Extreme Sports: Celebrating Brit Shalom at Reform Judaism Conference
In early November, my co-author Rebecca Wald and I attended the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial conference in Orlando, Florida. We were there to showcase Celebrating Brit Shalom, the first-ever book for Jewish families opting out of circumcision. Thanks to the backing of several generous donors, we were able to secure a booth in the conference’s exhibition hall and have display materials made, ensuring that our book would be seen by the thousands of Reform rabbis, cantors and lay leaders in attendance.
Reform Judaism, the branch of Judaism with which the most American Jews identify, is a progressive movement making tremendous efforts to be welcoming and inclusive. These efforts, which are widely perceived as strengthening the community, were to be the focus of the conference. So Rebecca and I created our display materials to tap into the theme of inclusion, with our own twist, of course: a call for open welcome of non-circumcising families in Jewish life.
With this as our premise, we were able to engage in many wonderful discussions and largely defuse those conversations that would otherwise have gotten heated and unproductive. Besides having our book available for sale, we had prepared a flyer laying out concrete steps that Reform clergy and institutions can take in order to send a clear message of inclusion to families opting out of circumcision. We gave out many dozens of these flyers (and gifted a number of books, too). Though a few visitors were less than friendly, the vast majority were respectful, and many were able to take part in thoughtful dialogue about the inclusion element and about our book. We were fortunate to have the help of the inimitable and tireless Martin Novoa, who added greatly to the conversation and was with us for most of the conference.
Since I’m an active member of a Reform congregation, I was eager to engage as many rabbis as possible. One highlight for me was a conversation with the president of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs. He took the time to look over our posters and materials, bought a book, and seemed particularly interested in our photo collage of brit shalom families—Jewish parents opting out of circumcision but holding a ceremony. I was able to explain to Rabbi Jacobs that our graphic designer (David J. Bernstein, who graciously donated his services) wasn’t even able to use all the families’ photos that we had given him to work with—in other words, that brit shalomis a growing trend.
In recent years, we’ve been hearing about athletic endeavors that demand a combination of speed, height, danger, and stunts, known collectively as “extreme sports.” That’s not exactly my milieu, but I realized that attending this conference with Celebrating Brit Shalom was my own personal version of extreme sport. Demanding, invigorating, exhausting, exhilarating—just the fact of our being there was a huge victory.
I’m a very engaged participant in Jewish life, and am grateful to be part of a tradition that at its heart invites intellectual and spiritual inquiry. I feel proud that so many of the attendees understood and appreciated our deepening the Jewish conversation about this highly-charged issue.
Please read Rebeccas terrific piece about our experience, which describes some of our interactions in detail.