Elgin church conference targets restless youths

  • Jonathan Israel Kohn is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel. The Elgin congregation recently voted to leave the Conservative Judaism movement and is now a nondenominational synagogue.

    Jonathan Israel Kohn is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel. The Elgin congregation recently voted to leave the Conservative Judaism movement and is now a nondenominational synagogue. George LeClaire/Daily Herald 2006

Updated 9/24/2011 9:02 AM

Today's youth are looking for identity and purpose in all the wrong places; for many, their search is largely the outcome of absent or ineffective fathering.

That's the contention of Beka Hardt, still a member of the twenty-something demographic herself and one of the coordinators of "Restoring the Fatherless Generation," a round-table conference Oct. 20-22 at Family Life Church in Elgin.


The conference, open to youth ages 15-25, pastors, parents and other adults who care about youth, is the third that Family Life has hosted to address this issue. The second was specifically targeted to young adults, and they opened up.

"I think we really started seeing how kids have lost their identity," Hardt said. "They don't know what their purpose is, and as a church we decided we needed to speak into the destiny of these kids. The visual culture of our society is really telling them who they are, and I think they lose themselves."

Studies show that dads convey identity to their children, Hardt said, but "God is our Father, and he truly can speak that identity into you, too."

Hardt said the upcoming conference will encourage young adults to gain a better sense of who they are and why they are here. She hopes that one fruit of the event will be kids coming together to make a difference in the community.

There also will be plenty of opportunity for young people to voice their opinions, she said.

"The youth have a lot of heavy questions about society," Hardt said. "What's wrong, what's right, how to be a Christian. It's a place where they can lay them out, and it's guided by adults who have overcome some of these issues."

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The conference is set up on two levels: round-table discussions during daytime hours and evening sessions that include worship and guest speakers. Worship on Thursday and Friday will be led by Fue and A Gain of Ten, two local Christian rock bands.

Saturday worship will be led by BarlowGirl, which probably doesn't need an introduction. The Barlow sisters perform on stages all over the world, and Hardt said "it really is honoring" that the girls agreed to the conference during their downtime back home in Elgin.

In addition to leading worship, Alyssa, Lauren and Becca Barlow also will participate in round-table discussion panels, Hardt said.

A registration fee is required for persons who want to be part of the entire event -- except pastors, who are invited to attend for free. The public is welcome to any evening session at no charge.

For more information, visit www.familylifechurch1.com.

Interfaith inspiration: Facing the task of redefining itself, Elgin's Congregation Kneseth Israel could stand to gain from the proverbial wisdom of Solomon.

Inherent in the congregation's recent vote to leave the Conservative Judaism movement and remain unaffiliated is an interesting challenge: to figure out not only what that will mean in terms of membership, but also what a nondenominational service will actually look like.


CKI is not the first synagogue to dispense with labels, but its vision committee turned to an unlikely source -- the Christian megachurch -- in order to get a picture of nondenominationalism.

Spurred by a membership loss that approached 50 percent, committee members found they were open-minded enough to look outside Jewish sources and went to church.

They read "The Purpose Driven Church" by Rick Warren. They interviewed a pastor at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. They attended services at Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel, and they liked what they saw.

"They're very welcoming," said membership chairman Joe Rosenfeld. "The services were lively, the sermons were good, and someone greeted us."

Rosenfeld said he enjoyed the music and would like to see guitars at Shabbat services, but a more important take-away for him was "the ambience," he said.

"The question for us becomes, 'How do we get that feeling in our synagogue?'"

One of the first questions the congregation will have to wrestle, Rosenfeld said, is just who is a Jew anyway?

Conservatives base Jewishness on matrilineal descent, he said. If a mother is Jewish, her child is Jewish. If the mother is not a Jew, the child is not a Jew. But other denominations use a patrilineal principle, and the new congregation will want to seek unity.

Also at issue are questions like, which Gentile-to-Jew conversions will be recognized -- only those who converted to Conservatism or Orthodoxy, the principle CKI had been using; or also Reform converts? And will men and women worship together (Conservative style), or apart (Orthodox)?

All that, and more, remains to be seen for the 120-year-old congregation.

"We now have disaffiliated, so the question becomes, 'What does that mean for the synagogue going forward?'" Rosenfeld said. "It's a challenge and an opportunity."


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