Same story in two movements

Crossposted to Jewschool.

The JTA brings us this today: “Figuring out why promising Conservative alumni set up ‘indy minyans.'”

The article is basically a summary of the Conservative movement’s mostly ineffectual attempts to draw in former members who have left for the indie minyans, or the emergent scene.

The most interesting qutoe in the article, to me is this:

“They live precisely as we told them to, but paradoxically they practice their Judaism outside our movement,” Epstein wrote. “They perceive that there is no place for them and their Judaism in the Conservative synagogue. If we want to grow in numbers and strength, if we want to inspire passion and commitment, we have to welcome those Jews who live our values and ideology outside of our synagogues to do it inside our synagogues instead.”

This is the same challenge that I and many of my friends face with our own Reform movement. The Reform world has educated some of us so well and so effectively taught us how to be engaged in some sort of active personal reformation and now we’re so into it that all the “normal” Reform Jews think we’re nuts.

Meanwhile, according to this article, the same thing is going on in the Conservative movement. Jews who want to live as true ideologically Conservative Jews have no real home in their movement because everyone else thinks they’re nuts for being true to the ideals of the movement.

15 Responses to Same story in two movements

  1. Larry Kaufman March 25, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    More action, more traction on the Jewschool post — and also a lot of discussion on Rabbi Bachman’s screed on Jewish bureaucracies and their rigidities.

    All the schmoos is two sides of the same coin — institutions tend to ossify, and those who feel excluded create their own anti-institutional open entity which struts and frets its hour upon the stage, and then is either heard no more or else becomes the institution that a new group of Young Turks rails against.

    Aside from the other (mostly correct) observations that many have made about the institutional movements, their strength and weakness stems from serving the greatest needs of the greatest numbers. It’s hard enough to finance the major programs without splintering into niche marketing. Actually URJ and its congregations do a pretty good job in the niches, except for the terra incognita of what we used to call Young Adults – post-college pre-kids, whether married or single.

    Indy minyans are a band-aid on a problem that came onto the radar screen long enough ago that the institutional community should be further along with solutiions — but meanwhile the grassroots solutions flourish. Ken yirbu.

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 26, 2009 at 9:10 am #

      Larry, why must grassroots entities be assumed to be band aids? Why aren’t they a solution?

      I’m beginning to think that the reason we don’t join synagogues is because they are inherently set up to be distasteful to educated young adults.

      • Chris_B April 6, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

        I used to be an educated young adult, now I’m 40 and just a month or so shy of completing my conversion. All I can offer here is the older you get the less you know. Its not bad to be young and proud of your education, lots of good things come of that and to be honest I sometimes miss that stage of life.

      • David A.M. Wilensky April 7, 2009 at 5:15 am #

        Chris_B, I’m not gonna put this delicately because what you’re saying here is something that really pisses me off.

        The legions of “grown-ups” who are fond of telling me things like what you just said and things like, “We’ll see if you still wanna be a Rabbi in five years; you’re too young to know for sure” and things like “You’re just an angry young man,” are missing the point of being a young, angry idealist.

        You may be right. I may mellow out with age. I may stop caring about the things that I consider my deepest convictions in my early thirties. A lot of things might happen. And I’m willing to bet that some of those things will happen.

        But what can your purpose be in telling me, us, those things? All you do when you say those things is make people feel their personality and their beliefs are illegitimate.

        People also are fond of saying, “Oh, he’s just crotchety because he’s an old man.” What are we to take from this mentality? Is it now the case that only middle-aged people are sane and competent, due to their objective view of life?

        Think again the next time you catch yourself on the verge of insulting someone’s being because they’re too young to have the proper perspective. Even if it’s absolutely true.

        Because here’s the thing, people might not stop being driven idealists and no one told them to stop.

      • BZ April 7, 2009 at 6:13 am #

        More broadly, one generation as a whole saying this to another is part of what has led to the whole issue in this post. “You may think you know something about Jewish community now, but just wait till you have kids! MUAHAHAHAH! Then you’ll have no choice but to send them to a conventional Hebrew school exactly like the one you went to!”

      • Chris_B April 7, 2009 at 10:03 am #

        David,

        No offense was intended at all. None, zilch, zero. I made a very clear point to say that its not a bad position to be in and lots of good things come of that position in life. There was nothing underhanded about what I said, no sarcasm, no hidden message, nothing backhanded at all.

        You have seen me comment here and other places, I think you know that if I want to say something I say it clearly. Cool your jets a bit, I really wasnt trying to tell you how to run your life at all and in my mind didnt try to illegitamize (sp?) your beliefs at all. I only spoke for myself and perhaps my error was not to keep things in the first person.

        Because here’s the thing, I didnt piss on you so why are you pissed off?

        Anyway, Pesach begins in less than 24 hours here, then its Shabbat, then I got a DJ gig, then more Yom Tov so I wont be able to reply for a while. Just know I wasnt putting you down and enjoy Pesach!

  2. BZ March 25, 2009 at 2:32 pm #

    It’s hard enough to finance the major programs without splintering into niche marketing.

    But what does it say if Jewishly educated lay adults are considered a niche?

  3. BZ March 25, 2009 at 3:54 pm #

    (Among other things, it says that the “major programs” aren’t really intended to succeed.)

  4. Jen March 25, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    It’s not remotely surprising. If you’re at all interested in religion, you get pressured to take leadership roles. There’s no space for someone committed and passionate who isn’t a rabbi. So practically all the religious people go to rabbinical school. Expecting them then to go and join congregations is ridiculously disconnected thinking. If they want laity, they shouldn’t encourage everyone who likes shul to go off and become a rabbi, should they.

  5. Rich March 27, 2009 at 7:11 am #

    I suspect that for both Conservative and Reform shuls, the biggest thing they can do for themselves and for these minyans is provide meeting space. The minyan can thus have a space in which to flourish and present a worship opportunity to synagogue members who find the other worship opportunities (if any) distasteful.

  6. Larry Kaufman March 30, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    I classify the indy minyans as a band-aid because they cover a few sore spots, but not the heart of the disease, which is the disenfranchisement by the organized or institutional community of an important and influential sub-set of the macro community.

    Ben redefines my underserved niche, which I articulated based on age and stage, into a quite different category, Jewishly educated lay adults. As a Jewishly educated lay adult, I came to terms with my odd-ball status when I returned to the synagogue 35 years ago — recognized that no matter how much more I knew than my fellow congregants, there was still a lot I could learn under the guidance of my rabbis, and a lot I could teach under the rubric that in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

    Having spent my adult life in (volunteer) leadership roles in Jewish institutional life, I disagree with Jen’s point that such roles are restricted to rabbis. While I give due deference to the learning, commitment, and smicha of our clergy, I also remember that nine rabbis don’t make a minyan, but ten cobblers do.

    Maybe my views are distorted by having found an indy minyan atmosphere under the umbrella of my synagogue. I think it says something about us that “outside” rabbis come daven with us on their days off. It also says something about the congregation that, in the next room, there is another minyan every shabbos — for folks who like their way better than our way.

    As a footnote, I might add that as an establishment type, I never forget that my own formal Jewish education was not in a congregational school nor in the communal Talmud Torah system, but in a private essentially secular experimental Hebrew school organized by Jewishly educated lay adults who wanted something for their children that institutional Judaism was not then providing — so, rather than an indy minyan, they created an indy cheder — but my parents eventually joined a synagogue because the cheder as constituted couldn’t provide a bar mitzvah.

    Rich’s suggestion of a middle ground — synagogues providing worship space for groups they do not control — is pragmatic, allows in some cases for the synagogue to provide an unbudgeted program (a worship service they don’t have to staff and support) — but fails to take into consideration those people who are so anti-institutional that the shul is the building they don’t want to enter.

    I think my bottom line remains, For everything there is a season — including a life stage which is the season for the indy minyan. At some level, they will always be with us, because at some level, the institutional community will never be able to fill all the needs of all the people.

  7. ML March 31, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    I think there’s an even bigger divide in the Reform movement that the Conservative one. At least in the community I live in, there are many opportunities for education and participation for well-educated lay people in some of the Conservative congregations. Many go Cantor/Hazzan-less because they have members who can fill these roles. I just don’t see the same in our local Reform congregations.

  8. Rabbi Jason Miller April 1, 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    My own thoughts are posted in my blog:
    http://blog.rabbijason.com/2009/04/indie-minyans-revisited.html

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