Conservative movement leadership focuses
on reversing declining membership.
SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN
AND JEWISH TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY
t takes Samantha Rollinger more than an hour to walk
from her West Bloomfield home to Shabbat services a. -.
Congregation Shan rey Zedek-B'nai Israel Center.
On her way home from services, she passes a few
other walkers and a barrage of fellow congregants getting
into their cars; some are driving home for Shabbat lunch,
others for a family meal in a restaurant and still others to
shop, drop off or pick up kids from soccer or visiting friends.
While the people she sees may observe Jewish law at vary-
ing levels, all belong to the same synagogue and all affiliate
with the philosophy of Conservative Judaism.
The movement "generates tremendous activity and com-
mitment," said Rabbi David Wolpe of the 1,600-family
member Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. But, "in my experi-
ence, most Conservative Jews have a traditional feel, but not
a very halachic (Jewish law) approach."
Now, during its 90th year, the grandchildren of the move-
ment's founders are beginning to rethink why they became
— and remain — Conservative Jews.
This rethinking follows the recent United Jewish
Communities (UJC) National Jewish Population Survey
(NJPS) finding: of the 46 percent of American Jewish adults
belonging to synagogues, 33 percent belong to Conservative
congregations, compared with 43 percent in 1990.
The topic was at the forefront for 350 professional and lay
leaders who gathered at last month's United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism (USCJ) Biennial Convention in
Dallas. The group represented the organization's 1.5 million
members who belong to nearly 770 congregations in North
But while the decrease in numbers was discussed, attendees
focused on generating solutions, including outreach, educa-
tion and the seeding of new synagogues.
Biennial participants agreed to counter the movement's
demographic decline with new resolve to nurture the needs
of their more observant congregants and to encourage all
members to strengthen their adherence to Jewish law.
"Most congregational leaders are committed to the syna-
gogue functioning within the framework of Halachah," said
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the the
New York-based USCJ. "That is important. But we stray
from both our vision and mission if we permit it to be suffi-
Our mission, indeed, our responsibility, is to motivate
THE SQUEEZE on page 22
The Conservative movement prides itself on youth education.
Jason Dovitz, 12, Max Blitz 13, and Sam Brickman, 12, all of
West Bloomfield, take part in a class at Mat Shalom Synagogue.