All of us counts. All of the ways that we find to be who we are in this world, all of it counts. This was the message we received at the “Let Us Be Counted” Uus for Jewish Awareness Conference in Atlanta this weekend. It was a message that came home because of our experience of coming together.
UUJA President Rev. Leah Hart-Landsberg helped set the tone for our time together during opening worship. She referred to the “parsha” (torah portion) of the week that instructed ancient Hebrews how to build a sanctuary. “We will be building a sanctuary too,”she said. How right she was!
Personally I was gratified to see the influence that my alma mater, Thomas Starr King School for the Ministry had in the creation of this conference. Hart-Landsberg, and most of the planning team were SKSM graduates, and SKSM prof Dr. Ibrahim Farajaje' delivered the conference keynote address. (Thank you SKSM and President Rebecca Parker whose discretionary funds made that keynote possible.) Dr. Farajaje's presentation brought to the conference a precious aspect of Starr King culture. Beyond theology, I remember SK as a place that enriched its seminarians with an affirming sense of the sacredness of being. Learning how to bring this quality out in a community or congregational setting was a priceless aspect of preparation for ministry.
The quality of our gathering had many contributors. There was generous hosting of the UU Congretion of Atlanta (UUCA), Rev. Marti Keller, and the UUCA's L'Chaim group for Jewish Awareness. We enjoyed an abundance of Jewish music, the professional support of UUCA's Music director, Donald Milton III and performances by the combined choirs of UUCA and Bet Haverim. (BH is a Reconstructionist Congregation founded by lesbians and gays.)
Dr. Farajaje refered to the conference as a “Shabbaton,” a weekend retreat that focuses on a communal sharing of Shabbat. During the weekend, we shared the “mixities” of how we identify; the communities we belong to or hail from, and what continues to contributes to our journeys toward wholeness. We joined in the sharing of stories, prayers, poems, singing and music. We shared our selves, and were enriched by the sharing. It was an experience that affirmed who we are- beyond and through acquired identities. My partner from our havurah (study group), found the conference as “affirming not because there is a rule that exists among Uus that says we must accept each other, but because I experienced people here as being open, that they actually cared to find out who I am, and that they were willing to share with me something of who they are too.”
Sunday morning before the worship service, we sat and talked about what we had received. We said things like: “I know now that I am not alone.” “I thought being a UU Jew was something that I created.” “ I thought it was a figment of my imagination,” or “something that really wasn't supposed to exist, “ “Until now, I've hidden my love of being Jewishness out of fear of being perceived as cheating on my UU Church” “Many UUs seem to think that identifying as Jewish means that we're not really or fully UU. I'll never believe that again!” Each of us grew in awareness of the profound influence that Judaism, our relationship to Jewish people and cultures has had and continues to have on our living UU tradition. The ripples of our coming together, of our learning and our celebrating our JUUwishness will be felt throughout the UU world!