Conservatives Use 100-Year Marker To Push 'Restart' Button

Pew Findings Force Leaders To 'Lift Eyes' at Decline

Rockin’ Rabbi: Steve Wernick, right, celebrates at the Conservative movement’s centennial convention.
mike diamond photography
Rockin’ Rabbi: Steve Wernick, right, celebrates at the Conservative movement’s centennial convention.

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 16, 2013.
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Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am synagogue, in Baltimore, started a series of Saturday night concerts hosting local musicians, an event geared for the broader neighborhood community, not necessarily for Jewish members. “I’m not afraid to soften the boundaries,” he said, noting that in the concert intermission, a tour of the synagogue sanctuary is offered.

But boundaries, as Conservative activists have learned, still creep up. Albert was faced with the question of observing kosher laws in the Sabbath dinners organized by families in the community. Should the synagogue demand that all those hosting the events keep a kosher home? “I asked my rabbi, and he said, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,’” Albert recalled, paving the way to a broader community-based participation. “I’ve been shocked by how we’ve broken down barriers,” she said.

The ideas thrown into the air during the USCJ three-day conference all amount to a broader effort to reinvent the Conservative movement and to make it more attractive. But as activists and scholars noted, the denomination could also be facing a broader problem: the shift away from centrism and toward ideologies that take a clear, binary approach on the central issue of Halacha, or Jewish religious law.

Such is the case with national politics, as well as the problem facing some mainstream Christian denominations.

“People are looking for movements that are more black and white,” Warmflash said. “We are more gray.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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