The placard near the escalator of New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel directed seekers up to the ballroom level for the founding convention of Edah, the fledgling voice of Orthodox liberalism. Stenciled below the arrow in bold blue letters, as if to fortify the fainthearted, was the slogan: "The Courage to Be Modern and Orthodox."
Upstairs, a crowd of some 1,200 Orthodox Jews -- triple the organizers' expectations -- milled about in an atmosphere almost giddy with excitement. After years of retreating before rising religious and political conservatism in the Orthodox community, they had come from across North America to reignite the moderate spirit of what used to be called Modern Orthodoxy.
"It's an amazing outpouring," said Rabbi Chaim Seidler Feller, Hillel director at UCLA. "The Modern Orthodox community has come out in droves to cry out, 'We are here; we can't be ignored any longer.'"
Edah was formed two years ago to press for greater tolerance and openness in the Orthodox community. Run on a shoestring budget out of a tiny Manhattan office, the group sponsors lectures and seminars and runs a controversial internship program for Yeshiva University rabbinic students. The conference was its debut as a national membership organization.