Lorianne picked me up at noon on Friday. We drove down to Lee, picknicked on Subway sandwiches under a tree, and continued on the road. We got a little bit lost somewhere in the Montclair-Passaic corridor, and drove around some fascinating parts of town, spotting Indian grocery stories alongside kosher markets, Orthodox men in black kippot.
Eventually we found the Wellesley Inn & Suites in Clifton, and as soon as we walked in I recognized David and Alex (from Faith in Public Life) and Thurman ( Xpatriated Texan) -- they looked exactly as I had imagined from their voices in our frequent conference calls! We dropped our bags, changed clothes, and turned around to head to the conference center. That was a wild adventure; we took a few wrong turns and wound up headed for Paterson! But in the end we made it to the conference center just in time for the evening to begin. (Now Lorianne knows that I'm capable of getting lost on my way out of the proverbial paper bag.)
The conference center is gorgeous. We're on the top floor of the building, with enormous windows looking out over campus, town, and ultimately the New York City skyline.
We mingled and met each other and exclaimed as we put faces with names. Harriet and Lorianne and I rearranged some chairs so we could sit in a circle for services. Thurman made some beautiful opening remarks (read them here), and then I led the evening service with able help from Harriet (who has a beautiful singing voice). It was a pleasure to introduce this group to the basics of Jewish worship, which I feel good about. And though we didn't have a minyan for bar'chu (the call to prayer), we were able to pause and look around the circle and see a reflection of God in all of the faces...
Reb Arthur contributed a spur-of-the-moment drash to the mourner's kaddish -- he talked about the custom in the communities he inhabits, of adding words to the last line, so that instead of merely being a prayer that the Holy Blessed One make peace for us and for all Israel, it becomes a prayer that God make peace for us, for all Israel, for the children of Ishmael, and for all who dwell on earth. There's a lot of power in that, especially now, as the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael continue to be at each others' throats... We re-spoke the last line in the way he had taught, which was deeply moving.
And then we sang "Mah Yafeh Hayom," and broke for dinner! We filled three big round tables (eventually a fourth, as more folks arrived late). At my table we talked about Thurman's speech, and the history of abolitionist work in this country; about international travel; about seminaries and scripture interpretation; about how bizarre it is that so many of us are Diaspora Texans; about the Talmud and the parables in the Gospels and how they intersect. It was, in a word, fabulous.
The first (annual?) Progressive Faith Blog Con is a reality! What could be cooler than that?