BALTIMORE (JTA) — At their biennial convention, Conservative Jewish leaders called for renewing the “vital religious center” of American Judaism in the wake of numerous studies showing their movement is shrinking.
Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, called for a return to the principles articulated a century ago by Solomon Schechter, founder of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
“Our aim must be to emulate the boldness and daring of the strategies he chose, to adapt them for our day, so as to carry Torah forward,” Eisen said Sunday on the opening day of the centennial conference of United Synagogue, the synagogue arm of the Conservative movement.
Eisen proposed a threefold strategy to confront what he called this “time of unprecedented challenge and change” for Conservative Judaism: being as welcoming as possible to bring in more Jews; taking Conservative Judaism beyond the bounds of the synagogue; and providing more money and time to the movement.
“Over the next two days, we’ll be questioning who we are, what we stand for and what we contribute to the Jewish landscape,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue, said in his opening address. “We aspire to rewrite our narrative from decline to renewal, energy, optimism, transcendence and transformation.”
Delivering the keynote address at the evening gala on Sunday, Rabbi Harold Kushner lamented the loss of many of the movement’s most promising students, who have defected to other movements or started their own nondenominational communities.
“I don’t begrudge my Orthodox colleagues the growth of Orthodox Judaism,” Kushner said. “I don’t begrudge my Reform colleagues the growth of Reform Judaism, fueled in large measure by intermarriage and conversion.
“What does bother me is when the best and brightest of our movement leave our synagogues. We can’t hold onto them — that more than anything else is what concerns me.”