Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Membership Decline of Non-Orthodox shuls in Long Island

I want to thank Jewish Blogmeister who posted about this article here about Conservative and Reform shuls in Long Island merging with each other in order to survive. I am going to take a few pieces from this article and comment on them based on my experience with many of these shuls as a former USYer and what i see as really going on.

"Primarily, we've had a course of financial issues which can be directly traced back to our shrinking demographics and membership ..." What are these financial issues? If you pay your Rabbi, Cantor, and Hebrew School Principal or Education director 6 figures as a salary you have to make sure you have the membership to afford it. With shrinking membership and high salaries that makes a higher membership fee. There are some synagogues in these movements that ask to see your tax returns and your membership fee is based on that. There are some shuls that continue to raise membership to prices no one can afford. When this happens most of the time the family does not show up to shul anymore since they are not welcome and if Chabad does not get a hold of them these people might not ever show up in shul again.

"The temples find themselves hurt by the exodus of young people from Long Island, whatever their religion. High taxes and high housing costs are blamed" I don't think that this is a valid excuse. Look at certain towns such as Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Hewlitt, Plainview as well as many more that have plenty of young people moving in. They are all going to orthodox synagogues not the Conservative or Reform shuls. I don't see people moving out of any of the communities with a heavy Orthodox population. I don't see this Exodus. What i see is that people are leaving the Reform and Conservative shuls and they are looking to blame outside sources for the membership decline rather then looking at themselves.

"Right now, we are seeing a flurry of new congregations in the Pacific Northwest. Similarly, five years ago, there were several new congregations in Florida. What's happening on the Island is really a demographic issue." Here is another person blaming it on demographics again. I wonder if this person has ever visited any of these new congregations in Florida. From what I have seen is that many Northeast snowbirds and retirees built these Reform and Conservative shuls, the same way they built them 50 years ago in the Northeast. Young people that live in these areas are not becoming members and if they are its the same thing that it is only for Bar and Bat mitzvahs and once they are finished with that they drop membership. In the article they even quote someone saying, "The Reform movement, with the most members nationally and locally, has also had troubles. Reform synagogues have long struggled with being seen and used as no more than "bat and bar mitzvah mills," as Bloom called them. Many families belong to their local temple only until their children's religious education is completed, Bloom said. Synagogue affiliation rates among Reform Jews are also the lowest among the three major denominations, and Rabbi Stark said they are even lower than normal in New York" In the areas in Florida, Chabad as well as Chofetz Chaim and other Kiruv groups have been very successfull down there because the Jews down there are not affiliating themselves to any shul. So yes there might be a flurry of new congregations but do a census of the average age of the people in these "new" congregations.
With these mergers the whole idea of Egalitarianism has taken center with some of these shuls. In my opinion, the whole Egalitarian thing is a joke and has no place in traditional Judaism. The joke is that the people try to claim "halacha" permits them to do things like this. I stated in my previous posts here and here my opinion on the Conservative movements ideas on how they come up with there rules.
The only way these shuls can actually save themselves is to do something none of them will do. Look within yourselves to see why people are leaving instead of blaming external things. Ask former members why they left instead of trying to figure out yourselves why people are leaving. Realize that the whole reason you are Jewish is because of the Torah, and if the Torah starts to be studied and followed in a proper way it will lead you in the right direction. In Queens many of the Conservative and Reform shuls have merged and closed when Orthodox shuls next door are expanding. Why don't these shuls ask themselves, why are those shuls growing especially if they are in the same neighborhood yet our shul is losing members? Look into yourselves and you will find the answer. Don't blame other things.

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