Keeping synagogue relevant

Keeping synagogue relevant

(Photo from Flash90)
(Photo from Flash90)

The Reform and Conservative movements are definitely becoming less relevant. They are a product of their own success in that they have allowed Jews to believe less is good. This, as well as their business model, are not sustainable for the long run. A young couple with or without a family finds it hard to justify the expense of a synagogue membership to only go several times per year. Let alone the cost of Hebrew school and building assessments on top of that.

Based on a discussion held last year at the South Hills JCC, it was noted in the Federation survey and confirmed by many Jewish communities throughout the U.S. that the only growing group is the Orthodox. Their birth rate is much higher and they tend to stay observant and connected. Within this group Chabad is making inroads to many Jews who are not connected in any other way. They have become the largest Jewish un-organization in the world. There is no central governance, however, they are in over 100 countries and have thousands of Chabad Houses and shuls.

During Shavuos, on the first day, there was a program at the Chabad of the South Hills for young children — families who mostly do not belong to a synagogue. Many of us have never seen these families before as they do not regularly attend services. This is the success of Chabad in that they engage people on their level and show them the beauty of Judaism.

The Reform and Conservative movements have morphed into more cultural and social justice movements than religious organizations. They need to offer their constituents something they cannot get through their phones and the media. Case in point: the Reform movement honoring Al Sharpton at their convention. Al Sharpton is truly anti-Semitic and led riots in Crown Heights and has blood on his hands from the Freddie’s Fashion Mart protest. This type of activism turns many people away. Maybe it is time for these movements to think outside the box and take a hard look at what they have become. They should do this sooner rather than later lest they become extinct.

Andrew Neft
Upper St. Clair

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