The many benefits of lifelong learning


I’m a lifelong learner. I really hope that this will keep my mind sharp for many years to come. And it doesn’t hurt my ability to do my job as editor, either. I don’t think you can be a journalist – or do many other jobs, for that matter – without having a certain amount of curiosity. And curiosity leads to learning.

This curiosity took me to Boston for the Union for Reform Judaism’s 2017 Biennial, which was held Dec. 6-10 at the Hynes Convention Center.

I don’t have many opportunities for professional development. Journalism conferences, for the most part, are too far away and expensive for a small newspaper like ours. So this was a treat: A conference that was reachable by train, on topics relevant to our readership. Plus, members of the Reform congregations in Rhode Island participated in the biennial by attending, by serving on the local program advisory committee and by speaking.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Jew, when you attend a gathering as large as this one, it’s inspirational. Registration for the conference closed at 6,000 attendees. That’s a lot of people, all concentrated in the Hynes Center. The buzz, conversations, workshops, forums and plenaries were fascinating. The program was packed (the program booklet itself was 235 pages).

Between my personal schedule and commitments for the paper, I was only able to attend one full day on-site. Key parts of the conference were live-streamed, so I tuned into several of those. This is where technology really serves us well – I listened to the Friday morning keynote address after attending during the day on Thursday. So I knew the crowd size and the venue. The live-stream included the crowd noise, and the camera panned the crowd. I could get an idea of the energy, and was able to hear the speaker well.

On the day I attended, I sat in on a session about Jewish teens, “Yes, Teens Still Love Going to Temple: A Deep Dive into Post B’nai Mitzvah Engagement.” Speakers included Temple Beth-El’s Rabbi Sarah Mack, Joie Magnone and Rachel Mersky Woda, along with representatives from Temple Sinai near Atlanta and Temple Chayai Shalom, in South Easton, Massachusetts. The room, which held about 100 people, was full for the 75-minute session about how to engage and keep teens coming back after B’nai Mitzvah. The three congregations are considered innovators in this area and those attending this session were there to learn.

The other highlight of my day was a much larger session featuring a conversation with social action innovator Al Vorspan and Rabbi David Saperstein. These men have been leaders in the Reform movement’s social justice efforts for decades. Vorspan is 94. Their reflections on the past 50 years, including the civil rights movement, and the world today were fascinating.

You can read more about the conference, written by the JTA news service, on page 1.

My takeaway from all this? Never miss an opportunity to dive into an event such as this one. A lot of learning came out of those few days, and I’m sure that many of those attending left reenergized and inspired, as I did.

Every mind needs some of that every so often.