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!
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • 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.
  • 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.