First-Timer's Guide

Hey, Biennial Newbie: 4 Sample Itineraries for Every Convention Experience

Not sure how to navigate your way through the Biennial schedule? Here are sample itineraries from past attendees who are already planning their own 2019 URJ Biennial experience. In each sample itinerary below, you’ll find valuable insider tips for first-timers, including explanations, considerations, and more. Check out the full Biennial schedule to start planning your time at the Biennial. 

Want to connect with other Biennial attendees, including fellow first-timers? Be sure to join the Biennial 2019 group in The Tent, where you can ask questions, plan to meet up with others, and be the first to receive programming updates and other announcements as they become available.

Join a first-timers webinar:

  • Monday, December 2, at 8 - 9 PM ET

  • Biennial 2019 Chair, Alec Harris of Chicago Sinai Congregation

  • Biennial 2019 Vice Chair Anndee Levy of Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles

  • Biennial Director, Mark Pelavin

Register for the webinar here>>


You can also plan to join us for one or both of our Biennial First-Timers Meetups, held Wednesday, Dec. 11, and Friday, Dec. 13, from 12:30pm-1:15pm. Check the schedule to learn more and to add it to your calendar.

Day 1: Kick Off Your Biennial Game Plan! 

Attendee: Alec Harris 

Congregation: Chicago Sinai Congregation in Chicago, IL 

Congregational Position: Past president and member of the Board of Trustees 

Biennial Experience: Attendee of multiple past Biennials and co-chair of the 2019 URJ Biennial 

It’s go-time! The URJ Biennial is my absolute favorite Jewish event, and I can’t wait for the convention to begin. I’m here with a congregational delegation, we’re going to divide and conquer; we’ve planned ahead to determine who will go to what. Here’s what’s on the docket for me today. 


  • Jewish Chicago Tour: Can you believe that I live in this town but have never done the Jewish tour?! I’m starting my Biennial experience early by hopping on board, meeting other attendees, and learning about the history of my local Jewish community. 

  • Pre-event lunch with friends: Grab lunch with attendees from my congregation so we can compare schedules before we head to registration to get our event credentials 

  • Learning session time! During learning session blocks, I’ll attend two Intensive sessions on the Leadership Development track so I can report back to my delegation. They’re attending other sessions on the same track, so we’re going to swap knowledge. 

  • Debrief with my delegation: Take notes while grabbing a coffee to fuel the rest of the day (Good thing there’s a Starbucks at the hotel) 

  • Opening plenary: Find my delegation in the plenary room and join the energy and enthusiasm of the thousands of people in the room as we prepare for the opening event. Let’s get the Biennial started!  

  • Chicago Pizza Tour: We had to sign up for this one in advance, and it was so hard to choose which offsite dinner experience to join; again, our congregational delegation is splitting up to do a little bit of everything. Good news for me: Some new friends from this morning’s tour will be doing the pizza thing, too. 

  • Late-night entertainment at McCormick’s: Note to self: Change into my dancing shoes before heading back to McCormick’s to enjoy tonight’s music! 


Day 2: A Jam-Packed Day of Sessions, Worship, Plenary, and More 

Attendee’s Name: AnnDee Levy 

Congregation: Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, CA 

Congregational Position: Member of the Board of Directors  

Biennial Experience: Attendee of multiple past Biennials and co-chair of the 2019 URJ Biennial 

For me, the second day of the URJ Biennial is when it all really feels real, you know? Last night’s opening plenary has queued us up for our first full, jam-packed day of the event, and the day is back-to-back filled with Jewish learning, worship, and other experiences – including catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Here’s what I have planned for day two.  


  • Morning t’filah: Head to early-morning worship, led by an amazing Israeli congregation. My cantor has been talking about them nonstop in the lead-up to Biennial!  

  • Lots of learning sessions: I’m headed to more leadership development sessions today, as I’m trying to learn, in particular, about how to build a pipeline of lay leaders at my congregation. 

  • Hit up the Exhibit Hall: My delegation is meeting for a stroll through the Exhibit Hall, where we have an appointment with our Israel trip provider, ARZA World, to make some final arrangements. 

  • A little shopping: After seeing all the amazing Judaica artists set up in the Exhibit Hall, I make a note to come back soon to buy some gifts for friends and family. Hanukkah is soon, and my list is long! 

  • End-of-day receptions: Our delegation is splitting up among a few different receptions tonight. I’m headed to the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s reception because representatives from our sister congregation will be there. Can’t wait to meet them! 

  • Plenary time: It’s time for URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs’s address, which I look forward to at every Biennial. I love hearing him speak about his vision for our Reform future and how we all have a role to play. I know I’m going to leave feeling so inspired.

  • Debriefing over drinks: I meet up again with my delegation in the plenary and then we stay up extra late at the entertainment to talk about the sessions we’ve attended, the lessons we’ve learned, and everything we want to be sure to take home to our congregation after the Biennial.  

  • Jamming and laughing: My friends and I can’t decide between the two late-night entertainment options – klezmer music and a comedy show – so we’re going to try to do a bit of both. One of the great things about Biennial is all the many choices, combined with the freedom fluidity to try lots of different experiences.  

Day 3: Work, Play, and Shabbat Worship 

Attendee’s Name:  Denise Crevin 

Congregation: Congregation B'nai Israel

Position: Director of Education

Biennial Experience: This is my second one... so still feel like a newbie!

By the third day of the Biennial, I start to get a hang of the rhythm of things: t'filah, learning sessions, plenary, repeat! Because today is Friday, it’s a bit like the storm before the calm, if you will: The day is full of sessions, Exhibit Hall shopping, and other busy-ness, but then comes Shabbat, when 5,000 of us wind down together to welcome the Sabbath bride. 


  • Morning t’filah: Oops, I overslept! I was planning to make it to worship this morning on time, but after a busy day yesterday, I guess I needed the rest. Luckily, I made it before the end and tonight is Shabbat – so there will be plenty more opportunities for spiritual connection.  

  • Busy day: So let's see, learning session blocks, plenary, and shopping, how will I fit it all in? I need to double check the sessions I added to my schedule and make sure I know where the meeting rooms are. 

  • Time to vote: As a staff member at my congregation, I will be wrangling the official delegates who will be voting on this year’s resolutions. Only delegates can vote, but any attendee is welcome to watch and listen.  

  • Pre-Shabbat purchases: I've got to get back to the Exhibit Hall before it closes this afternoon. I have my eye on a mezuzah for a friend’s upcoming wedding!  And there are so many great resources to learn about and bring back to my work!

  • Poster session: I'll take a walk through the poster session and take photos of the ideas I want to bring home to my congregation. 

  • Lunch with new and old friends: Grab a bite to eat with professional colleagues - some I've known and some new friends. They don't all live near me, but I’m excited to keep in touch with them after Biennial via The Tent. It's so helpful to connect with others doing the same work. 

  • Get ready for Shabbat: Head to my hotel room for a breather, changing my outfit and calling my family back home to send them my love - it's been a busy few days and haven't checked in much!

  • Kabbalat Shabbat: What an amazing service - the energy, the music... just wow. 

  • Dinner with my congregation: As I look around at the others gathered here tonight, I cannot believe we’re having Shabbat dinner with thousands of people from around the world. 

  • Song session! Finally, it’s time for the URJ Biennial famous song session. I remember some of these tunes from my camp days, but the new songs are amazing, too. So much joy and nostalgia. 


Day 4: Taking in a Biennial Shabbat 

Attendee’s Name:  Rabbi Marc Katz

Congregation: Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J. 

Position: Congregational rabbi

Biennial Experience: Four-time Biennial attendee

Saturday is my favorite day of the Biennial. I love the experience of spending Shabbat with 5,000 other committed, active, and joyful Reform Jews, studying, worshiping, and learning together. At home, I lead Shabbat services at my congregation; as a Biennial participant, I fill up my spiritual cup by taking in as much of this experience as I can. 


  • Shabbat morning worship: Up early for Torah study! It feels like all of Chicago has joined us today as we head into Shabbat services. 

  • A prayerful morning: My congregants save me a seat with a perfect view of the Torah service. There are 100 people in this year’s Biennial choir, and the whole experience is, in a word, awe-some. 

  • More to learn: After a joyous Shabbat lunch together, our group splits up for the afternoon sessions. I’m signed up for a session with one of my favorite Jewish authors, and I’m also going to catch a session about synagogue leadership.

  • Shavua tov: My congregational delegation made reservations for dinner together to discuss our Biennial learning so far. Afterward, we’re headed to another song session that will lead us into tonight’s evening entertainment: the absolutely hilarious Second City comedy troupe! 

On the final day of the Biennial, it’s time to say l'hitraot – see you soon! To extend your Biennial experience, check out our Biennial Extension opportunities – and as you head home, mark your calendars for the 2021 URJ Biennial, held December 8-11, 2021, in Washington D.C. (National Harbor).