I’m a grandmother of 12 (!) and my college years are long gone, but the memories remain. Last week while being quarantined and extremely bored, I reminisced about our college years with my husband of almost 47 years whom I met in college. Then an idea took shape. I wanted to initiate a Zoom call with friends and acquaintances from ATID, the now defunct college age program of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism. Some of these college friends I still speak with but most have disappeared as I have for them. I posted a Zoom invitation on Facebook for a call a few days later. My hope was that perhaps just a handful might see this and we could connect.
Instead, through the power of the internet, I received text messages, emails and phone calls from at least 2 dozen people, many of whom I didn’t know or more accurately, didn’t remember. To be sure that none were scammers, I simply asked what years they were members of ATID (“ATIDniks” as we called ourselves), knowing that if they claimed to be members anytime after the late 80’s to today they would be excluded, since unfortunately ATID disbanded at the beginning of the 80’s, not due to lack of interest, but lack of financial support within the Conservative Movement. But that’s another story.
My first experience as a Zoom Moderator went well, with approximately 45 ATID Alumni on the call from all over the USA, Canada, Israel, The Czech Republic and England. Some of the ATIDniks were before my time and shared how ATID came into being through the efforts of Dr. Morton Siegel z’l and Rabbi Paul & Nina Freedman. Someone challenged us by asking if we knew the acronym for ATID (I forgot) and it was “Al Torah yakum doreinu” – the foundation of our generation is Torah. Next challenge – who created the name and the acronym? Dr Siegel z”l was credited with the name and Nina Freedman coined the acronym. We were fortunate that both Rabbi Paul & Nina were on the call from their Jerusalem home.
Everyone who wanted to shared brief details about the last 40+ years of their lives – most with wonderful milestones, some with sorrow. One of our alumnae had 7 tours of duty in the American Military and she has several close friends who passed away over these last several weeks from the Corona Virus. We shared sad news of ATID Alumni who have passed away in previous years. Many of us commented on the recent death from the Corona Virus of a great Jewish Educator whom many of us knew. One of our Alumni was not able to be on this call because, despite his young age (60’s) he’s been in a nursing home due to a debilitating illness.
On the call were Rabbis, Jewish Educators, Jewish communal professionals, involved lay leaders from Conservative and Orthodox communities. Everyone is still leading an involved Jewish life. All confirmed that ATID solidified their Jewish identity while in college which has continued til today.
This Zoom meeting was also about confirming the memories of our college years, decades ago, at a time when the Conservative Movement was flourishing. Someone mentioned “ATS” (ATID Torah Symposium) that was held every Spring at the former Weiss’ Farm in Central New Jersey – probably condos or modern homes today. Registration would be full weeks before ATS simply because there was no more room at the Farm and yet at least 100 of us would gather for a Shabbat of study, a Saturday Motzei Shabbat campfire and talent show and more learning on Sunday morning before we all sadly parted from each other.
My time in ATID was at the beginning of the Chavura Movement and the concept of Torah study and friendship on a college level was unique at that time. ATID was different from Hillel or other Jewish college organizations in that our unique foundation was grounded in the Conservative Movement. Our ATS, Encampment, Convention and Shabbaton speakers were often Professors from The Jewish Theological Seminary. Women’s Liberation, Civil Rights and the Viet Nam War were on all of our minds and we discussed, argued and debated these issues within a Jewish context. One memorable ATS had a member who was about to enlist and serve in Viet Nam debate with one of our “hippie” members. Although there was no real resolution I remember that they hugged each other at the end and we sang Lo Yisa Goy El Goy Cherev – May There Be No More War.
After almost 90 minutes it was time to end our Zoom meeting although the conversations could have continued for hours. All of us felt a bond for the meaningful experiences we shared so many decades ago.
Did it take this pandemic for us to reach out to each other? Would it be that we can find other such meaningful times to connect with each other, not only to validate our memories but to affirm that our actions mattered to us and to the future Jewish community.
The energy, commitment and knowledge of this group should be harnessed by leadership within the Conservative Movement. “A (Jewish) mind is a terrible thing to waste” – with liberties taken from the United Negro College Fund – circle 1972!
Stay safe & healthy!