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May 24, 2012 - Image 96

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-05-24

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points of view

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Publisher's Notebook


Conservative Jewry

Revitalize via a
Detroit test market.



t was a unique setting for a discussion
between two men who lead entities
with substantial challenges.
Seated in comfortable chairs within
a mini-gymnasium at the Birmingham
home of Ethan and Gretchen Davidson
that doubles as an impressive repository
for the history of the Detroit Pistons,
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Jewish
Theological Seminary (JTS) Chancellor
Arnold Eisen engaged in conversation
about leadership earlier this month for an
audience of JTS benefactors.
After listening to insights on core val-
ues, personal upbringings, mentorship,
vision and focus, the sense among attend-
ees was it would be easier for Snyder to
turn around the state than for Eisen to
turn around the Conservative movement.
Once the largest Jewish reli-
gious denomination in America, the
Conservative movement has been
squeezed attempting to navi-
gate the theological middle
ground between Orthodox
and Reforri.i. Members of
Conservative congregations
often define the movement by
what it isn't, rather than what
it is. It is as common to see
these members learning with
Orthodox rabbis as it is to see
their grandchildren going to
Sunday school at a Reform
The Detroit metropolitan
area provides a demographic
and financial snapshot of the movement's
challenges. Whereas the Jewish Federation
of Metropolitan Detroit's 1989 demo-
graphic study showed that 35 percent of
the community's 96,000 Jews identified as
Conservative, the number dropped to 28
percent of the community's 72,000 Jews
in 2005. Concurrently, the median age of
Conservative synagogue members has
increased, resulting in fewer congregants
paying full dues (averaging $2,000 or
more annually) and a decline in religious
school tuition revenue.
This revenue crunch and costs associat-
ed with aging and underutilized facilities
have placed a premium on congregations
cutting staff and programming to bal-
ance their budgets and meet payrolls. The
much-needed infusion of creativity, ideas,
programming and staff essential to ener-
gizing Conservative Judaism gets deferred.

Chancellor Arnold Eisen and Michigan
Gov. Rick Snyder

Shifting Sands

Since the 2005 study, there have been some
adjustments to these continuing downward
trends. Hillel Day School of Metropolitan*
Detroit ended its formal affiliation with the
Conservative movement and has moved to
a more inclusive community model.
While retaining its Southfield campus,
Congregation Shaarey Zedek
sold its B'nai Israel and Laker
Centers in West Bloomfield
and migrated its preschool into
Hillel's. Congregation Beit Kodesh
of Livonia merged into B'nai
Moshe in West Bloomfield while a
core of Shaarey Zedek-B'nai Israel
families created their own West
Bloomfield congregation that
operates via a unique partnership
with the Reform Temple Kol Ami.
In addition to Shaarey Zedek,
B'nai Moshe and B'nai Israel,
the local Conservative move-
ment is served by Adat Shalom, Beth Ahm,
Beth Shalom and Isaac Agree Downtown
What's a movement to do?
The late William Davidson and his family
have already made significant investments
in the Conservative movement. Nationally,
they provided the resources in 1994 that
led to the creation of the William Davidson
Graduate School of Education at the New
York-based JTS. Locally, Davidson and
his family have been key benefactors of
Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
As the William Davidson Foundation,
already one of Michigan's largest family
foundations, continues to grow and take
shape, transformational opportunities to
re-imagine and re-shape Conservative
Judaism will emerge.
The Davidson Foundation (perhaps in
tandem with other interested foundations)
could allocate a portion of its philanthropy

Conservative Jewry on page 97


May 24 • 2012

Peer Beyond Euphoria
Of Unity Government

srael's new national unity government between Likud and
Kadima most benefits Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
whose newfound backing negates the political leverage of
pesky coalition partners such as the haredi Shas and United Torah
Judaism parties and the vociferously secular Yisrael Beiteinu
party. What Netanyahu does with the broadest coalition govern-
ment ever remains to be seen before regularly scheduled elections
in October 2013. The coalition now counts 94 of the 120 Knesset
Of course, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz didn't
make a deal with the Likud prime minister to
be a sudden political friend. Instead, he saw the
poll numbers and realized centrist Kadima was
in danger of losing more than half its current 28
Knesset seats should early elections come.
Voter whims have a way of causing a change
of heart for even the most seasoned politician. It
Shaul Mofaz
wasn't too long ago Mofaz blasted Netanyahu and
his "bad" government. Not only is Mofaz now in
step with Netanyahu's politics, he accepted the title of vice pre-
mier and will hold considerable influence in the prime minister's
inner circle.
The broader coalition stands to promote political stability in a
historically agitated governing climate. It may or may not give
Israel stronger diplomatic pull and a greater military edge in trying
to deter Iran's nuclear-arms pursuit. Tehran has managed to stave
off a whirlwind of international sanctions.
The Israeli government also is now positioned to require haredi
Orthodox yeshivah students to perform military or national ser-
vice. Enacting such a law would replace the highly charged Tal
Law, which defers military service for such students. In February,
the Supreme Court ruled the Tal Law gave preferential treatment
to the haredim and was thus illegal. Until Likud and Kadima joined
together, haredi entitlement, such as military exemption and living
support, was safe because haredi parties were pivotal in assuring a
governing coalition.
Notably, the government isn't keen on 10,000 new soldiers who
are religiously distanced from interacting significantly with female
instructors. One idea floated envisions a gradually increasing
minimum number of haredi participants in national service, but
not capping the number of yeshivah student exemptions. Overlaid
would be altering the haredi-state relationship so more haredim
leave welfare, join the workforce and pay taxes without losing their
religious lifestyle.
Another plank in the framework of the unity government is
enacting a two-year fiscal budget for 2013-14. That won't be easy
amid a sagging world economy and Israelis poised once more to
protest government spending cuts when they can't make house-
hold budget ends meet.
Yet another plank is striving to enter "responsible" peace nego-
tiations with the Palestinians. We all know the impossibility of that
until now given the fickleness of Fatah in the West Bank and how
unhinged Hamas is in the Gaza Strip. It's hard to see any move-
ment, no matter who's calling the political shots in Jerusalem, until
there's a dramatic shift in leadership among the Palestinians.
JTA, the Jewish news service, offers yet another potential point
of coalition contention: the settlement policy. Netanyahu could be
torn between his obligation to Kadima leaders, who oppose ret-
roactively legalizing-neighborhoods and outposts on Palestinian-
owned land in Jewish settlements, and his right-wing coalition pals.
There's much to like about the unity government conceptually.
Time will tell just how practical it proves to be. D

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