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Chitchatting Over Challah Toast
By ISJL Education Fellow Josh Altshuler
The ISJL Education Conference boasts many valuable opportunities for educators, rabbis, and other attendees. From quality speakers to workshops, participants boost their knowledge on a variety of subjects. But sometimes, the most memorable moments during the conference occur over meals! Dining participants meet new people every meal as seat assignments alternate throughout the three days of programming. Whether this detail prompts excitement or tension, this article is here to help. Below are some suggestions for starting a meaningful conversation at the conference table. Schmoozing does not need to be an awkward affair—hopefully, these topics can spark a chance for networking or, even better, a blossoming friendship.
My Jewish Moment
What does everyone at your table have in common? Likely, each person has a significant Jewish experience that inspired their life path. B’nei Mitzvah, trips abroad, weddings, and even mundane Shabbat dinners influence our outlook and values. Recalling these fond episodes or traditions starts a conversation on a warm, personable note. The Jewish journey is a notion that applies to all conference attendants as they inquire how to engage and develop their communities. Listening to the notable memories of fellow educators expands our commitment to contributing to impactful Jewish lives.
What Brought You Here?
While a simple inquiry, this question is the ultimate icebreaker at the conference. Teachers and clergy attend the conference for more than the obvious “my synagogue asked me to” rationale. First-time participants may seek a crash course on the ISJL, while returners may hope to hone a particular skill or gain access to more creative instructive resources. Attendants often even wish to share notes on another year in the southern Jewish classroom. Whatever your reason, the meal table is the perfect space to compare intentions over the packed days of learning.
Facing a Challenge
Another shared attribute of ISJL partner communities are their southern roots. The South offers a unique Jewish environment for celebration and culture, but it also poses certain risks. From natural disasters to social stigmas, Jewish congregations regularly deal with trauma. Conference is an event that inspires unity in spite of these serious issues. Many of the faces around the table have personally encountered similar circumstances and, as a result, are empathetic and supportive listeners. Enhanced by the comforts of delicious food, the mealtime conversation can lead to proactive steps to bridge communal resources and strengthen resilience.
Here are some other potential questions that may lead to productive and enjoyable meals:
Food brings people together! The conversations that occur at the conference not only enrich the festive experience, but they also reinforce the enthusiasm and energy that participants bring back into the classroom. With so much talking and relationship-building, just remember to chew with your mouth closed!