A L’Chaim To Conservative Judaism

JTS chancellor: ‘Complacency’ and ‘despair’ … ‘are forbidden;' ‘both are distractions from the task at hand.’

Fri, 11/22/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
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I’ve spent the better part of my adult life as a scholar of American Judaism, with a special focus on figures at the center of Conservative Judaism, and I’ve spent most of those years enjoying the benefits of Conservative Jewish institutions, conversations and communities.

Consider this short list: Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, Calif., where my wife and I davened for 21 years and where we celebrated the b’nai mitzvah of our children; Camp Ramah, which my daughter attended as a camper for two summers and where my son worked on staff for three; repeated experiences of emotional and spiritual support from clergy and community at moments when my family and I most needed it; a pattern of ritual celebrations and holiday observances that I shall treasure as long as I live; a kind of Talmud Torah — reverent engagement with Jewish text and history, in the context of broader ideas and learning — that to this day remains distinctive to Conservative Judaism; a fervent but critical Zionism that is no less distinctive; and, last but never least, a fulsome sense of what it is to serve God in this time and place with an open heart as well as a totally engaged mind and an enraptured soul.

That is but a short list, woefully incomplete, of what I most treasure in the set of gifts made available to me week after week, from adolescence until today, through the path in Torah that we call (never without some discontent at the name) Conservative Judaism.

I have experienced the incalculable blessings that life as a Jewish human being makes possible, in significant measure, thanks to Conservative Judaism. Indeed, I became chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary because this kind of Judaism — fostered by JTS for more than a century — continues to mean so much to me, and I wanted to spend my days, and not just my evenings, working to secure its future.

I have enormous debts of gratitude to repay to many Conservative rabbis, from Heschel and Kaplan to my teacher Sam Lachs, and to friends and colleagues who have changed my life for the better. I can now add rabbinical students, chazzanim, and educators to that list. So many Conservative congregants have inspired me in so many ways over the years, and have made a huge mark on clal Yisrael organizations, such as AIPAC, Hillel and federation; on the movements to liberate Soviet Jewry and found Jewish Studies on American campuses; on the campaigns for civil rights and to guard the good name of Israel. That impact is out of all proportion to Conservative numbers. I proudly count myself one of these Conservative “Jews in the pews,” and would not trade them for any Jews anywhere for all that I wish our community were more learned, more observant, and more determined to resist the powerful allurements of the society and culture in which we, being Conservative Jews, participate fully.

You will perhaps forgive me, therefore, if I express a certain amount of weariness and disappointment at hearing people who should know better (and often do know better) declare Conservative Jews less worthy than others, and pronounce the Judaism that elicits the best efforts of hundreds of thousands of Jews in North America, nurtures their spirits, comforts, teaches, and sustains them — Conservative Judaism — dead, almost dead, deserving of death, or any of the hundred other ways that one hears people speaking nowadays about the Judaism I love. Enough! Need I say that I am the first to admit the shortcomings of Conservative Jewish thinking and institutions over the years and down to our own day? What Conservative Jew is not expert in finding fault with Conservative Judaism? We are far from perfect (though no less perfect than anyone else), and bear our fair share of responsibility for a Jewish population in America that is far less active than it could and should be. (Many others likewise share in this responsibility.)

Any American Jew who has had eyes open to our collective situation has no right or reason to be surprised at the findings in the Pew Research Center report, most of which have been predicted by analysts and activists for a long time. We who care about the Jewish future on this continent are obligated, I believe, to greet this latest wake-up call with renewed resolve. Too many Jews are opting out of Jewish life. Too few are Jewishly literate. Most have never experienced live study of a Jewish text or a Jewish ritual that touched the soul. Complacency (“we’re already doing many good things; let’s just keep doing them”) is utterly forbidden under these trying circumstances, but so is despair (“we might as well give up on the effort to build a non-Orthodox Judaism in this country”). Both are distractions from the task at hand. This is a generation that has a lot of work to do.

The report is not good news for American Jewry, even if it offers evidence that some things are going very right: things that we need to do a lot more of and to make available to a lot more people. And the Pew findings continue a spate of bad news for Conservative Jews who lack the birthrate that, along with tight communities, is largely responsible for Orthodox growth in recent decades, and who also lack the rate of intermarriage that is largely responsible for recent growth in Reform numbers (and especially the numbers who declare themselves Reform without actually joining Reform temples).

Conservative Jews are just beginning to create a more effective structure to respond appropriately to what ails us and take maximum advantage of the many things we do exceedingly well: Ramah camps, day schools, revitalized synagogues, adult learning. Things are on the mend in the vital religious center of North American Jewry. We have much to be proud of, and the successes we have enjoyed should never be left unmentioned at a time of hand wringing and derision. But let’s be the first to admit that there is much more to be done if we are to stop, and even reverse, the recent numerical decline.

Learn From Our Mistakes

What is to be done in the community as a whole? Let me start with a modest procedural proposal. Could we make it a rule of Jewish discourse in North America that we learn from the mistakes made when followers of Begin beat up followers of Ben-Gurion, and vice versa; or chasidim literally and figuratively bashed mitnagdim (opponents of chasidim), and vice versa; or both of those groups informed on liberal Jews or maskilim to the authorities, and vice versa? Could we manage to take a vow that Jews will find good things to say about one another, build bridges rather than burn them, join criticism of themselves and their own movements to the constructive criticism they make of others, and refrain from pronouncing other Jews or their Jewish paths traitorous or lazy or already/imminently dead? Haven’t we suffered enough over the years from enemies declaring us dead (remember Arnold Toynbee’s famous description of the Jews as living “fossils,” soon to go the way of the dinosaur) to stop doing it to one another?

Let’s remember too that there are multiple factors of long standing that have caused the situation in which we find ourselves. Simplistic explanations and quick fixes are both certain to miss the mark. The most revealing lines in the Pew report, in my view, were those that showed parallels between Jews and other groups in America. Jews attend and join synagogues less at the same moment that church membership and attendance have fallen. Jews are reluctant to join any organization or institution when all Americans, in the famous phrase of political scientist Robert Putnam, are “bowling alone.” Jews, like Christians, report declining interest in religion in favor of spirituality, social justice, and individual fulfillment. Judaism, like every other religion in North America (indeed, in the world), is numerically stronger at the extremes and less so in the center.

We seek to build Jewish communities in America at a time of unparalleled individualism. We are heirs to a discipline of commandment in an age of “sovereign selves.” We expect allegiance to our particular group, its traditions and its homeland, at a time when universalism holds ever-greater sway. And, having urged our kids to participate fully in American life, sent them to university, and set them on the path to ambitious careers, we are now dismayed to find them acting in accordance with the general pattern: marrying much later if they marry, having fewer children if they have children, favoring career over almost everything, and choosing romantic partners without regard to family, community of origin, or ultimate concerns.

I doubt that Jews can entirely reverse the demographic trends that, outside the bounds of Orthodoxy, will soon result in there being far fewer Jews in America, and have already resulted in there being far less Judaism of any substance. Some community leaders have called for honest conversation among us about the unrealistic expectation that, men or women, we can “have it all.” I second that motion, and add a plea that we begin a parallel conversation about marriage and the family. The organized Jewish community needs to focus not only on numbers of Jews we are losing, but on the quality of the Jewish lives we sustain. We must find a way to fund a number of initiatives that would make a huge difference in keeping Jews Jewish and persuading Jews to have and raise Jewish children. Daycare and early childhood programs, for example. Seriously Jewish summer camps such as Ramah. A variety of day and supplementary schools that break the mold of “Hebrew school.” College initiatives that are not junior versions of “your parents’ Judaism.” Communities for 20- and 30-somethings that transcend the tired boundaries of “religion versus culture.” JTS is involved in every single one of these efforts in ways that transcend denominational boundaries. Let’s feed the Jewish spirit, engage the mind, link Jewish professional ambitions to the teaching of tradition and the building of community. Let’s never fail to serve the quest for God. And, yes, let’s get young Jews in the same room with other young Jews as often as we possibly can.

Let Us Respect Our Achievements

Were Conservative Judaism walking down the blind alley depicted by recent critics; had we done nothing to change our ways or our organizational structure in recent years; were JTS or any of the leaders of Conservative Jewish organizations deaf to the forces and trends that critics cite, then I too might despair about our future. (Even then, however, loving Conservative Judaism as I do, I would set about the project of expanding rather than abandoning all hope for serious non-Orthodox Judaism, and direct effort and dollars elsewhere). Of course, we need honest conversation about what commands Jews and why, a project that JTS has advanced in many dozens of congregations by engaging Conservative Jews in far-reaching discussion, study, and practice of mitzvah — a term that resonates with Conservative laypeople and elicits both good thinking and strong commitment. Yes, we need more passionate davening in more shuls, a goal that is achieved more widely than the critics allow, but that is all too often inhibited by worship spaces far too large for the number of worshippers and by a deplorable tendency to make the congregation into an audience for chazzan and rabbi — spectators to a Judaism in which they do not participate fully and which they do not fully own. Conservative Jews have too often been let down by leaders who asked too little of them by way of learning or practice, and misled by leaders who saw Conservativism as end rather than means, forgetting that the point is not this or that denomination or organization, but the path that enables Jews to choose life, choose good, choose blessing.

But please, my fellow Conservative Jews, even as we right these and other wrongs, let’s never fail to respect ourselves and our achievements. Those achievements did not cease in the alleged “glory days” when social and cultural forces propelled Conservative Judaism forward instead of forcing it to swim upstream. And if I had to chart a future for Jewish life in North America, and guess what path is most likely to secure that future, I would put my money on a model of Judaism that sees the world through an egalitarian lens, accepts the best that modernity has to offer; appreciates science and the arts; respects other faith communities and other Jews; and understands that, while good fences make for good neighbors, it relies for its survival upon low walls and high regard for others. I would bet upon Jews to learn by study and practice — albeit in ways that are new or evolving as I write — what is distinctive in their heritage so that they always have something Jewishly serious to offer the world, resources with which to resist the many temptations of modern life, something to root them and infuse them with ultimate meaning in the face of fashion and ephemera.

Conservative Jews know that we don’t help the cause of Judaism by acting as if Judaism is just like every other tradition or cause, any more than we help it by denying that Judaism has a lot to learn from other traditions and often needs to ally itself with other causes. The world awaits our Jewish response, and the world —infinite in its varieties, overflowing with possibility, stunning in what it has to teach us — contributes immeasurably to our understanding of what that response needs to be. That is the Torah I have learned and to which I hold on for dear life.

I am drawn to Conservative Judaism, when all is said and done, because I want with every fiber of my being, and with proper humility, to serve the Lord my God, and so serve God’s Creation with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul, all my might. Mind without heart, heart without soul, study without practice, ritual without ethics, Judaism without Jews, or Jews without Judaism —none of these will do. Let’s turn to one another, in the wake of the Pew report, drink a well-deserved l’chaim for many more years of life for a renewed Conservative Judaism — and then let’s get to work.

Arnold Eisen is chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

 

 

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I get it that Conservative shuls don't speak to many who see themselves as egalitarian observant. However in Skokie, IL there are currently two vibrant fully egalitarian, participatory minyans; and both are officially affiliated with USCJ. Yet when a few of the new leadership of the local SSDS moved into the area recently (some trained at our rabbinical schools) they choose to affiliate with the partnership minyan in Skokie and not either of these two minyans. Can't have it both ways. When there are no egalitarian choices in your Shabbat observant area... I get it. When there are 2 and these so called leaders of the SSDS choose not to support them for whatever reasons they have; shame on them and shame on the institutions who trained them and failed to instill in them the type of leadership required to help those small bastions of success in USCJ shuls from growing.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a revered teacher at JTS. It has been written about him, thusly:

"The theme that underlies much of Rabbi Heschel’s work is self-transcendence, the notion of shifting concern from the self to the other, from ego-centeredness to other-centeredness, as Rabbi Held writes, “to cultivate a posture of responsiveness to God and to others rather than remaining mired in the abyss of unrestrained self-assertion and self-regard.” It’s helpful, Rabbi Held explains, to think of self-transcendence as something that might be achieved in brief moments.

“The greatest beauty grows at the greatest distance from the ego.” Rabbi Held quotes this “deceptively simple sentence” that could “serve as an interpretive key for Rabbi Heschel’s entire approach to theology and spirituality.”

When you, Rabbi Eisen, make this the hallmark of your organization, then maybe, you might just become a 'movement.'

If one beleive s in G-d than you would beleive that G-d gave the Torah , and if one doesnot beleive That G-d didnot give the T orah so how could you believe in G-d
Once man changes the Torah than is is not longer G-dly.

If one would like to be taken seriously at all on a message board, that person should spell believe properly. At least one time out of three.

I agree with much of what the writer says. As an Israeli totally turned off by the corrupt, venal and anachronistic Orthodox establishment here, I, like many secular Israelis was ready to totally give up on Judaism. A chance encounter vwith the then very small Masorti movement here (it's bigger now, but still undersized) changed that.

Today I define myself as "Conservaform" or "Reformative", with a preference for Conservative, and regard myself, by Israeli standards as "traditional" rather than "secular".

Yes, Conservative Judaism is not perfect, but I believe that it is still not just relevant, but has the potential to play a major, perhaps even decisive role in determining the futire of the Jewish people. It and it alone (meaning every committed/practicing Conservative Jew) , will decide whether it fulfills this potemtial or not.

I find it strange that there is no mention of Israel and support of the Masorti/ Conservative movement in this article. Any leader of a Jewish institution that does not actively link itself with its Israeli movements is making a statement. It has been demonstrated that links with Israel contribute to cross-fertilization and an active Jewish identity. Surely the chancellor who spent many of his formative years in Israel knows this. Is his non-mention an "oversight", or does this signal a new policy whereby JTS plans to pull out of its support of the Masorti movement in Israel? If the latter is true, that would be a tragic mistake.

I totally agree !!! On the other hand, maybe the "chancellor" wanted to show his contempt since in Israel, the Conservatives are not taken into account by the leading orthodox movements. In my view, there are way too many mini-groups in Judaism and every rabbi wants to have his own court, plenty of recognition, respect and .... money

I am a product of the Conservative movement. By that, I mean I am a product of a C-shul Hebrew School, 5 years of Hebrew High School, Ramah, and USY. I was a leader in USY and later an educator and Youth Director. I learned how to daven at Ramah; I learned about kashrut and about the importance of Halachah in Hebrew High School; and I learned the importance of Shabbat from USY.

My children are all products of SSDS.

One would think that I would be in my element in a C-shul. However, there is no home for me or my family in any C-shul. The davening is incomplete; the adherence to halachah is almost non-existent. Consider, there are three C-shuls near me. Two of them have 900 and 700 families respectively. Both shuls struggle to get a minyan (an egal minyan) on Shabbatot where no child is becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The two shuls suffer from a 60% and 70% drop out rate after the last child becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Both shuls struggle to get minyanim on the yom tovim (Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, Simchat Torah) to the point one shul cancelled Shacharit/Musaf services on the yom tovim. Neither shul has a morning minyan, the other has an evening minyan twice a week. Neither shul have mincha on Shabbat.

The Rabbi of one of the shuls grants hashgachah to a bagel store that sells treif. His teudah states that only the baked good are kosher -- but given that there is no separation between the baked goods and the treif, it's hard to see what that means.

Support of SSDS from the C-shuls is practically non-existent. As a result, SSDS struggles. Hebrew school is now one day a week.

I recently attended a simcha in a C-shul on Shabbat as a relative became Bar Mitzvah. As soon as Adon Olam finished, the wall separating the social hall from the sanctuary opened. As it did, a group of musicians began playing -- all sanctioned by the C-Rabbi of the shul.

The Conservative movement lost its way. It doesn't know what it represents and pushed its best and brightest leaders from the 70s away. When I look at the leadership of Ramah and USY from my teens and 20s, over 90% left the conservative movement; some to Reform but the majority to Orthodoxy and UTJ. That is the biggest shame.

for me the key words are "affordable intensive Judaism".
Chancellor Eisen mentions day care,early childhood programs,day school education,Ramah camps. They are
are becoming less and less affordable. It is true that we live in the tri-State area.
In Manhattan, parents who will send their children to SSDS in first grade, now send their kids to Chabad and Manhattan Day School--why? because they are the least expensive of the very expensive options--not that $11,000 per nursery school is exactly inexpensive!
When we were parents and sent our kids to SSDS--we had no money left to send them to ramah.
Our children cannot afford the $30,000 per child (or more) for SSDS in Mahhattan.
Indeed the very Jews we want to nurture and desperatey want and need to be in the Conservative movement are having 2 children or less so that they can afford intensive Jewish education--this is when we want to raise the birth rate of Jews!!
In truth, I don't know how the Orthodox movement is managing this financial crisis but I know that the Conservative movement is not. Indeed--I don't know if this policy has been reversed but when we wished to send our children to Ramah for just one month we were told we had to commit to 2 months past a certain age. So we committed to none of the above!!
If I had the money to be a philanthropist these are precisely the institutions I would support.(Indeed if I had the means, I would help our children pay for our grandchildren's education). What is the point of a rabbinical school if there will be no congregants to lead?
I know that the education I received at JTS (The Seminary College, class of 1959) was priceless--but at least I could afford it!
"Im eyn Kemakh, eyn Torah" there is a sore need of Kemaakh now, and I wish I knew the answer of how to solve this. But if we don't figure something out--indeed all will be lost.
Menorah Rotenberg

Kids in Hebrew schools need to be taught that our Torah came from Sinai
and not from J, E, P and D. Dr. Eisen, please answer this question. If the
Torah (both written and oral) is not the word of G-d then why not intermarry? Why not discard all traditions? Will singing Israeli folk songs save the next generation?

Sam: Some of us cannot accept the preposition that the "Torah (both written and oral)" is the direct word of G-d. Shall we then stop keeping Kosher, stop observing Shabbat, stop attending shule, stop studying Torah -- is that really your recommendation? How does one make oneself believe something? For me belief grows from study and practice -- and Judaism is a path that leads towards truth. Conservative Judaism allows me to have this approach, to live as best I can according to halacha without a need to define my precise beliefs re the Divine and the human interactions that we know as Torah and as Judaism.

By the same reasoning, one can reject and dismiss the whole of Yiddishkeit. And most of America's Jews have already done so. If the Torah and Halacha was not received at Sinai from HaShem, then what is the force or energy for Jews to observe and enact any Jewish ways? Why should it not be as a Chinese menu, where one chooses what one wants and rejects what one doesn't? If someone would approach you and say that they wish to serve you, do you determine what service you need or require or does the the other person? If Yiddishkeit is about serving HaShem, is one not required to humble themselves before the Creator of all to what the Creator needs or requires. If not, is one not just serving themselves? And if one is serving themselves, can they simply decide that the best service is to stop the whole thing? This is what is happening in America. You in America are hemorrhaging your Jews. Without sourcing Yiddishkeit to its Source, then there is no reason to observe anything except to be self-serving. And is that simply the opposite of Torah and Yiddishkeit?

Why are Orthodox services so much more warmer and their Rabbis so much more passionate?

because they are convinced they know everything and are able to answer every question - since they think you are not educated enough in Thora and your point of view is not acceptable !!! Unfortunately, today more than ever before, we know that orthodox rabbis (and others) are as corrupt as the priests in the Catholic Church.

In agreement with Chancellor Eisen I also treasure what the institutions of the Conservative movement have done for my family and me. Our growth as Jews has immensely benefited from the leadership and teaching of Conservative Rabbis, the support of Conservative congregations, years at Camp Ramah and JTSA. However, in agreement with a comment above I also wondered, what happened to an explicit reference to halacha and its presumed centrality for Conservative Judaism in the Chancellors comments? In his classic work "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice" which for many of us also helped define our (Conservative) Judaism, Rabbi Isaac Klein of blessed memory wrote as his first introductory statement "Judaism rises and fall in accordance with the degree to which Halakkah permeates and penetrates the life of the Jewish people." More recently William Freidman in his powerful article "Sacrifice, Egalitarianism and Sociology" (Times of Israel, Nov. 14) discusses the challenges of being both halachically observant and egalitarian (another important article is “Conservative Judaism may be failing but it’s ideas are not” by Judah Skoff, Times of Israel November 13). In this regard Freidman mentions halacha some 12 times to the Chancellor’s 0 mentions. Clearly many of the best and the brightest products of the Conservative movement, trying to apply what they learned through the institutions of Conservative Judaism, have been struggling with finding their place in organized Jewish movements and some, too many in my opinion, opting out of the Conservative movement. It’s not clear to me if and how Chancellor Eisen plans to respond to folks like Freidman and Skoff and the many many who share their views. To me this is of more concern than the numbers in the Pew report.

Than you Lee for raising the issue of living a life bound through Covenant and expressed on our part by living according to Jewish law, halakha, dynamic, powerful, ever evolving and still binding and still the expression of living life to its fullest. The ongoing absence of discussion on what Conservative Judaism actually is presents the greatest challenge of all. It is impossible to get people to commit to something if we cannot or do not define it. Kol HaKavod for raising this issue. I hope it will be taken up.

Yesterday, a woman came to shul to say kaddish to commemorate a yahrzeit. We talked as we left the building. She came from an Orthodox background. Her children all lived in the area, & are members of the various local Orthodox synagogues. "But," she said, "we're not religious, so we joined [name of Conservative synagogue we had just left]."
Too many people join non-Orthodox synagogues for social, temporary educational (bar/bat mitzvah), or similar needs. I hail from another synagogue where that is not the case, but it is an oasis in a desert. I suspect that Conservative Judaism will survive & thrive there, after the movement itself implodes.
Conservative Judaism can't be whatever the 'drifting wind' demands, whether it be accepting (or shrugging shoulders at) intermarriage or other issues that should 'lines in the sand.'

We need more young and active rabbis and cantors in our synagogues. Rabbis who have been bench warmers for years ( endlessly repeating sermons [even on the High Holy days] , who have no desire or ability to reach out to young, hardworking (with limited means) families, who run after only those who have "influence", who begrudgingly work every other Shabbat ( and never between July 4 and Labor Day) who demand higher salaries than their congregations can pay them, and then accept "personal" contributions to their already inflated salaries MUST be made to retire.

Excellent article, sadly more people are not talking about this and taking concrete ways to find solutions, but are caught in the blame game with light in there eyes. Please let me know if you know of anyway I can help

Rabbi Eisen, you are way off base. Conservative Judaism is in its death throes. The reason is simple: you base Conservative Judaism on a progressive halakhah. The problem is that the overwhelming number of Conservative Jews reject halakhah, progressive or otherwise. So, you are left with a synagogue movement that has to tap dance on its own behavioral and philosophical dissonance. Halakhah speaks to the Orthodox of all stripes. Liberal Judaism will thrive, but only by liberating itself from the delusion of its halakhic foundation. Since you continue in the delusion, you will continue to preside over the USCJ's demise.

Although the practice of Judaism is rapidly becoming non- (or post-) denominational, the Conservative movement, as is stands, has the most to lose. This has a lot to with the reduced threat of Reform, which is moving away from its radical, classical form to a somewhat observant one. There is also the problem of mixed messages regarding the degree of halakha espoused by many Conservative congregations, creating the escape to Orthodox in search of genuineness. The unique attribute of Conservative remains the Wissenschaft. If a way can be found to capitalize on the agenda-free, scientific scholarship under the auspices of JTS, then Conservative can meet and exceed its former glory days among the various brands of Judaism. Go and recruit students, especially to the graduate school, but make their education widely affordable. Make the investment now in graduate education and the dividends will be profound. No other seminary in this country has the reputation, philosophy, faculty or library that JTS still has, so please make entrance to your many programs accessible to all bright and eager students, no matter their wealth or age. Support and embrace these students in all ways possible; they are your future and will do you proud.

Well said, chancellor. I'd follow you anywhere. Keep up the good work.

A wise man once said (actually it was the Clergy at BJ) that in order to move forward that you had to have a consensus between everyone- it is almost like having a Universal Field Theory in play which becomes very difficult for any large institution especially a Jewish Institution.

The need for our future Clergy to convey to their congregation is the ability to open their hearts so that they may study Torah/Talmud. Reb Mimi from the Ziegler is probably the best example of someone who teaches this to their students.

The probability of having all of the wonderful professors at JTS embrace alternative means of opening up people to the divine is very improbable . Yet learning different techniques I believe is a necessity to teaching Torah/Talmud.

I suggest that the future Rabbis of JTS take a 2 day intensive course whose outcome is to be able to help their future congregations to experience the divine. Ron Wolfson, Danny Messing,the BJ Clergy, and Reb Mimi could be the leaders of this course.Talmud Professors and Rabbinical students would be the students. The outcome could perhaps be feeling committed Jewish Synagogue members.

I will be happy to help raise money for this project if the powers that be have an interest.

Much as I appreciate Dr. Eisen's observations, and his persona -- which my wife and I have observed with admiration at JTS high Holy Day services ever since he came to NY -- I am disappointed that he skirts the subject of intermarriage. With more than half of all Jews outside the Orthodox community marrying "out", a less than welcoming attitude towards those they marry cannot help but push them out themselves. Intermarriage may be problematic, but it is also an opportunity -- at the least to introduce non-Jews to the Jewish tradition -- and in many cases to enlist the children of intermarriage, and one or both their parents, in Jewish peoplehood. Not to take that opportunity, with confidence that Judaism is able to more than hold its own in America with any competing tradition, is to be complicit in its decline. I say this as a grandparent of two grandchildren, aged 18 and 15, from a Jewish-Christian marriage, who are as proud of their Jewishness as their five cousins from Jewish-Jewish marriages. Imagine how much stronger they might feel without the many sermons against inter-marriage to which we are all exposed.

As the mother of a child who is both gifted intellectually and blessed with special needs, I find a dual need in the area of Jewish special education. My son, now age 12, wanted to go to SSDS, has a proclivity for languages, but were disappointed to learn that there were no programs in place for students with special needs - a double loss, since our school district was willing to assist with tuition, since it too lacked a special needs program for a genius who is also developmentally delayed.

As we look to create, sustain, and nurture Jewish experiences, communities, and firm up our connections, let's look to solving problems on a bigger collaborative scale so we can help our institutions help our children live and learn Jewishly. Within months, my son, will be re-visiting day school placement, and there is still no SSDS to serve his needs - he hopes to be a rabbi or cantor.

Growing up, being "Conservative" meant almost nothing: no one kept kosher, or Shabbat, we didn't study Torah (outside of Hebrew school, where we learned nothing.) We celebrated only four Jewish holidays - Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Passover. And my family was considered "religious"!

My "Conservative" friends and relatives today eat pork, are happy for their kids to marry out, don't know anything about Judaism, and don't care. And this is despite sending their kids to Jewish preschools and Ramah. Our local Conservative synagogue just reinvented itself as an interfaith synagogue, because that's where all their members are at.

I chose to be Orthodox so my kids will actually have a Jewish life, a Jewish education, and a Jewish future. My family calls us fanatics - even though we're very modern Orthodox - but that just shows the self-hatred that Conservative Judaism created in a generation of Jews: anyone who keeps Shabbat, any girl who wears a skirt, is seen as something horrible. I'm so bitter that the Conservative movement fed me and my friends a load of lies - that traditional Judaism is horrible, is sexist, is something to be fixed - and the result is a generation of Jews who completely drifted away from Judaism.

Where is the word HALACHA?????? Where is Torah from Sinai???? All he has is the Conservative "Torah". That is the one that Conservative Jews re-write.

and that is what I do not accept...that Conservatives today are acting like official Reform and tend to adopt more changes made by the Reform. Jesus was the first Reform Jew and we all know how it ended .......

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