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american judaism

12/12/2019 04:30:49 PM

Dec12

Rabbi Dan Dorsch

Earlier this week, I jet-setted up north to the United Synagogue/Rabbinical Assembly Convention in Boston. Keeping in mind W.H. Auden’s famous quote that “thou shalt not sit with statisticians,” here’s some quick food for thought related to future trends related to American Judaism:
 
1. I find fascinating, although not at all surprising, that not every person who belongs to a conservative synagogue identifies as a conservative Jew. In fact, only around 79% do. 12% consider them reform, 6% say “no denomination.” Some even say they are orthodox. There are variety of reasons for this phenomenon, including interdenominational marriage, geography, etc. However, it is worth noting that we are becoming an increasingly diverse movement in terms of who chooses to affiliate with us; it turns out most people are looking for a synagogue that is warm and welcoming, while denomination is arguably less of a factor in peoples’ choices.
 
2. The conservative movement has a massive retention problem as far as conservative Jewish identity that we will need to work hard to fix. Nearly 30% of Jews who identify as reform today were raised conservative. 20% of Jews once conservative consider themselves cultural, while 10% are no longer Jewish at all. We need to do a better job teaching people what conservative Judaism is and why it continues to do the best job of speaking to the challenges we face in modern society.
 
3. As frequently as I hear my conservative colleagues bemoan the success of the reform movement in attracting larger numbers of adherents, in the long term, the conservative movement may be much better off than the reform movement. One uplifting data point from the convention about the future of conservative Judaism is that we now are a consistent 18% of the population, including among the youngest demographic of Jews 18-35. Once much larger, we seem to have “bottomed out.” Unfortunately, among reform Jews, whose numbers are generally higher, the 18-35 demographics drop dramatically to exactly the same as conservative. Fewer Jews who self-identify as reform join synagogues compared with Jews who identify as conservative. While I expect that my talented reform colleagues may work reverse the trend, the reform movement will have to do a lot of soul searching over the next few decades if it is going to reverse the trend.
 
Does this mean anything?
 
We can’t be sure. But what it does mean is that there is today a great challenge upon all of us to create a meaningful, accessible, relatable, Judaism that will continue to speak to the needs of the American Jewish community.
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Thu, February 20 2020 25 Shevat 5780