Rabbi David Ellenson was among dozens of Jewish writers and thinkers who met in Utah to explore questions of Jewish identity. "Why Be Jewish?," a three-day conference this week sponsored by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, opened Sunday in Park City. Jewish professionals, rabbis, academics and writers are studying Jewish texts as a basis for sharing ideas about how to energize the next generation of American Jews. "We have gathered a rather eclectic mix of people, each of whom has a particular perspective," said Dana Raucher, the foundation's executive director. "Each of these people has influence somewhere. They will hopefully be enriched by what takes place and will take the conversation home with them." Conference coordinator Rabbi Eliyahu Stern said the gathering is inspired by "the hope of changing Jewish identity discussions from an issue of the quantity of Jews to a more substantive conversation on the quality, content and core values that animate Jewish life." This first identity conference is part of the Bronfman Vision Forum, a recently announced umbrella for the various outreach and Jewish learning initiatives developed over the past few years by foundation president Edgar Bronfman.
Rabbi Ellenson reported that "the conference brought together a wide array of outstanding professors, writers, communal professionals, foundation executives, and distinguished laypersons from Israel, Europe, and North America to focus on the issue, "Why be Jewish?" Study sessions led by notable academics, rabbis, and public intellectuals were the centerpiece of the conference and this emphasis on study made this type of gathering unique. While a general consensus emerged that novel ways of engaging Jews and redefining the borders and boundaries of the Jewish people are necessary at this moment in Jewish history, there was an equally strong sense that such innovations and redefinitions must be anchored in the cultural, textual, and spiritual resources of the Jewish tradition."