“Our house is on fire. If you don’t read anything else in the Pew report, we have maybe 10 years left…In the next 10 years I see the rapid collapse of synagogues and the national organization that supports them,” he said. “If we continue what we are doing, our house will burn down.”
The JTA reports:
…[T]he Conservative movement is in serious decline — evidenced by the findings in the Pew Research Center’s survey of U.S. Jews, the shrinking number of synagogues that affiliate with the movement and the empty pews in Conservative synagogues across the country.
Under that shadow, the central preoccupation of the centennial wasn’t celebrating the past century of Conservative Judaism — the milestone was hardly marked at all during the three-day confab — but how to ensure that Conservative Judaism has a future.
“Our house is on fire. If you don’t read anything else in the Pew report, we have maybe 10 years left,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif., at a session Monday morning that caused a major buzz at the conference.
“In the next 10 years I see the rapid collapse of synagogues and the national organization that supports them,” he said. “If we continue what we are doing, our house will burn down.”
There is broad recognition from the movement’s leaders on down that significant rejuvenation is needed if Conservative Judaism is to reverse its negative trajectory. The conference, whose theme was “The conversation of the century,” was billed as an opportunity to talk about how.
“Since last week, all anyone wants to do is talk about the Pew study; I don’t,” Ron Wolfson, a professor of education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, said in a speech at the gathering. “It’s time to stop talking and start doing.”
The movement’s leaders offered few specifics, instead sticking to broad outlines [i.e., generalities].…
The Jewish Week adds:
…The Pew survey showed that only 18 percent of American Jews identify as Conservative, down from 39 percent in 1990, was not included in the program. Organizers said the study, announced on Oct. 7, was released too late.…
Let me offer a suggestion. Young Jews are far less tribal than older Jews. Jews who are more tribal in outlook tend to have much higher affiliation rates.
To reach non-tribal Jews, you have to become relevant to their day-to-day lives and to society as a whole.
For example, Magen Tzedek, the ethical kosher seal started by a small handful of Conservative Rabbis led by Rabbi Morris Allen, would be relevant to many young Jews who are concerned, even they do not keep kosher themselves, about the mistreatment of low wage workers and other rampant problems at many kosher food companies.
Many of these young Jews would support Magen Tzedek – if it actually was in operation.
But it really isn't yet, despite almost five years of preparation – (I'll have more on this tomorrow or Friday) – and a large portion of the blame for its delay appears to lie with national Conservative leaders.
Another truth is that the Conservative rabbis of the previous generation grew up at a time when the rabbinate or clergy was a prestigious career choice, a path to advancement for many.
But from the late 1960s until the economic crash of 2008, this was no longer true.
That means many (although certainly not all) of the rabbis serving today are of a lesser caliber than those who served five decades ago. Their underwhelming presence is certainly felt – and often rejected – by those few younger Jews who choose to give affiliation a try.
The Conservative Movement is viewed by many as being irrelevant largely because it irrelevant – for the same reasons that most Jewish organizations and movements are irrelevant to most Jews. And that is a lesson most of its current national leaders will probably never learn.