Every year, the first Sunday after the New Year, about 150 rabbis converge on Palm Springs. No, we are not here for the Film Festival. Although, I must admit, I have stolen away to one film a few years ago with Jill. Instead, we are here to recharge our batteries, be inspired, inspire each other, and return to our home congregations with new life, new visions, and new breath.
This year I feel more connected with this conference unlike any other year. This is the first year since becoming the Senior Rabbi for Temple Beth Sholom that I have been able to be here for the full conference. (Granted, the conference goes until Thursday, but it seems that many of us leave Wednesday afternoon/evening because of other work commitments. It’s hard to be on winter vacation for two weeks and then say, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t be in the office for another few days.’)
But there is something about this year that has moved me more than any other year. I am walking out of sessions inspired to return to the congregational family with new ideas and goals we should aspire to achieve.
As my colleague mentioned on our walk back from dinner – it’s like every person who has gotten up to speak about his or her cause is speaking with more passion than ever before. And we, the listener, want to take it back with us and infuse it into our congregations, right now!
Infusion has to be a process though and has to take time to develop and carefully integrate into our already dynamic Jewish life. I find that I want to challenge the congregation to consider what Rabbis Steve Fox and Debbie Prinz asked us to do – ask yourself what worries you about the future? What are the things that most concern you and where do you want to see change in your life in the next few years? This does not have to necessarily be Jewish concern, but being rabbis, it tended to lead itself right back to that area.
Then there is the location of this gathering. The beautiful desert setting of Palm Springs. Again, this year, things seemed a bit different. I noticed more the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful place.
For this first time in 12 years, I finally took the Torah Trek with Rabbi Mike Cummins. I am excited that we are doing more Shabbat hikes with TBS and this was an opportunity to learn from a master Jewish hiker. Together with two fellow trekkers, we drove out to the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. Our hike took us on the Andreas Canyon Trail – winding through a canyon of granite, palm trees, and streams. The sights and smells of each step were incredible and I felt connected to not only the world around me, but God as well. As Mike suggests, if you can’t see God in this place, maybe it’s more that God can’t see you.
And just when you think the night is over and you’re ready to go to sleep, the guitars come out, the voices rise up and rabbis serenade the few other hotel guests who share the space with us. No, the text is not always Talmud or Torah. It is also James Taylor, Peter, Paul and Mary, and even a Bob Dillan song thrown in for good measure.
I am refreshed, I am inspired, and I am ready. A few more hours of study, prayer and friends and I get to take it all back home to share.
Yes, I like Rabbi Conferences – especially PARR.
PS you can follow us on Twitter at #parr10. 🙂