Post-Conference 2017

By Samara Cogan

Now that I've had time to recover from the whirlwind weekend in Chicago for the annual CSJO conference, I wanted to take some time to explain why I love CSJO conferences so much and why this year's was so wonderful! I'd like to thank everyone at the Secular Jewish Community and School of Oak Park, Ill., for their hard work in putting together this conference. I'd also like to thank the members of CSJO's Board of Directors who assisted in the planning process. 

I've been going to CSJO conferences for over a decade. In fact, I've been attending for so long that I passed through all of the age groups: teen, young adult, older young adult and finally fully fledged adult! The appeal of the conferences has always been the same for me: seeing old friends, making new ones, learning new things, eating good food and expressing my Jewish identity with a group of like-minded people. This last conference incorporated all of these elements.

Some highlights:

1. The Keynotes. Corky Siegel treated the audience to a keynote infused with the sounds of the blues, using both previously recorded music and live performances to punctuate his speech. It was an impressive musical display. The youth keynote speaker, Madi Burns, tapped into our current political climate by looking to the past. By examining the history of Jewish and African American solidarity, using the liberation of concentration camps in WWII and the Civil Rights movement as examples, she urged the audience to consider both how far these groups have come, and how far yet we still have to go.

2. The Food. Dinner at Manny's was certainly a night to remember. I was educated on the difference between egg creams and phosphates, had my fill of both Jewish and American specialties (my dinner of matzo ball soup and mac n' cheese would have made my mother cringe at the lack of vegetables; sorry mom!) and the night was capped off with the sounds of the Dave Specter Blues Trio. I also very much appreciated the variety of dishes provided by campus catering (I’m still having dreams about the grilled pineapple and cream dessert!).

3. The Workshops. As I have come to expect, every workshop I attended at this year's conference was lively and informative. Adam Beardsley's workshop on his work with the organization "If Not Now" broached a very controversial topic, but he handled the moments of tension with grace and led a very productive conversation. Members of the SJCS youth continued a proud and long standing tradition of presenting a workshop that covered LGBT+ topics, which was very well attended by both youth and adult participants. Elisa Lapine's workshop chronicled the beginnings of the Secular Jewish Community and School in Oak Park. It was absolutely fascinating to hear about the "creation myth" of a flourishing community. 

All in all, this year's conference encompassed everything I love about CSJO: learning, music, community, Jewishness and so much more. I hope to see all of you at the conference next year!


"Ma nish-ta-nah ha-lai-lah ha-zeh…."

By Joan Kurtz

If you recognize these words, you know that you must be at a seder, celebrating Passover. I heard these words, as well as read them, at a community seder held in my town of Easthampton, Mass. The director of the local community center and I offered a min-seder to anyone in the community who wanted to learn, participate and sample the foods that are on the seder plate. We used a haggadah I created for my fifth grade class when I taught at a Jewish secular school on Long Island, N.Y., more than 15 years ago.

There were 16 people who attended our mini-seder, including one Jewish family who could not hold their own seder since the mother just had a baby. All deemed it a success, with the charoset being chosen as the best and the maror (horseradish) the least favorite food, though "It did clear my sinuses," stated one of the participants with a smile.

The director said that she would have had more attendees if we had also offered a full meal with the mini-seder. Maybe next year...?

Jewish Community Building as Resistance

By Adam Beardsley

Upon moving to Washington, D.C., I made an effort to find a Jewish community to be a part of. I was able to find one pretty quickly. I joined a group called If Not Now, which focuses mostly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and creating a discussion within the American Jewish community that will hopefully change the American Jewish attitude towards Israel.

While If Not Now has done some great stuff to help start this conversation, I think one of the most important things If Not Now has done is give a few thousand (mostly young) Jews across the country a liberal Jewish community where they can talk about politics. We have joined each other for weekly Shabbat dinners where we have discussed everything from job searches to politics to comparing our own Jewish traditions.

During these dinners, we have built a community: a community that has already proven willing and able to fight for what is right; a community that welcomes Jews regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or how religious one is; a community that just by existing — by being a stable, accepting community in a time of such hatred and confusion — is resisting in a wonderful way.

This type of community is not unique to If Not Now. I have felt it at the Jewish Children’s Folkshul in Philadelphia, and I have felt it at CSJO. I hope you all have found this type of community, whether it is at your shul, with a group of friends, or just for a few hours around a Seder table this past week.

I look forward to seeing, and resisting with, all of you at the 2017 CSJO Conference in June.