Periodically, a member comes to me to question our synagogue’s denominational identity. It’s a good question. Are we really a Conservative synagogue? Or are our practices more aligned with the Reform movement? Some members have expressed a preference for Reconstructionist Judaism, while others wish we would do more to resemble the “Conservadox” shuls of their youth. Personally, I was raised in a very large Conservative synagogue but I don’t have many fond memories of my time there. Like other Jewish people, my experiences in synagogue began a period of alienation from Judaism in my life. And not unlike others, it wasn’t until I became a parent that I drifted back and found my way to Temple Beth El.
As a temple member and synagogue leader, I too have wondered about the most appropriate denomination-affiliation for our community. Surely an argument can be made that in a number of ways we are Reform. Reconstructionism has been studied in adult education, but it hasn’t played a larger role in our ritual life. I am convinced that a shift toward Conservadox practices would turn off many of our members. Our synagogue has always been a member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the international parent organization for Conservative Judaism, and that is where we are today.
It is my opinion that Conservative Judaism serves our community well. Our members tend to be more traditional and express comfort with the familiar culture of Conservative Judaism. When we diverge from that path, I hear complaints. There was a time when I wanted to advocate for affiliation with the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), but I was a lone voice. In all these years, the momentum to pursue a change in affiliation has never materialized. To be honest, I often visit URJ’s website, use their resources, and find inspiration in their emphasis on social justice. (Anyone interested in Jewish activism, and social responsibility should visit URJ’s impressive Religious Action Center at: www.rac.org)
As a six-term president, I want to tell you how grateful I am for the support we receive from USCJ. When I call, they respond. Over the years I have leaned on them for support with many issues. In fact, I have had access to not only our kehilla (synagogue) relationship manager, Howie Goldberg, in Albany, but Ambassador Rabbis, USCJ’s attorney, national CEO Rabbi Wernick, and the Chief Rabbi of Conservative Judaism in Israel, Rabbi Sacks. When we need them, USCJ has been there for us. When necessary, they have spent hours on the phone with me, referred me to experts within the movement, sent resources, and come to Temple Beth El to offer professional development workshops. I don’t know how you feel about our synagogue’s Jewish identity, but I believe we are doing well as a Conservative synagogue. It seems to me that our Conservative practices provide a middle path that suits the great majority of our members. I hope you agree.
UPDATE ON ALIYA’s ALIYAH
I just returned from a two-week visit to Israel where I spent time with Aliya. She is an ulpan student learning conversational Hebrew in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. She also attends monthly pre-military seminars with the Israel Defense Force. I am happy to report that she loves her new life in Israel.