My six month sabbatical from AKSE activity was well spent. I read about innovative Judaism. I responded to comments of others strewn in different parts of cyberspace. Since Parshat Bereshit, I have reviewed two or sometimes three learned commentaries on the weekly portion. And I quizzed several of my own congregants as to what might make the experience of being in my shul a more appealing one than it has been.
As I posed the question, all to people whose insight I hold in high regard, the responses brand me as the biggest optimist among them. Some very clear themes emerge, ones that point to AKSE as perhaps the organizational poster child that the Pew Research study described. We are shrinking and graying. There is some divided opinion as to whether this is happening for just cause or whether we are the same demographic victims that made the Lower East Side congregations or my dear Temple Beth El of Quincy disappear. But there does not seem to be a critical mass of people with a stomach for innovation and the risk it entails. Nobody wants to see AKSE complete its life cycle but nobody really wants to make that life much different than it currently is. People who used to be there are no longer there, yet not fully accounted for in what they are doing Jewishly instead. JTS Chancellor and Penn classmate Arnie Eisen described the Conservative sanctuary experience as "rote prayers, boring sermons, and people strutting around with great self-importance." We scored 2 of 3. We do not have macher swoops. But what we do have are people who have been there for decades, at least two of them literally unwilling to change their customary seat for the immediate need of the morning's proceedings. We do not have much in the way of overt impropriety but we also do not have people who challenge mediocrity when they encounter it. So we will take our final laps until the money depletes or the people deplete below the magic number needed to function. That seems to be the essentially universal opinion of those queried.