Difficult days for Conservative Judaism

Much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges facing the “centrist” Jewish world of Conservative Judaism.

Membership is falling. There’s no sense of identity. It’s hard to be moderate or centrist in a culture dominated by “conservative” and “liberal” voices.

Conservative Judaism was once simply Judaism for a lot of second-generation types — very traditional, yet at ease with being American.

But the Jewish community has been spreading out (fracturing?). The Orthodox world is growing, bringing in people who once might have been happy belonging to a Conservative shul. The Reform world has pull for not only liberal Jews, but those who may have dropped observance and the large numbers of interfaith families. Then you have all those Jews who have slipped away or are “post-denominational,” meaning that they’re not interested in belonging to anything.

To make matters worse, many Conservative rabbis have been pretty critical of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the “umbrella” group for Conservative congregations.

Now the USCJ is looking to reinvent itself, both for self-preservation and to help lead a renewal of Conservative Judaism.

A draft letter from a planning commission puts it like this: “…we, the Commission, feel that Conservative Judaism in North America is at a crossroads and serious effort needs to be focused on strengthening and transforming the synagogue, the primary institution of our communal Jewish life.”

At a crossroads…

Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive VP of the USCJ, told the Jewish Week: “The motivation of North American Jews for synagogue affiliation has changed and we need to create an organization that operates as an engagement model.”

I’m not sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound promising.

Wernick is holding meetings around the country to discuss the state of things and the Big Plans. He’ll be at Temple Israel Center of White Plains on Feb. 22.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.