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.
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!