Admittedly I have an unusual perspective on this question. For the past fifteen years or so I have hosted a party on the Monday night of the conference and have increasingly spent much of my time at the AJS conference—when not in sessions—handing out invitations and simply encouraging any and all to come to the party. For my ideal conference we are in a beautiful hotel where we have access to a lush penthouse suite for the party. This is not a dream—we have done this in L.A. with the generous support of AJS and my amazing cosponsors! Of course, to make this vision sing requires large and diverse participation in the conference, many scholars of Jewish Studies and related fields and subfields all gathered together in such a hotel. In this ideal hotel there are lots of communal spaces, lobbies, and lounges where people at the conference can bump into each other and just hang out. These are crucial aspects of my ideal conference, but I also want to be able to go to sessions.
I want to attend sessions where I learn new things, where I hear new voices as well as great papers by people I know and by scholars whose work I have admired for a long time and want to hear and finally meet in person. I also want to attend sessions where there is lots of time for questions and discussion and where those in the audience contribute and enhance the session. And I want to be able to continue the conversation after the session is over as we spill into the hall and find some of those communal spaces to continue to talk in passionate and engaged ways. These visions of enriching sessions also come from my experiences at recent AJS gatherings. I had an amazing two-plus hour conversation just this past year with two presenters I had never met before, two early career scholars on a panel about Argentinian Jewish life. And, at my ideal conference, I also want to be able to see the works of those I have heard and met on display in the book exhibit. I want to be able to buy their books at the conference.
I have to say, as I write these reflections, it is less about ideals and more about what I now experience at this conference each and every year. I love the size, the scale of this gathering as opposed to the AAR, the religion conference I also regularly attend. I like that we are in a single hotel (more or less) in any given city, and I am grateful to the energetic and inspired leadership of AJS, who for the past number of years has made these ideals a reality.