More Lay Involvement in Reform Synagogues Urged for Viability

Reform congregational leaders have been told that greater involvement of lay people in all elements of the synagogue’s services and programs could assure their future viability and benefit both Israel and American Jewish life.

Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, also told 600 representatives of the UAHC’s New York Federation of Reform Synagogues at a two-day convention that lay participation could mean the difference between a synagogue being “a museum and one that lives.”

He said “we must break the barrier between pulpit and pew by de-professionalizing our religious life,” noting that “nothing in our tradition reserves certain roles to the professional leader of the congregation.”

Schindler cited, as examples, a Midwest congregation where lay people spend the entire year preparing the worship services; a for West synagogue where parents attend their own religious classes or serve as teachers at the same time as their youngsters attend classes; and a Southwest synagogue which has formed a havurah of single parent families, through which they observe the festivals and the Sabbath as a family unit.

He said “we must never cease our efforts” for Israel, but added there was a need for “a balance between the preoccupation with Israel today on the American scene and an equal emphasis towards our own institutions here facing the important struggle to secure a creative continuity of the Jewish people.”

CONTRIBUTION OF WOMEN LAUDED

Schindler reported that women are contributing their services on all levels in increasing numbers as participants in the Reform synagogue and that the movement has produced a number of women cantors and rabbis but he added that these women must be given “more than lip service” and “full recognition and equality.”

He expressed concern that the expected 15 to 20 new women rabbis scheduled to be ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform seminary, might not get full acceptance as rabbis. Without a “drastic alteration in the mood of our congregations,” he said, they will be “relegated” to “ancillary positions. They are trained to be rabbis and have the right to serve in that capacity.”

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