At Conservative Judaism Convention, Leaders Focus On Shrinkage
10/14/2013 - 11:23

BALTIMORE — At their biennial convention, Conservative Jewish leaders called for renewing the “vital religious center” of American Judaism in the wake of numerous studies showing their movement is shrinking.

Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, called for a return to the principles articulated a century ago by Solomon Schechter, founder of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

“Our aim must be to emulate the boldness and daring of the strategies he chose, to adapt them for our day, so as to carry Torah forward,” Eisen said Sunday on the opening day of the centennial conference of United Synagogue, the synagogue arm of the Conservative movement.

Eisen proposed a threefold strategy to confront what he called this “time of unprecedented challenge and change” for Conservative Judaism: being as welcoming as possible to bring in more Jews; taking Conservative Judaism beyond the bounds of the synagogue; and providing more money and time to the movement.

“Over the next two days, we’ll be questioning who we are, what we stand for and what we contribute to the Jewish landscape,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue, said in his opening address. ”We aspire to rewrite our narrative from decline to renewal, energy, optimism, transcendence and transformation.”

Delivering the keynote address at the evening gala on Sunday, Rabbi Harold Kushner lamented the loss of many of the movement’s most promising students, who have defected to other movements or started their own nondenominational communities.

“I don’t begrudge my Orthodox colleagues the growth of Orthodox Judaism,” Kushner said. “I don’t begrudge my Reform colleagues the growth of Reform Judaism, fueled in large measure by intermarriage and conversion.

“What does bother me is when the best and brightest of our movement leave our synagogues. We can’t hold onto them — that more than anything else is what concerns me.”

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This was not the focus. The focus of the Centennial was learning, sharing and challenging ourselves to create a strong and fearless future for the Conservative movement.We feel such pride in what Conservative Judaism offers and will continue to offer to the Jewish community in ways rooted in Jewish tradition and integrated into our worldly lives. The speakers and leaders urged us to strengthen our kehillot both within and beyond the synagogue. The conference was a beautiful experience. The enthusiasm of the many USY teens in attendance gave proof to the future we are already creating.

The headline is thoroughly misleading. I am here along with some 1,200 fellow Jews in order to do what Jews do every year - take a step back to see where we are and how we can be better. In fact, the many sessions led by thoughtful and inspirational lay and professional leaders reviews all our strengths and a renewed determination. It is not about bemoaning the past but embracing the present and planning the future. The glass ain't half full but it isn't empty either. We know we need to do better but we also know that what we have is authentic and vibrant. It speaks to every individual's yearning to lead of life of meaning and purpose. It reflects the views of the vast majority of Jews who want to be part of modern society, offering the Torah's admonitions to be a Holy People. We own out Judaism and we will make sure that Tradition guides us but we must be a Light Unto Nations without living in the dark

Rabbi Solomon Schechter didn't preach to the headlines or issue p'skei halacha based on polling and popularity

Eisen needs the Conservative Movement to stand for something, or it will stand alone