One of the biggest joys in my new life is getting to know the people that make up different communities. Wednesday night, I arrived home absolutely exhausted in all the right ways from spending a week with the incredible people at NewCAJE 6. I have to say, I feel profoundly inspired.
We welcomed in the Sabbath bride with a beautiful and intimate service followed a morning service (which I was very honored to be a part of) and then finally an engaging Havdalah service led by Saul Kaye. Just after that, I had the opportunity to share some music from the new album and a duet with Saul that he wrote for me called, “Hineni”. It was overwhelming in wonderful ways and that was only the first full day at NewCAJE.
The next night was the “New Country and Americana Sounds in Jewish Music” concert. Taking that stage alongside some of my favorite new artists was such a powerful experience! We told stories, shared struggles, and expressed our Judaism through roots-deep American sounds. One thing that really shook me was how the audience created a very special space through their singing and at times, silence. It was beautiful and it reminded me of one of the things I love so much about Shabbat services – being connected. We were all very connected that night and it was still only the beginning of the conference! I can’t say enough about Saul Kaye and his incredible Neshama. He’s the real deal and I’m very proud to know him as a friend.
The days that followed really showed why it is so important for educators, artists, musicians, clergy, and anyone working in the Jewish world to come to conferences like NewCAJE. The number of workshops was incredible and there was no way to see everything no matter how hard you tried. Every day was filled with classes, all being taught by people who are passionate for Gd, Judaism, Jews, the world, and everything in it. If there was anything you wanted to learn, there was a class for it and a seat saved just for you. It isn’t every day that you can walk into a room and know that you are welcome there and that you were with friends, even if it was your first time meeting someone. I didn’t meet any strangers there. Ellen Allard read a beautiful poem by Rick Lupert that summed up so much. It said that for these five days, it was better to receive than to give. Rick was absolutely right.
I also had the opportunity to teach a class myself and it was the first time presenting “Choosing to be Chosen: What Seekers are Seeking”. We talked about what is bringing people to Judaism, what they are looking for, and how to not push them out of communities. We sang songs about finding the way home to Gd and folks shared personal stories about conversion and converts they know.
Someone said to me a while back that they didn’t like the term “convert” because according to most, when you convert, it is as if you have always been a Jew. I understand that and I feel that. The truth is that I wasn’t a Jew until I completed my Mikvah, despite the fact that my personal thoughts about GD had been aligned for years with what Judaism teaches and that I feel so connected. I don’t mind the term “convert” or “Jew by choice” because that’s exactly what I am and I take absolutely no offense to it. I’m incredibly proud of it and the majority of the songs on this new album are about conversion and the journey to Judaism. To quote the song, “We are all Jews by choice. Every day we make the choice.”
If you are in a position to send people from your community to conferences, please do so. What they back is more powerful than the handouts or notes. You bring back collective experience, wisdom, enthusiasm, empowerment, and the tools to do more good. In my opinion, these conferences are important to the Jewish world for their ability to connect people together and create incredible individual growth. And if that was all they did, that would be enough. These conferences also re-fuel creativity, passion, energy, and enthusiasm. Send your teachers, clergy, artists, volunteers, and anyone else you can. Everyone has something they can bring and will go home with almost more than they can carry.
The people I met at NewCAJE taught me an incredible amount about community, welcoming, and receiving. They are simply amazing and I am over the moon that I had the opportunity to share Shabbat, study, song, and stories with them. Next year, the conference is in Chicago and I cannot wait to reconnect then, and every moment in between, with this new family. Next up, Biennial and then the incredibly awesome SLBC!
Finally, the above mentioned album is coming out soon to everyone who has pre-ordered! If you are interested in pre-ordering Unbroken, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you to the list! Below is a sneak-peek at the production of the album featuring super producer, Saul Kaye.
More on NewCAJE HERE
More on SLBC HERE