Saturday, February 12, 2011

Synagogue Membership, Simple Capitalism

re: American Jewry

Yes, simple capitalism, supply and demand.
There are too related articles in The Forward.  One is about the shrinking numbers in the "liberal" Jewish memberships.  The second is about independent minyanim.

It's human nature to try to preserve the status quo, but at the same time change is constant.  I can never reconsile the contradiction between those who both believe in evolution and get all hysterical about the fact that some species are not only endangered, they disappear completely.  I find it easier to believe in G-d and accept that not everything lasts forever.

I grew up in new Bayside, New York during the 1950's and early 1960's.  The area was almost totally Jewish, lots of young families.  The main, only for quite a while, synagogue was the Oakland Jewish Center, which was affiliated with United Synagogue and was Conservative.  At that point there wasn't all that much of a difference between the Modern Orthodox and Conservative.  The two big differences were in the seating, mixed at Conservative and Conservative also had a late evening Friday night service.  Many Conservative shuls had rabbis who considered themselves Orthodox.  OJC grew and grew in membership and physical size during the years we knew it.  We moved away in 1962.  There was a large Hebrew School, which I attended three days a week.  It fit the needs and wants of most of the community.  Those who wanted a more Orthodox congregation established the Young Israel of Windsor Park, which is just a few blocks away.

During the High Holidays, Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur a large tent was put up for youth services.  The synagogue's large rooms and halls were all packed.  That's how I remember it.  About ten years ago, someone I know ended up there in Bayside during the Holidays.  He wanted to a synagogue to pray in, and Conservative suited him, so he went to OJC.

Forty years after my time there, he found a totally different congregation.  In a depressingly empty sanctuary some of the old-timers and their visiting children and grandchildren gathered for prayers.  They mourned the fact that the synagogue and community were dying.  The visitor was amazed.  I'm not.

I wonder how many of my Hebrew School classmates are members of American synagogues.  And of those who are, how many are members of Conservative ones?  I live in Israel as a Torah Jew.  How many of my former classmates live as Jews?  raised their children as Jews?  Our parents established and joined Oakland Jewish Center to give us a Jewish community, Jewish education and for themselves a Jewish social and religious life, which didn't make too many demands.  That may be the key.

The more demanding your Judaism, the more you need a synagogue, rabbi and community.  "Liberal Judaism" isn't all that demanding.  Kashrut is less stringent or not required.  Thrice-daily dovening with a minyan isn't the norm.  Yes, many do make efforts for Shabbat to be different from the rest of the week, but they aren't as tied to home and synagogue as the Orthodox.

Now, about the independent minyanim.  Are they family friendly or more like modern shtiblach, small private synagogues without the large overhead?  Will they "leach" away members from the more conventional shuls?  Or will some evolve into larger congregations.

Life is always in flux, and that certainly includes Jewish communal life.


Anonymous said...

yes, the non-orthodox life in the us is in trouble.
i wonder how many of your jewish classmates do NOT have intermarried kids.
the only place in the world where there is jewish continuity for the non-orthodox is in israel. [its not too shabby a place for the orthodox either ;)

Batya said...

yes, so sadly,
there's lots of intermarriage in my family

Susan B said...

The Forward article is mostly talking about the decline in membership in Conservative synagogues. This is not the case in Reform synagogues, whether or not there are some prominent rabbis who have some difference with the URJ. I don't see non-Orthodox Judaism as being in trouble in the US at all.

Batya said...

Susan, so are you saying that lumping all the non-Orthodox together distorts the facts?

Hadassa said...

Susan B., would you say that the Jewish community in America is becoming more and more polarized? I haven't lived in America for over 20 years so I'm a bit out of touch.