Yasher Koach – January 2013

Dear Friends, Yasher koach to all the volunteers who worked so diligently to make HELP Week successful at Rodef Sholom Temple! I thoroughly enjoyed sharing the experience of hosting our guests and contributing what we are able to supply to the well-being of homeless people who participate in our local HELP program. What a wonderful way for us to lead into the new secular year of 2013 as a caring and committed Conservative congregation!

In stark contrast to the vitality we feel at Rodef Sholom Temple, there has been much talk about “the decline” of the Conservative movement in the United States. Surveys have been quoted citing “alarming” statistics. However, in a recent article by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, published in Conservative Judaism and entitled: “The Vital Center is Holding,” a different picture emerges. Silverstein, a trained sociologist and a Conservative rabbi, takes a look at the data more closely.

Examining the “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011,” which claims that what happens in New York reflects trends around the U.S. and that affiliation in New York Conservative congregations is falling precipitously, Silverstein points out that the New York study found 142,000 affiliated Modern Orthodox Jews, 191,000 members of Conservative synagogues, and 160,000 members of Reform synagogues. In addition, he cites an article in the New York Jewish Week that reports that rather than a decline, the numbers of affiliated members for Conservative Jews between 2002 and 2011, represent “approximate stability.”

I believe that in our own temple, if we look at the same time frame, we will also find that we have maintained “approximate stability.” Of course, in the past year we were blessed with new members from B’nai Israel, but we have also been blessed in recent years to have new families, including families with young children, join us– thanks in no small measure to the excitement generated by our active congregation and by our carefully crafted educational programming both for families and for children.

Silverstein notes that the Synagogue 3000 study agrees that on Saturday mornings “Conservative services are far better attended than Reform services” and that this is “a reflection of there being an ongoing Shabbat morning worshipping community in Conservative congregations,” due to “emphasis on observing special practices…on the Sabbath or…holy day” and upon “personal prayer, meditation, devotion or other spiritual practices.” Indeed, if one seeks to pray with a morning minyan, not only on Shabbat mornings, but also on Monday or Thursday mornings, Rodef Sholom Temple is presently the only option available on the Peninsula.

Admittedly, in my day-to-day life, I tend to think of myself as “Just Jewish” and I like to feel equally connected to all my Jewish brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, I cannot help noticing how important denominational affiliation is for the future of our people. And, as people increasingly tend to reject labels and to resist denominational labels, it is important to note that, according to the latest studies, denominationally affiliated Jews are consistently more Jewishly engaged than people who identify as “Just Jewish.” So, for instance, 73 percent of affiliated Conservative Jews rate “very high” or “high” on a scale measuring Jewish engagement, while 72 percent of “Just Jewish” respondents rate “low” or “very low.”

While I have profound admiration for the various movements in Judaism, and I appreciate the unique contributions each of them brings to the table, to be sure, I cannot ignore the immense contribution of the Conservative movement to the present and future engagement of our people in all things Jewish, and in all things communal in the community at large.

Keeping our ritual and ethical traditions alive, relevant, and vitally connected to one another is the heart of Conservative Judaism. It is also the secret of keeping our children and our children’s children involved, caring, and committed both to Judaism and to community. And, it is certainly a large part of the secret of the ongoingvvitality of Rodef Sholom Temple.

Speaking of on-going vitality, I am very excited about the upcoming celebration of Rodef Sholom Temple’s centennial in 2013 and I look forward as well to sharing many experiences of engagement and involvement with you in the coming year. I also encourage you to share your own excitement about RST with friends and acquaintances who may be unaffiliated, and to invite them to come to RST to get to know us. We will certainly be happy to get to know them!

I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very happy and healthy new secular year of 2013!

Rabbi Gilah Dror,
Holder of the Dr. Bernard A. Morewitz Rabbinical Chair