Space to Spare, Reform and Conservative Congregations Turn to Orthodox

Tale of Demographic Trend Told in Rented Romper Rooms

chabad gan yeladim/chabad.org

By Uri Heilman

Published October 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — Marla Topp of Temple Judea Mizpah in Skokie, Ill., doesn’t need survey data to tell her that Reform Judaism is in decline and Orthodox Judaism is growing.

She has to look no further than her own synagogue.

A couple of months ago, the temple began renting out unused classroom space to an Orthodox school that had outgrown its building. Now its classrooms serve as a satellite location for the Arie Crown Hebrew Day School’s early childhood program.

The Orthodox preschool isn’t the temple’s first tenant. Once a flourishing suburban Chicago shul of 500 families, Judea Mizpah has seen its membership fall to 180 families, and the temple began renting out vacant space more than a decade ago, according to Topp, the executive director. The average Friday night service — the synagogue’s best attended — usually draws 50 to 100 worshipers. In September, the religious school scaled back from two days a week to one.

“As the demographics of our area have changed, our membership has shrunk and we needed to find revenue to keep going,” Topp told JTA. “Young families affiliated with the Reform movement are fewer and farther between.”

Throughout the country, a growing number of Reform and Conservative synagogues find themselves in similar situations.

This year, the Reform Temple Israel in New Rochelle, N.Y., began renting space to a new low-budget Orthodox day school, Westchester Torah Academy. Three years ago, Beth El Congregation in Phoenix, Ariz., began renting space to Torah Day School, a strictly Orthodox school that separates boys and girls beginning in kindergarten. Hollis Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue in Queens, N.Y., leases space to an Orthodox school called Yeshiva Primary.

While not new, the trend appears to be gaining steam as a growing number of Reform and Conservative synagogues find themselves with dwindling constituencies, declining membership income and excess space, and as Orthodox institutions seek more room to accommodate their growth.

Writ large, the phenomenon tells the story of contemporary American Jewry. Conservative and Reform Jews still significantly outnumber Orthodox Jews, but the Orthodox are gaining.

Thirty-five percent of American Jews identify as Reform and 18 percent as Conservative, but Reform and Conservative Jews have fewer than two children on average, 1.8 and 1.7 respectively, according to the recent Pew Research Center’s survey of U.S. Jews. Only 10 percent of Jews identify as Orthodox, according to the study, but they average 4.1 children.

The median age of Conservative and Reform Jews is 55 and 54, respectively. Among the Orthodox, it’s 40. And only 17 percent of Reform and 39 percent of Conservative Jews say they attend synagogue at least once a month, compared to 74 percent of the Orthodox.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.