Two AKSE departures of note, one earlier this spring, one yesterday. I might have encouraged both to go elsewhere, one for the congregation's benefit the other for his family's. Yet there is an overlap of needs, one fellow who had a personal agenda and would disrupt the congregation to fulfill it, the other with a young family whose forebears have been with AKSE for generations. My guess is that he came to AKSE as the congregation of default but eventually one must be a consumer of what is offered there. Items on the shelf are many. Conversion prospects for a spouse might have been worth dues to the first fellow. But to the young family, there is a Jewish education, a Bar Mitzvah or for some a Bat Mitzvah, social interaction with other Jewish kids. For me I like to engage my mind in Jewish analysis, something I generally seek elsewhere where it is more readily available to me. Some want to be part of the tribe, whether that means attending Minyan, Shabbat, Sisterhood, Bingo, or Minyanaires. Most want to advance themselves or their families Jewishly in some way, which I think could be fairly assessed as the core business of the synagogue, though it has never really been pursued as a congregational mission during my time there. I think balancing the finances has been the mission of Board of Governors. I do not have a good sense if the Rabbi even has a professional mission, for all his dedication and hard work.
But they are both en route to elsewhere or nowhere. Both did some things as participants from teaching to governance but I suspect they will not be missed equally. The family that moved on will make Judaism better wherever they are. He has an AKSE education. He understands quality and will bring that expectation to the Reform congregation that he selected instead. While commitment to ritual may not be as strong, their Rabbi always has important perspectives on Judaism to impart while the congregation has been committed for decades to broad membership participation in the activities, be they worship or social.
In the book Jewish Megatrends, Rabbi David Ellison, head of Hebrew Union College, wrote the essay on denominationalism. While I thought the expression of the historical background was too cursory, he is right that we are approaching transdenominationalism. If what you want is social interaction there is a place to find it. If you want an inspiring Rabbi there is a place to find it. If engaging in communal Tikkun Olam efforts fulfills you Jewishly, there are groups that will get you there. If you want congregational peers with no Rabbi, there is a place to find that too. So each of us has a personal agenda to pursue with an assortment of options for accomplishing it.
So where does that leave the traditional congregations or Federations? Some will undoubtedly accept a smaller cohort that tells each other how wonderful they are, much as business as usual. Others will have officers and Rabbis of greater vision emerge. These are the people who can tease out the individual Jewish agendas that people create for themselves, either by asking their potential participants or observing how they already participate, and adapt programming to the person rather than expecting the public to adapt to the programming.