Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do Synagogues Have a Future?

Institutions are always a product of the times in which they are created. Jewish Institutions, doubly so. Lately, many of these institutions, which form the backbone of the organized Jewish world, have had their very need questioned by young adults and others who see them as relics of another time.

Jewish hospitals, community centers and specific social services were all created to provide services for Jews which they often could not receive elsewhere. Fast forward to the present day and we find few institutions from whose most inner sanctums we are excluded. Conversely, when barriers and quotas fell, Jews enthusiastically embraced these institutions.

But surely, synagogues, which are very specifically Jewish, and whose purpose is not made redundant by other institutions have remained essential, right?

With young adults choosing not to affiliate, synagogues are getting pretty worried.
Enter Synagogue 3000, an organization seeking to help imagine and create the next generation of synagogues and young adult engagement.

S3K has encouraged what they call a 'relational' approach to Jewish engagement, stressing relationships over membership (sound familiar?), capacity building over pocketbook pandering, and a long term and more national view of the Jewish community.

This past weekend, S3K hosted a 'Next Dor Conversation', in which they invited Rabbis, Jewish professionals, and lay leaders to learn from the five initial Next Dor sites, including our very own in St. Louis. In addition to presentations by each site as to its approach and results, Steven Cohen, Sociologist of American Jewry, presented some early findings from a survey conducted of participants of all sites. His results showed increased participation, increased identification, and increased integration into the Jewish community across all sites.

Cohen's main point was this: young adults are waiting longer to get married, synagogues' main demographic are married couples, and therefore, the work that needs to be done is to keep people engaged long enough so that when they get married, the synagogue is an obvious next step.

Four of Next Dor St. Louis's crew were flown to New York to attend the conference, to present, participate, and schmooze. This opportunity provided them the opportunity to both showcase their work and the city, while exposing them to new ideas and individuals.

Judging by the enthusiasm and compliments received by the St. Louis delegation, it is clear that Next Dor STL is not only making an impact locally, but is getting the attention of serious Jewish thinkers, activists, and professionals around the country.

What will this mean for the future of traditional Jewish institutions, synagogues in particular? We aren't quite sure, but it certainly is exciting.

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