Guest Post: Final Thoughts from Panama


Rabbi Joshua Kullock with some final observation about the UJCL convention, held last week in Panama.

The UJCL convention is now over, but the images and sensations of these last days keep ringing in our heads. For the first time in history, the host congregation in Panama received seven different rabbis from abroad. On Friday night, all those rabbis sang together, and on Saturday morning they taught Torah from several different perspectives.

For the first time ever, the event was transmitted through Twitter and broadcast live for all those who didn’t make it to Panama. This is a huge leap towards meeting the challenge of reaching all those Jews on the continent who don’t have the means to participate in this kind of event. Maybe in the U.S. it’s not so unusual to broadcast or Tweet an event, but down here, this was a real novelty.

At the convention, we were able to present the first book on the weekly Torah portion written in Spanish, in this region, and by the five rabbis working here. For those who don’t know much about Central America, let me tell you that this is a very unusual endeavor. We used to live on translated stuff abroad, and for the first time in many, many years, we managed to write a native commentary on the Torah. We presented this book also in English for the English-speaking congregations.

Personally, organizing this event had a special flavor, since I had the honor of working with Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik, the Panamanian community’s rabbi and the man in charge of the local organizing committee, who 17 years ago prepared me for my bar mitzvah. Almost two decades later, we work together in strengthening Jewish life here, and even though it is a bit personal, I think I cannot go without mentioning this. 

The numbers speak for themselves: 177 attendees from 15 countries, each bring his or her own color, voice, and insights. For us, it is a noteworthy figure that we will try to improve at our next convention, which will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in January 2012. If you want to be involved in forging this region’s future, you are more than welcome to join us. 

Finally, I want to thank Ben for enabling us to share what is happening in Central America. As I wrote in my first post, it is not easy to sustain Jewish life at the margins. But if we are clever enough to build bridges, to open ourselves to real encounters, we’ll be able not only to maintain but also to continue strengthening a vivid and transcendent Judaism in each and every place we step a foot in.

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