Conservatives Jews stake out middle ground in D.C.


WASHINGTON, April 24 (JTA) – The Reform movement has been doing it for more than 35 years. The Orthodox movement has been doing it for a few years. Now, the Conservative movement has decided to get in the game.

The game is Washington policy and politics and the move to give the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism a presence in the nation’s capital is coming after many years and some financial stumbling blocks.

The movement is finally going ahead with establishing a presence in the nation’s capital apparently because Conservative congregations are increasingly interested in having a stronger voice in U.S. policy-making.

The Conservative movement has resisted defining itself politically, said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, United Synagogue’s executive vice president.

But, after hearing from more people within the movement, United Synagogue is taking steps to set up a D.C. storefront and lobby on social action issues.

The challenge will be to find consensus within the movement, said Epstein, because the movement straddles the fence on many issues.

Putting a positive spin on that challenge, Epstein said, “We can be a bridge.”

While Epstein does not envision becoming the Conservative equivalent of the Religious Action Center – the Reform movement’s well-entrenched, relatively large policy shop – he is committing to having a full-time presence at some point.

In the meantime, Sarrae Crane, the director of United Synagogue’s social action and public policy department, will be in Washington twice every month.

Epstein and Crane were in Washington last week setting up meetings and laying the foundation for the new effort.

The United Synagogue serves as the policy-making organization of an estimated 760 Conservative synagogues in North America. It already works to formulate a religious response to social and religious issues such as intermarriage, the environment, child welfare, synagogue accessibility and domestic violence.

Recommended from JTA