly.  The afternoon session dealt with making the experience of being in the synagogue more attractive.  Why are people there?  What happens when it is not shabbat?  Do they come out of desire or out of obligation?  AKSE keeps itself very vulnerable from this frame of reference.  Interestingly the session was conducted by a congregational Rabbi who does consulting for OU congregations.

Definitely a very thoughtful day which achieved its purpose of pleasure mixed with insight to take back home.

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