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December 01, 2005 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-12-01

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I World

for Rent

4!

-

Big Questions

At biennial, Conservative Jews
look to recapture movement's
place in the sun.

Sue Fishkoff

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Oakland, Calif
ow should Conservative
Judaism cope with dwin-
dling membership, grow-
ing intermarriage rates and soci-
ety's increasing religious and polit-
ical polarity, while remaining true
to its base in Halachah, or Jewish
law?
Those are some of the vexing
questions the United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism will tackle
when it convenes Sunday, Dec. 4, in
Boston for its four-day biennial.
There are more: Who will replace
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, longtime
chancellor of the movement's flag-
ship Jewish Theological Seminary,
when he retires next summer?
It's no accident that the opening
plenary talk by Rabbi Harold
Kushner is called "What does it
mean to be a Conservative Jew?"
That's a question that will be on
everyone's mind at the conference,
says Rabbi Joel Meyers, head of the
Rabbinical Assembly, the
Conservative movement's rabbinic
arm.
"What the movement is strug-
gling to do is set a public position

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48

Rabbi Epstein: movement's executive VP

for the 21st century',' he says.
The challenge comes as
Conservative Judaism, which once
set the agenda for American Jewry,
has lost its numeric edge, dropping
from 43 percent of affiliated Jews
in 1990 to 33 percent in 2000,
according to the two latest National
Jewish Population Surveys.
Conservative Jews are older as a
group than the Reform or
Orthodox, yet they hold most of
the key positions in Jewish com-•
munal leadership, contributing to
the aging of that leadership.
Rabbi Meyers insists the
Conservative movement "is strong"
and says enrollment in day schools
and camps is up, even as the
movement's outreach to young
adult Jews is languishing.
In an effort to stem the hemor-
rhaging of membership in
Conservative synagogues and soft-
en the movement's image of being
cold and unwelcoming to the inter-
married, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the
USCrs executive vice president,
will unveil a far-reaching initiative
on keruv, or outreach, directed pri-
marily at interfaith families in
Conservative congregations.
In the works for the past year,
the initiative, described by
Conservative leaders as much
more forthcoming than the move-
ment's current approach to keruv,
is being kept under tight wraps —
though every movement leader,
half a dozen congregations and
selected outsiders already have
seen it.
Rabbi Epstein, the driving force
behind the initiative, notes that in
1986 he headed the faction that
pushed for promoting in-marriage
rather than actively welcoming the
intermarried. Now he's spearhead-
ing an outreach approach that
Charles Simon, head of the
Conservative Movement's
Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs,
calls "a major reversal" of the
movement's current attitude.
Insisting it's "an evolution, not a

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December 1 2005 J

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