2005 Voices of the past, Visions of the future by Denora Knecht

Good morning! As you are no doubt aware, this weekend’s theme is “Voices of Our Past, Visions of the Future.” I’m going to try and give you a little of both, but from a slightly less experienced perspective than our previous two speakers. Truthfully, I don’t think you can have a perfect “vision” of the future. You can set goals, have hopes and dreams, and make plans, but in my experience, you can’t ever be sure of what will happen. You can only make estimations based on what’s happened in the past. In 1992 I went to my very first CSJO conference, held in Windsor, and my roommate was Miss Jodi Goldfinger. Now most, if not all of you have met Jodi, and if you haven’t, you should make that one of your goals this weekend. She’s outgoing, bubbly, and absolutely the most optimistic and happy person you’ll ever meet.

I couldn’t stand her.

She and I were polar opposites. She was fun, and upbeat, and made friends instantly. I was quiet and shy, and made almost no friends at all. I tried my best to avoid her. That year I also experienced doing a workshop for the first time. And by experienced, I mean I passed out the handout and Jamie and Kevin Zwick did all the talking. I’m pretty sure it was the only workshop I went to that year. The rest of the time I slept, or watched the older kids play the Name Game. I went home from the conference that year telling my mom that I never wanted to go back, never wanted to see Jodi Goldfinger again, and never EVER wanted to do another workshop.

So, completely respecting my decision not to go back, my mom dragged me to the 1993 conference in Philadelphia. I hate to admit it, but I’m glad she did. That conference was one of the best experiences of my life. Now, some of you will want to know why it was one of the best. Honestly, I don’t know. To this day, I can’t really pinpoint what exactly hooked me. I remember South Street and some badass Philly cheese steak sandwiches, some LA kid who got his nose pierced, the ongoing “You have an accent.” “No, YOU have an accent” conversations. And of course, the ever popular debates on which is better, Canada or the United States? But something about that conference grabbed me, and I was sad to go back home, and already excited about coming back the next year.

So, I came back, again and again. And in 1996, in Toronto, I attended what I consider the best workshop I’ve ever attended at any conference, bar none. The funny part is, if you go back and look at the programming schedule, you won’t find that workshop on it. In fact, it wasn’t anything official. A bunch of teens and young adults ended up sitting around an outdoor table talking about why we were Jewish. Because our parents were Jewish? Because we “felt” Jewish? And what exactly does Jewish feel like? Am I really Jewish if I only participate because my parents make me? It felt like someone finally had put into words, what I had been questioning for a long time. We never came to a conclusion that day, and I suspect we never will. Everyone is going to answer that question differently for their own situation. But, at least we knew that there were other people feeling the same way as we did.

At some point in my CSJO experience, and for the life of me, I can’t remember when, I started getting interested in being a representative to the Executive Board. It was probably 8 or 9 years ago that I ran for Teen Alternate Rep to the Board and won! I was so excited. I’d never been to a board meeting before, and oh goody, wouldn’t that be fun. Yeah, not so much. See, the Board Meeting, B-O-A-R-D meeting, could certainly have been changed to the Bored Meeting, B-O-R-E-D meeting. Now, let me give you a little history as to why.

Before I had even started coming to conferences, the adult’s attitude toward the “kids” was not a positive one. Now when I say “kids” I’m referring to conference participants ages 13-25, that composed the Teen and Young Adult groups. It was very much a “Aren’t they cute when they’re quiet, and far away from me” type attitude. Relations between the adults and kids got so bad that the Teen/Young Adult Liaison position was created to act as a referee between the two groups. Back then the kids had only two seats on the Executive Board: one delegate for the Teens and one for the Young Adults. As such, the kids weren’t really paid attention to. We’d make suggestions, and be ignored. We’d ask questions, and get patronized. So, it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

The worst part, for me at least, was the comments about nepotism. Several years in a row the Teens and Young Adults that were selected for board positions happened to have parents that were also on the board. So the word nepotism was widely used, which absolutely made me crazy. Nepotism insinuates that we got our positions because of who our parents were. Sorry, but that’s not true. We were elected by our peers, not our parents. I consider that continuity. We’re continuing what our parents taught us.

Now, flash forward to 2005, Toronto and my 14th consecutive conference. Jodi has not only been my roommate for the past five years, she’s one of my best friends, and is even flying all the way to California in three weeks for my wedding. If you’d asked me 14 years ago what my visions of the future were, they undoubtedly would not have included Jodi Goldfinger.

Today, the attitude toward the kids has also drastically changed. We’re now looked at as CSJO’s future. We’re accepted as equals, despite the fact that we do find entertainment in playing Frisbee at 3 in the morning. Comments are made to the effect of “Won’t she be a great Executive Director?” or “He’s going to make a fabulous CSJO chairperson.” Today we have seven seats on the Executive Board. A delegate and alternate for the Teens, Young Adults, and our newest group, the Older Young Adults, as well as a representative on the Executive Committee. We’re paid attention to in board meetings. We are treated fairly and equally to other groups. We have our own set of bylaws that govern our elections and our membership.

We have made so much progress in the short amount of time that I’ve been coming to conferences, it’s hard to imagine what we can do by the time my children are involved. I had little difficulty coming up with my hopes for our future:

  • I hope we can stop waging a war with our own people and instead create a partnership with other similarly minded organizations.
  • I hope we can construct a united front for Secular Humanistic Judaism, for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to enjoy.
  • I hope we can be more accepting of our differences, encouraging of our youth, and open with our ideas.
  • I hope the youth will have patience with the experienced, and the experienced will have patience with the youth.
  • I hope the new people will learn from the veterans, and the veterans will learn from the new people.
  • I hope that Jodi Goldfinger, Rob Kurtz, Sam Ruben, Jen Knecht, and all the close friends I made will still be here with me in another 10 years.
  • I hope that Roberta Feinstein, Gerry Revzin, Hershl Hartman, Karen Knecht, and all the people I’ve come to respect and look up to will still be here with me in another 10 years.
  • I hope CSJO will be as addicting to my kids as it has been to me.
  • I hope every one of you has visions for CSJO’s future. Because without all of us, CSJO has no future.