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January/February 2020 - Message from the Rabbi


I just returned from the URJ Biennial Convention in Chicago with 6 of our TABI members. As always, the biennial was exhilarating, emotion, informative and challenging. Many of the themes we spoke about at the High Holy Days were discussed at great length; the contracting of the size of our congregations, the disappearance of the Millennial generation from organized Jewish life, the rise of anti-Semitism in the US and the world, the need for security in our congregations and more. These were difficult discussions. There was also so much that was so hopeful on display; the power of our young people in NFTY and High School programs working towards justice and tackling huge issues, program innovations in congregations with ideas that we can implement at TABI, audacious hospitality and inclusion on display - not only at the convention but in many congregations, Reform Judaism responding to social justice concerns in our country and more.

At a biennial, our delegation divides and goes to individual workshops full of ideas to bring back to TABI. Among the workshops I attended were sessions on: Anti-Semitism, Building a Culture of Creative Thinking, Genetic Engineering, Surviving Millennials, Jewish Philanthropy and Civic Responsibility, Freedom Speech from the Pulpit and more.

When we weren’t in individual sessions, we were in the Plenary sessions hearing from amazing speakers such as Governor JB Pritzer, Dr. Andrew Rehfeld, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Isaac Herzog, Jodi Kantor from the NY Times, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt and more.

At the Plenary session important resolutions were adopted as well – some of which you may have read about in the National News. Resolutions passed dealt with Anti-Semitism, Reparations for Slavery and Systemic Racism, Against Private prisons, Support for those affected by the Opioid Crisis.

Some of the most powerful moments at the Biennial occur in the midst of worship. When 5,000 people gather for prayer – and everyone knows the words, sings and dances – it is a very moving experience. The music certainly reflected the music changes we have made at TABI, the fact that no books and no paper was used reflects the changes in our “Visual Tefilah” service which we do once a month. There were two very powerful moments during worship for me. The first occurred when a Holocaust Torah (originally from Prague) which had been used at Kutz Camp for 40 years was placed in the arms of a rabbinic student who will be ordained this spring and will be serving the first Synagogue to open in Prague since WWII. The second occurred when I turned to see tears of joy on the face of our President Elissa Bakke who was experiencing Biennial for the first time. I had tried to prepare her for how overwhelming worship can be amidst 5,000 people – but there was no way to adequately put that in words. When dancing broke out during the Torah procession, Elissa was right in there with the dancers and her joy was palpable.

Biennial energizes all who attend. It is my hope that in the months ahead, much of what we learned in theory can begin to find its way into our worship, programming and social justice initiatives here at TABI.


Gary A. Mazo, Rabbi