Sign language interpretation was available for several events, as well as pre-ordered kosher lunches. (Though the rest of us could buy food from the concession stand and speakers’ books from a Barnes and Noble stall as well!)
Hundreds of people came out for the seven hour event, featuring 70 lectures from presenters ranging from our own Dr. Erica Brown, scholar-in-residence at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, to internationally known Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
Topics ranged from Israel advocacy to religious quandaries, Jewish cultural arts, and more. At the locally-themed Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, Laura Apelbaum, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, pointed out little-known trends of our city during the Civil War, including the presence of six kosher restaurants, and such Jewish figures as Dr. Charles Liebermann, a former slave owner who was nevertheless called to the president’s death bed.
Four panel discussions also convened, including The Greatest Challenge Facing the Jewish People today, moderated by Dr. James Hyman of PJLL, and featuring Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, senior rabbi at Adas Israel, Esther Safran Foer, director of Sixth & I, Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America, and William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the DC office of the Jewish Federations of North America. The panelists discussed such issues as Jewish funding, and Jewish continuity in the era of the individual. Personally, I was gratified to hear their collective optimism, instead of bemoaning what has changed, they actively looked for ways to become more welcoming to 21st century Jews.
This is just a little sliver of the Jewish learning explored that day; unfortunately, I couldn’t attend more than seven sessions! Stay tuned to my other blog, Chava’s Footsteps, for my thoughts on another lecture on interfaith families.