Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Synagogue Renewal in Turbulent Times

These are challenging times for Jewish institutions, as they are for just about everyone out there. We at Beth El have been fortunate to have escaped the full force of the economic downturn - for now - thanks in large part to the generosity of our members, and in no small part to the ability of our lay leaders and staff to be increasingly relevant, visionary and welcoming. We see this not as a time for retrenchment but an opportunity to plant the seeds for future growth. The Conservative movement is doing tat as a whole, with an intensified push for urgent restructuring, led by rabbis and presidents of the largest Synagogues, called "HaYom." Read about some of those conversations here and here.

These conversations transcend one movement, though. STAR's exec. Rabbi Hayyim Herring has an interesting op-ed on the topic, written for the JTA. He writes:

* The small number of Jews who already describe themselves as religiously observant continue to drop and is now at 1.2 percent, or 2.7 million people, according to the recently released American Religious Identification Survey. (The drop is consistent with another survey reporting that traditional organized religions are playing less of a role in the lives of Americans.)

* Because of the high cost of being Jewish, formative Jewish experiences such as synagogue involvement are increasingly open only to the financially privileged.

* Funding for Jewish causes across the board may shrink by as much as a third in proportion to financial losses in the Jewish community. How do financially demoralized synagogues remain spiritually viable?

Also, Synagogue 3000 has an interesting new report on the spirituality of American Jews. Review the findings at here and the full report here.

Finally, also on the S2K site, see this comprehensive study on the impact of Craig Taubman's "Friday Night Live" services, ten years later. We have a special stake in this, considering that Craig brought FNL here in 2000 for it's New York area premier. And we have since followed up with Shabbat Unplugged, which is also based on Taubman's model. With Craig Taubman returning to Beth El for a concert on May 14, this would be the perfect time to take a close look at just how much has been accomplished. Read this report!

Challenging times, indeed, but Passover is the time for Jewish institutional renewal. While we focus on the individual on the High Holidays, this is time to think collectively. Let's do that over the coming days and weeks.

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