With the opening today at the Baltimore Convention Center of the 61st General Assembly of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Boris "Bo" O'Mansky can savor the realization of a dream.
"Starting in 1975, I lobbied hard to bring the assembly here," says O'Mansky.
Bo knows lobbying. Which is why he's overseeing local arrangements for the biennial gathering of up to 4,000 Reform Jewish lay people and clergy from the United States and Canada.
The five-day event is being held in Baltimore for the first time. Its theme is "The Reform Jew: Values, Practices and Visions."
Now that O'Mansky can watch his efforts bear fruit, he feels "exhausted, but elated."
"A lot of people have worked very hard for this," says the Pikesville pediatrician, long active in UAHC affairs.
The UAHC represents 1.5 million Reform Jews at about 850 congregations in the U.S. and Canada. Of the three major Jewish movements, including the Orthodox and Conservative branches, Reform Judaism generally is the most liberal in social, political and theological matters.
After the announcement in 1985 that Baltimore would host this year's assembly, O'Mansky assembled a 50-person steering committee from members of four Baltimore Reform synagogues -- Temple Oheb Shalom, Temple Emanuel, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Har Sinai Congregation.
From 10 Reform synagogues in Maryland, Delaware and Washington, O'Mansky also put together a staff of 500 volunteers to handle various tasks in and around the Convention Center this weekend.
O'Mansky is a member of Baltimore Hebrew. In the synagogue's weekly bulletin, Rabbi Murray Saltzman recently acclaimed the "soft-spoken but steel-willed . . . man of vision."
During the assembly, those participating will attend about 130 workshops on topics including AIDS, substance abuse, bioethics, suicide prevention, cults and missionaries, music, and unaffiliated Jews.
The delegates will offer and consider resolutions to shape official Reform policy on issues such as the environment, violence against women, a national energy strategy, women rabbis and gay and lesbian Jews.
Another resolution supports the current Mideast peace conference in Madrid, which Saltzman says "will be on everyone's mind at the Convention Center."
However, the positions of this assembly, as at previous assemblies, probably will emerge from a speech by the UAHC president. Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler will give his presidential address Saturday morning. Then a special committee will synthesize his remarks into a platform to be voted on and probably accepted by the delegates.
Rabbi Donald Berlin of Temple Oheb Shalom, a member of the Committee on the President's Message, says the address is "the most important part" of the resolution process.
According to Saltzman, any resolution that Schindler doesn't support "won't stand much of a chance" of passage.
An unprecedented feature of this assembly is its setting in a large convention center, with the delegates scattered among seven downtown hotels. In the past, one hotel usually would serve as both meeting place and home base for the conventioneers, an arrangement that was "claustrophobic," says O'Mansky.
Another first is the convention of the National Association of Temple Educators occurring at the same time and place as the UAHC assembly. Also meeting downtown this weekend are the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods and the board of the National Federation of Temple Brotherhoods.