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Sustaining The Middle
n the mid-1980s, Rabbi Irving (Yitz)
Greenberg in New York electrified the Jewish
world by predicting a dichotomy by the year
2000. He wrote that American Jewry was slid-
ing toward two poles: Orthodox and non-Orthodox.
Rabbi Greenberg for years has worked through his
CLAL organization for Jewish learning and leadership
toward a goal of tolerance and harmony among the
major Jewish religious streams. Yet he predicted that
we would fail. We haven't, but we better take notice.
Among the challenges confronting American Jewry
is the dilemma facing the Conservative movement
("Conservative Movement Feels The Squeeze," Nov.
14, page 21). The largest of the Jewish
streams just 30-40 years ago, Conservative
Judaism is losing membership to the
Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox
movements. At the same time, the number of practic-
ing Jews in America is sliding as a result of the temp-
tations of modern life, assimilation and intermarriage.
Notably, the edges of the Conservative movement
have become less defined as Reform congregations
become more traditional and modern Orthodoxy
continues to grow. Still, the Conservative movement
claims 1.5 million members.
Only 46 percent of American Jewish households
belong to synagogues, according to the latest
National Jewish Population Survey and only 27 per-
cent of American Jews attend synagogue at least
monthly. Look in any non-Orthodox synagogue on
Shabbat. How many young people will you find? You
don't go to shul regularly on Shabbat? Well, that's
what we're talking about.
The Conservative movement's members, especially,
Q01,1 -11 CAL
KIDS To 06
demand more of their clergy than them-
selves in embracing Halachah. For many
members, modern interpretations of tradi-
tion and enrichment resonate more than
strict adherence to kashrut, Shabbat and
other elements of Jewish law. Synagogue
attendance and youth group participation
are down from years past.
But all is not gloom and doom. As our
stories pointed out last week, those who
have remained Conservative are more com-
mitted, more involved, more observant; a
more vibrant core is a strong building
Hebrew school curricula have
been modernized and revitalized.
Conservative-based early child-
hood programs, summer camps
and Jewish day schools are recording
increasing enrollments. Adults have more
Jewish learning opportunities to choose
from based on their interest and knowl-
Key to moving forward is a widespread
commitment by Conservative Jews to creat-
ing what Rabbi Daniel Nevins, immediate
past president of the Michigan Board of
Rabbis, calls a community where Torah
and mitzvot are the guiding forces. Another
key is defining what makes a Conservative lifestyle
Programs like the Jewish Federation of Metropoli-
tan Detroit's Synagogue 2000, and Kabbalat Shabbat
services that are informal and musical, have taken an
interactive approach: upbeat, jazzy, engaging alterna-
tive religious services for all ages as well as making
congregations, warmer, more welcoming and more
Is it working? It depends on whose numbers you
believe. In reality, it may depend on how often you
find the synagogue appealing, how often you find
that it speaks to you as a Conservative Jew. El
people are still trying to find hope amid the prevailing
official stalemate of violence and repression.
The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, still clings to his
murderous past, refusing to let his new prime minister,
Ahmed Queri, take any effective action to curb the ter-
rorists of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Al Aksa
Martyrs' Brigades. Nor will the Israeli leader, Ariel
Sharon, relent in building the security barrier or in
expanding settlements across land that will have to
become part of any viable Palestinian state.
Despair mounts as the official policies vir-
tually guarantee that innocent civilians will
continue to be killed on both sides of the
That situation is what gives the Geneva Accord its
force. However misguided it is in its details, it is a
glimmer of hopefulness in a landscape of anguish.
Polls show that both sides truly want to stop the
bloodshed, even if that means they must take a leap of
faith about the other's long-range intent. In some ways,
the accord is grasping at straws, but at the very least,
this out-of-channels document forces large segments of
the general publics to think more deeply about what is
vitally important to them.
Neither public is ready to jettison its leaders, but
they tell pollsters that the leaders' policies are not
working. And that, in turn, sets a stage for changes of
policy, perhaps heralded by some quiet easing of Israeli
restrictions matched simultaneously by meaningful
steps to curb the Palestinian terrorists.
Israeli support for a permanent two-state solution is
well documented; a rally of 100,000 people earlier this
month to remember slain Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin
was a powerful reminder of that commitment. The
trick is to widen a Palestinian dedication to the same
goal, possibly by giving greater governmental support
to centrist projects in education, health and housing.
With the American-backed road map for Mideast
peace moribund, if not finally buried, U.S. policy
should not squelch this small effort. Secretary of State
Colin Powell was right to say that the accord is
"important in helping sustain an atmosphere of hope.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan have hailed the accord, which is
to be signed Dec. 1 with former President Jimmy
Carter and South Africa's former leader, Nelson
Mandela, looking on.
If peace is ever to come to Israel, it will have to
take root first in unofficial ways, in the hopes of ordi-
nary Israelis and Palestinians. The Geneva Accord
may be way off in its details, but its heart is in the
To Kindle Hope
uch is being made this week of the
"Geneva Accord," an unofficial plan for
settling the disputes between Israel and
the Palestinians. Every home in Israel
was due to get a copy of the agreement that was "nego-
tiated" between a handful of out-of-power
Israeli leftists led by former Israeli Justice
Minister Yossi Beilin and so-called centrist
out-of-power Palestinians led by former
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed
Rabbo. Copies printed in Arabic have been snatched
up wildly on the West Bank and in Gaza.
The specifics of the accord itself are unacceptable. It
trades away lands vital to Israeli security and fragments
what must remain a united Jerusalem on the strength
of vague and unenforceable promises that the
Palestinians will respect Israel's right to exist and will
drop their demand for an unlimited right of return to
homes they left 55 years ago.
Even former Prime Minister Ehud Barak denounced
it, in a lovely turn of phrase, as "the peace of ostriches."
But that is not the issue. The real point is that some