How Conservative Judaism Lost Me

The Reason I Drifted Away: I Wasn’t Wanted

Leaders: From left, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly; Cantor Stephen Stein of the Cantors Assembly; Rabbi Steven C. Wernick of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.
C. Scott Weiner
Leaders: From left, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly; Cantor Stephen Stein of the Cantors Assembly; Rabbi Steven C. Wernick of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

By Michah Gottlieb

Published November 05, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

After my year at Hebrew University, I spent a second year in Israel, studying at an Orthodox yeshiva. When I returned to my synagogue in Montreal, people were certain that I wished to become a rabbi, although I had no intention of or interest in doing so. I began to feel unwelcome at my Conservative synagogue, as many people thought that my religious passion made me Orthodox. I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the formality and halachic carelessness of the prayer and what I regarded as the lack of seriousness and knowledge among the congregants. Having no outlet for my religious enthusiasm at my Conservative synagogue, I started attending an Orthodox one on the Sabbath, although it was a considerable distance from my home.

I am fully aware that my family’s halachic observance and my interest in Jewish study and practice were highly atypical for Conservative Jews. But the Orthodox synagogue that I now attend includes many families in which at least one spouse was raised by one of the few observant families at their Conservative synagogue.

It was from these families of committed Conservative Jews that a new generation of Conservative religious and lay leaders should have emerged. But not only were the children in these families not nurtured by the Conservative movement, too often they were made to feel that they were too religious. Some ultimately became Orthodox, some post-denominational, others nonobservant. The Conservative movement lost many of its most committed youths and was impoverished.

Many people are thinking about how to revitalize Conservative Judaism. This is important, as the world needs a vibrant Jewish religious center. From my experience, I would recommend one thing above all else: Support and nurture the most committed Conservative Jews at local synagogues. Give them outlets for their religious curiosity and passion. These Jews may not write big checks. They may sometimes make the less committed members of the synagogue feel uneasy. But they are the future.

Michah Gottlieb is an associate professor in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. His book “Jewish Protestantism: Translation and the Turn to the Bible in German Judaism” will be published by Oxford University Press.


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 the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • 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.