Thursday, October 31, 2013

Do “Movements” exist anymore?

In the 1920’s American Judaism had a strong sense of the new term “The Melting Pot,” in which Jewish Americans could be Jewish and yet not be so very different from their fellow citizens around them.  The compatibility of Judaism and Democracy was the theme of the day.  The first English-Hebrew prayer books, and bibles were published.  The Conservative movement, previously centered on the Jewish Theological Seminary of America became lead by the new United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.  English, not Yiddish, became the language of the sermon, and Jews began attending colleges and universities in record numbers. In 1925 the largest Boy Scout Troop in America was at Beth Shalom, in Kansas City, MO.

After WWII, the G.I. Jew solidified our place in American society, and became a builder of the suburbs as well as a champion of civil rights.  In the 1950’s, social clubs and fraternal organizations defined the landscape of American society.  Fraternity and Sorority groups existed in High Schools, as well as colleges, and community organizations such as the Lyons Club, Kiwanis, Masons, Rotary and more lead much of the volunteer and networking activity in suburbs and cities alike. Jewish groups were created to parallel those organizations, and some Jews joined the secular groups as well.

In the 1970’s, however, extended families were breaking down, followed soon by the rise in divorce and the breakdown of nuclear families as well.  The individual was the center of attention, and fraternal organizations throughout America were in decline.

The Conservative movement was founded in the idea that communal responsibility was best experienced through communal affiliation. And we thrived. The USCJ boomed in the ‘50s and ‘60s as baby boomers grew their families and yet were committed to traditional expressions in the modern world.

But over the past 30 years, to focus on the individual and the loss of fraternal appeal has taken their toll. The Reform movement, based in the idea if individual ethical autonomy, fits the new ethos successfully.  The smaller Renewal and Reconstructionist groups also tap into these ideas. And the Orthodox movement, based in a high standard of individual responsibility to mitzvot and communal involvement, has been largely insulated from the change in external culture. Indeed, some say that it helps to define Orthodoxy very clearly to be so different.  The Conservative movement, however, has lagged.

In the coming month, we will explore what these “movements” truly are in our day.  Are they “movements” at all? What defines them? Come learn from Rabbi Leana Moritt (Reform/Renewal), Rabbi Marc Spivak (Orthodox) and me as we each spend an evening teaching and talking about what it means to be “our kind of Jew.” For us, more than others, knowing who we are – and how we are different – is critically important for our future as a synagogue. For dates and times, view our 3 Rabbis Flyer at

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