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Conservative rabbis to hold world assembly in Baltimore


Conservative rabbis from throughout the world will gather in Baltimore in April to discuss social, political and religious issues affecting the Jewish community, during the 99th annual convention of The Rabbinical Assembly.

This is the first time The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, will meet here. Convening at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel from April 25 to 29, it is meeting in Baltimore because Rabbi Seymour Essrog, who leads Beth Shalom Congregation in Carroll County, is president of the 1,500- member organization.

"We want Baltimore's Jewish community to be a showcase to the rabbis of the world," said Rabbi Mark G. Loeb of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, the convention chairman. The rabbis will take a bus tour of Jewish Baltimore, from its roots in East Baltimore, Reservoir Hill and lower Park Heights -- where many former synagogues are Christian churches -- to today's community in upper Park Heights and Pikesville.

In previous years, members of The Rabbinical Assembly wrestled with controversy, such as whether to ordain homosexuals to the rabbinate, but few issues are before this year's convention, which has as its theme, "Facing a New Century: Challenges to Faith," Loeb said.

The convention, he said, will let religious leaders and scholars "explain where we've come from and where we're going to determine how the patterns we see in American religious life are playing themselves out among Jews."

One such pattern is the increasing desire, particularly among younger Jews, to move beyond observance of commandments and ritual to a more personal, spiritual or mystical religious experience.

The desire is borne out in the increasing interest in kabbalah, the body of Jewish mystical writings and teachings. In response, a plenary session will be held on "The Renewed Yearning and Search for God -- A New Jewish Spirituality?" A panelist is Baltimore-born author and poet Rodger Kamenetz, whose books include "The Jew in the Lotus, A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India," and "Stalking Elijah: Adventures with Today's Jewish Mystical Masters."

In the convention's keynote address, historian and author Arthur Hertzberg, who grew up in Jewish East Baltimore, will examine feelings of anticipation and angst among Christians at the end of their second millennium and the effects on Jews.

In a plenary "The Chancellor and the Cardinal," Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and Cardinal William H. Keeler will engage "in a discussion about issues that bind us and strain us in the Christian and Jewish communities," Loeb said.

Pub Date: 2/09/99

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