Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi: Today, many North American rabbinic leaders know that historical watersheds demand historically minded, creative, and large-scale thinking about core values, methodology, institutional structure and leadership. Such grappling also often demands the renegotiation of faith in the necessity and potential of those same foundations.
Ari Y. Kelman: Here’s just one example of how strange synagogue culture is. Synagogue members paydues. On any given weekend, approximately 25 percent of those members availthemselves of the services available: worship, study, volunteering, school.Rabbis and communal professionals regularly bemoan this fact, searching for the other 75 percent who pay but don’t play. But here’s the weird thing: synagogues need that 75 percent to not show up. If they did, the synagogue could not possibly provide for them. Imagine if the average Shabbat service looked like the High Holidays?
Shawn Landres: Broadly understood, the emergent phenomenon reflects three large-scale transformations of identity and collectivity in 21st-century Jewish life: the unbundling and relocation of activitiespreviously “packaged” in a given institution, such as the synagogue; an organizing principle for collective action that now relies on an interpersonal, relational dynamic rather than an institutional framework; and bundling (and rebundling) of activities and practices into new institutions that reflect contemporary realities and meet the needs of the individuals they engage and serve.
Stephanie Kolin: Community organizing teaches us to help people identify what is meaningful enough and brain-engaging and heart-jiggling enough to invest their time and energy. If we have conversations with those outside of our synagogue walls, and build with them something that is relevant to who and where they are, then we may find ourselves with an even richer and more dynamic and networked Jewish community.
In the following Sh’ma Roundtable, rabbinic leaders of the various movements as well as scholars of American Jewry speculate about the challenges and opportunities ahead for synagogues. They brought a thirst for honest, candid conversation as they pondered whether the synagogue is “beleaguered” and how American Jewry can work together beyond institutional boundaries to embolden
“The real beginning of community is when its members have a common relation to the center overriding all other relations: the circle is described by the radii, not by the points along its circumference.” —Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia If asked what they most appreciate about our congregation, many congregants would respond, “the community.” In
We asked several rabbis, representing the spectrum of religious belief and practice, who have founded successful spiritual communities — most of which do not consider themselves “synagogues” — to talk about what distinguishes these groups. We wondered if indie minyanim and communities are having an impact on the expectations of what a more mainstream synagogue is supposed to be and
J.J. Goldberg And so we ask: Is there a Jewish ethic of campaign finance? There are two ways to approach the question. On the one hand, how could there be when our sages (of blessed memory) never considered the possibility of a popularly elected presidency, much less multimillion-dollar election campaigns with 30-second television spots? On
1. Have independent minyanim and communities had an impact on the expectations of what mainstream synagogues are supposed to be and do? And if so, how? Or, have these communities become part of the synagogue scene without the name?
2. How does a synagogue develop an identity — a sense of itself as an institution?
3. Is the synagogue an institution that is largely middle class or upper middle class — and, if so, does that impact the services a synagogue provides?
4. There seems to be less drive today to “belong”; how has this changed the ways in which synagogues reach out to potential new members?
5. What role does “program” play in a synagogue’s mission?
Are synagogues able to blur the boundaries between what happens within and outside its walls? Are synagogues responding to the trend that Jews today operate with multiple identities?