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November 14, 2003 - Image 27

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-14

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46

Cover Story

THE SQUEEZE from page 24

months studying at the Conservative
Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Conservative
Judaism is the middle road that she finds
attractive.
While she believes that an .observant
Conservative Jew is one who honors the
mizvot halachically, she sees strength in
the movement's acceptance of those who
don't.
"Many people I know — particularly
those I have met studying at my yeshiv-
ah — are currently struggling with what
it means to be a Conservative Jew," she
said. "This is particularly challenging
because many people who find their
homes in the movement do not halahi-
cally follow it. Personally, I do not feel
that this excludes them from the move-
ment.
"One of the greatest assets of the
movement is that while it does strongly
encourage a halachic lifestyle, it also
allows congregants time to explore their
Judaism and does not force this lifestyle
on them. Instead, Conservative Judaism
affords its membership a wealth of learn-
ing opportunities to help them further
their path and reach their appropriate
level of observance in a comfortable
fashion."
The Detroit and Ann Arbor Jewish
communities together have nearly 5,000
families who belong to synagogues.

Attracting Youth

One area for growth is with young
people.
The Conservative movement prides
itself in offering Jewish commitment
and synagogue roots to its young
through afternoon and day school edu-
cation programs and its 750 youth
group chapters, affiliating 25,000 mem-
bers.
Teen programs also include the
United Synagogue Youth's Israel
Pilgrimage summer program and USY
On Wheels summer bus trips, providing
travel with other Conservative Jewish
teens.
Participants in Israel programming
study at USY High and the 11-month
Nativ College Leadership Program, with
full accreditation at Hebrew University.
The KOACH program provides out-
reach and educational materials for
Conservative college students on cam-
puses and sponsors trips and conven-
tions for students.
USCJ President Yudof said early suc-
cess has greeted Project Reconnect,
which she and chair Jackie Saltz con-
ceived and developed last year to identi-
fy and attract alumni of United
Synagogue Youth and similar organiza-
tions. Using only volunteer staff, mem-
ber power and donations, she said, the

effort to reunite thousands in the
Conservative movement, is just begin-
ning to draw on the power of a Web
site: vvww.projectreconnectorg
The movement runs undergraduate
and graduate programs at both JTS in
New York and the University of
Judaism in Los Angeles. The William
Davidson Graduate School of Jewish
Education at JTS bears the name of
its Detroit benefactor.
"The growth sector, if there is one
in the Conservative movement, is not
in the creation of new synagogues,"
said JTS Chancellor Schorsch. "It is in
Jewish education."
He noted that 50,000 students are
in Conservative Jewish day schools,
representing one-quarter of all Jewish
students in day schools. "The popula-
tion survey shows today's
[Conservative day school] youngsters'
are the best educated ever."
Locally, the Conservative move-
ment's Hillel Day School of
Metropolitan Detroit boasts 656 stu-
dents which, according to Head of
School Steve Freedman, "makes us
one of the larger day schools in the
country.
"And the quality of Jewish educa-
tion taking place across our country,
both in day schools, and probably
equally significant in religious schools, is
probably better than ever in terms of
developing meaningful curriculum and
putting time and energy also into train-
ing principals and teachers," said
Freedman.

Congregational Life

Much of the movement's vitality centers
on synagogue life.
Conservative synagogues have largely
taken root in middle-class suburbia. Yet
they also have sprung from 1960s-era
spiritual-renewal drives, such as the
chavurah movement. At its genesis, that
movement sought to establish intimate
prayer by transforming largely passive
congregations centered on a rabbinic
leader to active hubs for family life.
Leading that spiritual-renewal trend is
a new nondenominational initiative of a
group called Synagogues:
Transformation and Renewal, funded by
some major Jewish donors. The group,
known by the acronym STAR, is pro-
moting a project called Synaplex that
seeks to produce innovative Shabbat
activities in congregations, like a spiritual
version of a multiplex.
The pilot program operates at 12 con-
gregations nationwide spanning the reli-
gious spectrum. Five are at Conservative
synagogues.
Conservative rabbis who premiered

Dana, 8, and Laura Goldberg ofWest Bloomfield participate in a program to make
Havdalah objects at Adat Shalom Synagogue.

Synaplex this fall discussed some early
signs of success — including big crowds
— at the movement's biennial confer-
ence.

More Learning

But in terms of advanced education,
Rabbi Schorsch said, "We, as syna-
gogues, are failing to capture the prod-
ucts of serious Jewish education. We
have invested enormous resources in
producing more serious Jews. 'Entry-
level Jews' get too much attention while
`advanced Jews' receive too little relevant
programming."
Many agree.
"This has historically been true," said
Rabbi Pachter. "We know how to get
people to the first step: bar/bat mitzvah,
adult Hebrew reading, etc., but not
much beyond this."
He sees programs like the Florence
Melton Adult Mini-School Institute of
Hebrew University and Eilu v'Eilu: The
Lifelong Jewish Learning Project of the
Michigan Conservative movement as
having "led the way to serious education
for the post-beginner."
The once independent Eilu Eilu is
now a part of the Conservative move-
ment's Rabbinical Assembly-Michigan
Region's new Community Education
Division, directed by Dr. Mitch Parker.
The Community Education Division

also oversees a 24-week conversion insti-
tute program, a scholar-in-residence pro-
gram and a community calendar listing
all classes and activities offered by partic-
ipating synagogues.
"B'nai Moshe has a solid cadre of rela-
tively advanced adult learners among its
membership," said Nancy Kaplan, vol-
unteer coordinator of the synagogue's
Kolel Moshe Lifelong Learning Institute,
which opens its classes to the communi-
ty. "However, like other congregations,
we also have many adult members who
are beginners looking for basic intro
classes.
"We try to meet this multi-faceted sit-
uation by offering a few classes at Kolel
Moshe on a basic intro level, but also by
encouraging our beginner-level folks to
enroll in community-based entry-level
programs."
At Adat Shalom, Rabbi Nevins said
there is "a huge demand" for introducto-
ry courses. But he added, "Obviously,
we need to stimulate more advanced stu-
dents so they will see our movement as a
place to grow spiritually. (So) we try to
mix it up, with everything from Hebrew
literacy to Talmud and Halachah."
Beth Ahm's classes focus on those
beginning an exploration of Judaism,
said Rabbi Popky. However, his classes

THE SQUEEZE on page 28

11/14

2003

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