A Letter to the Conservative Movement

Dear Conservative Movement,

I have figured out why you are dying, as many of your own leaders have lamented. The answer is simple. Just look at the findings from the 2007 Spiritual Communities Study done by the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute and Mechon Hadar:

The presence of alumni of the Conservative educational system (Schechter, Camp Ramah, USY, Nativ, JTS & Ziegler) in the more visible leadership of emergent communities has prompted many observers to see the movement as drawing primarily from the Conservative demographic heartland. Indeed, more than 40% of the respondents in this sample report Conservative upbringing in their childhood years, more than any other denomination. (MORE)

These cute little diagrams on page 15 of the report show that 46% of those in independent minyanim were raised as Conservative Jews. It’s clear. They are trying to recapture the lay-lead, inspirational services they found at Camp Ramah, USY, etc. Your own synagogues are not working for them.

Surprised? Don’t be. Walk into services at Hadar on New York’s Upper West Side, the archetype for independent minyanim, and you’ll think you’ve stepped back in time to USY International Convention 1990-something or any Ramah camp around the same time. Where do you think your own JTS rabbinical students daven on Saturday mornings? Surely not at one of your own affiliated synagogues. There are so many of them there, you’d think they were having school-sponsored classes.

So movement (if I may call you that), perhaps instead of whining about your decay, passing seemingly-contradictory papers, or overlooking lay leaders, you should pay attention to what’s going on right under your own nose. Maybe you could even think about ways in which your own programs, services, and synagogues could retain these young leaders.

Just a thought.


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