The strength of Reform Judaism in North America was celebrated at the opening plenary of the Union for Reform Judaism.
“We have more than 300,000 families in 895 congregations,” Rabbi Daniel Freelander, the URJ’s vice president, said Wednesday night at the largest URJ gathering ever, with nearly 6,000 participants.
“Twenty-thousand people open ’10 Minutes of Torah’ each morning,” he added, referring to the movement’s daily online Torah study program.
Several main topics to be explored at the five-day biennial, however, reveal a movement that is struggling to hold onto its men in the face of continued advances in women’s leadership, as well as a crisis in membership retention. Reform holds the dubious claim as the Jewish stream with the shortest average length of membership.
At the same time, major addresses scheduled for Thursday by the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Los Angeles’ Saddleback Church, and one Sunday by Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, illustrate the movement’s increasingly proactive outreach to other faiths in an effort to learn lessons that can be applied to the Reform community.
The opening plenary Wednesday night devoted nearly an hour to a scathing indictment of the U.S. Supreme Court, which one speaker called “the most conservative Supreme Court in 30 years.”
Conference organizers announced several initiatives designed to make the biennial as “green” as possible, including using recycled and recyclable materials for its paper goods, donating leftover food, and planting trees in Israel to offset emissions from staff travel and convention center operations.