Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Inferior Decorators

Image result for Inferior DecoratorSomebody sent me this from the NY Post.    Me.  Post

Conservative Judaism is about to get a makeover.
Down to roughly 1 million adherents — having lost one-third of its members over the past 25 years — the moderate movement has hired a team of marketers to give it a new look.

I think they've already made the transformation from traditional modernized worship on the mid 20th Century to Sound Bites of the 21st Century.
New York’s Good Omen agency is interviewing hundreds of Conservative Jews to get their views on the movement in order to develop a new “position statement” for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

I was raised and educated in the Conservative Movement, maybe spent 40 years there as a nominal adherent.  Nobody really asked me what I thought about anything during that time and if I volunteered a comment not within the druthers of the guys in charge, my intellect and discernment was summarily dismissed with a wave of the hand but not with a discussion of my comments' merits.

More than just new fonts and graphics for the group’s public messaging, the “rebranding is about understanding the experience people have with your product or service,” says Rabbi Steven Wernick, the head of the USCJ’s organizational arm. “And we know there is a level of uncertainty about precisely where the ‘brand’ of Conservative Judaism sits in our members’ lives.”

It would probably be better to go beyond interviewing those in the organizations fold but also those who used to be.  They have members who are there for some reason which may or may not be ideological.  It may be to connect with friends, they may like the Rabbi, it may be the place their family has gone for generations.  They may be synagogue consumers purchasing a seat on Rosh Hashana or a Bar Mitzvah.  These have nothing to do with Conservative Judaism but a lot to do with how many dues payments keep the congregations and assorted institutions afloat.  
Stricter than liberal Reform Jews — but with few of the lifestyle constrictions associated with Orthodox Judaism — the Conservative branch is a kind of moderate middle ground.
Conservative Jews don’t don modest black ensembles like their Orthodox brethren; they’re also open to lesbian and gay members and even allow same-sex marriage ceremonies. But they don’t sanction intermarriage and recognize only children born from Jewish mothers as Jewish.
“It’s a culturally demanding version of Judaism,” explains Steven M. Cohen, professor of Jewish social policy at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

On the local level, it doesn't really demand anything other than an annual financial statement of support.  People do not attend much on shabbat, graduate five years of Hebrew School without being able to sight read a paragraph of unfamiliar Hebrew even if they've just chimed in with the catchy tune the sentence before, don't maintain kashrut, haven't struggled with a Jewish text since their college days.  The institution becomes the surrogate for doing these things, not very different from the Catholics who seek an intermediary for their own confession of sin.
Cohen calls the rebranding “helpful,” but isn’t sure it’s enough to attract new congregants — or stop current ones from defecting.
“The real cause of [community] shrinkage is intermarriage and the decline of ethnic attachment among American Jews,” he says.

Might challenge the Professor on this.  The real cause is more likely how they were treated when the intermarriage occurred, not the intermarriage itself.  In my Bar Mitzvah era, 1960's a form of shunning was often advocated.  It was unworkable then and now, but still has its vestiges built into various official policies.
Wernick says the overhaul has another purpose: it can help reconnect members with the movement’s traditions.

I would like to think that the Rabbis and other honchos have been trying to do this all along, even while people were seeking greener pastures.  Remember, a good portion of the talent has migrated Orthodox as the implementation of the movement's traditions, which never really changed that much, got a little loose.
“There’s a sense that Conservative Judaism offers a strong balance between [secular] society and Judaism as a whole,” he says. “And this provides for many nuanced opportunities for partnerships and synergies for the movement.”

There is nothing wrong with the ideology, which can be rather portable.  For me, and undoubtedly for others, there was a lot wrong with the experience of dealing with the institutions and the leaders who carried their banner.  Branding doesn't fix this.  A more traditional Tochacha/Selicha/Teshuva/Mechila might give more of a fighting chance.

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