January 2018 Message from Rabbi Arnow
I want to share with you three short reflections on the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial convention, this year in Atlanta, from which I recently returned. (The USCJ is the umbrella organization of Conservative synagogues.) Kol Rinah’s president, Randi Mozenter, and past president Harriet Shanas were also all there. Harriet has long been involved with the USCJ, and is slated to become the next chair of the Central District. Mazal tov to Harriet!
First, there is incredible vitality in the Conservative movement. Conservative synagogues are creating and experimenting with new modes of prayer. There are Conservative synagogues that are hubs for social justice work in their communities. Conservative Jews are studying Torah deeply—as deeply as ever—in their own congregations, and through movement institutions like the Jewish Theological Seminary in NY, the American Jewish University in LA and the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. More students are actually being reached thanks to technology, making amazing educators and opportunities available to us anywhere we have a computer, or even a smartphone.
Second, we at Kol Rinah should be proud and optimistic about how we’re doing. Percentage-wise, we have tremendous attendance at Shabbat morning services; we are able to support daily minyanim nearly every day of the year. Our Friday night services are as musically current as any Friday night service in the movement. We are attracting many new members, including families with young children. We are on the vanguard, where it’s increasingly clear synagogues need to be, with our shift from dues to voluntary member support. I personally am most proud of the work our Keruv (outreach) Committee did last year, to create the policies (approved by the Ritual Committee and Board) we need to make Kol Rinah a friendly, welcoming and open congregation to families where not everyone is Jewish.
Third, I was inspired and reenergized by some of the ideas I read and heard about at the convention. Particularly, I was struck by the learnings Rabbi Mike Uram, the Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania, writes about in his new book, Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations.
I’ll share with you one powerful, and perhaps controversial, idea from this book. Rabbi Uram, who was just a few years ahead of me in rabbinical school, writes, “The best way to secure the institution is to forget about the institution. If your organization can focus on innovation and impacting people’s Jewish lives, people will be attracted to it—not because you recruited them or solicited them, but because people want to be associated with and invested in organizations that inspire them and make a difference in their lives.”
We are not going to forget about our institution. But we must remember our focus on inspiring people and making a difference in their lives. We do it already, and together, we can do it more and better.