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!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • 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.