Thursday, December 15, 2011

Trafalgar Square

The wonderful and entirely overwhelming thing about Biennial is that, if you stand in one place long enough, you will run into everyone you've ever connected with. Everyone you went to summer camp. Every synagogue president you ever interviewed with. Former congregants. Colleagues. Classmates. Family. EVERYONE. You want a 'Standing at Sinai' moment? Stand in the lobby outside the exhibit hall at 4pm on the first day.

So as you can tell, I made it in (finally), made it to my consultation with my phenomenal president, got to have dinner with some colleagues, caught up with family and friends, saw the evening Plenary (best line from Theodore Bickel, honored tonight with the first Debbie Friedman Award: that she reminded us that Judaism is OURS, not THEIRS and sometimes ours), and went to a bunch of dessert receptions. I had the particularly joyful-but-awkward experience of catching up with my congregants and then having my former congregants love bomb me (which was delightful, but a little like having your ex-girlfriend meet your wife). I got to hang out with people I almost never see otherwise. And now it's quarter to 1, I am well and truly exhausted, but can't quite bring myself to go to sleep.

What's really amazing is the sense of "Biennial time" as well. I have to remind myself that I'm in Washington (well, just outside), and not in San Francisco or Phoenix (in terms of time change). It's a little (I imagine) like being in a casino: the temperature is always 72, the ambient light is constant, the rooms all look the same. It could be 5pm or 11pm, the energy level is the same and you have to pace yourself carefully.

It's clear that the URJ worked REALLY hard on this conference, and the sheer number of people, even for a biennial, is overwhelming. A the same time, as wonderful as the facilities are, it has the feel of a Potemkin Village (or at least a theme park): the hotel and conference center are like a fake town, surrounded on the outside by an equally artificial city. Like they cut part of Baltimore's Inner Harbor or Old Town Alexandria out and dropped it off here.

OK, starting to get random. Going to bed. Looking forward to dinner with congregants, lunch with my former senior, checking out the exhibit hall, going to some sessions (!) and catching up with more people, watching the waves of wonderful folks wash ashore.

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