Some FB friends sent me a news article that the Reform congregation wedged between my Junior High and my Senior High Schools held its last kabbalat shabbat service. Its members had merged with another congregation ten or so miles to the east. The building will go on the auction block in a few weeks. I assume there are minimum bids but in all likelihood this prime building on ample grounds will find a motivated purchaser. It had a glorious history, devoting its first fifteen congregational years to an obscure section of town, then with growth of a suburban Jewish population, building a multipurpose edifice that opened the year of my Bar Mitzvah. It's clergy stayed 50 or so years but for demographic reasons and maybe financial and cultural reasons, it became non-sustainable. Unlike the neutron bomb that eliminates people but keeps the structures intact, a congregation depends on people, though some have become museums.
As my shul approaches its annual meeting, we have no intention of disbanding but we also have a white elephant of a building, a showcase revealing its half century of activity, in some ways the dowager hanging on to what was once a glorious existence. We have two floors, but I've only had reason to go upstairs a handful of times. People expect reliable air conditioning. Lighting and heating costs have become prohibitive. And most shabbatot, we do not have enough attendance to justify our handsome sanctuary. Our Hebrew school would do better as a one room return to frontier days than the illusion that we should have a teacher for each grade. But unlike the congregation of my teen years, we do not have a post-building destination, maybe not even a post-sales identity. We are really the Jewish version of Empty Nesters, the Hebrew School alumni all departed to their next destination, and a high prevalence of Medicare Cards among the membership. But unlike Empty Nesters like I am personally, people who seek out a blend of projects that could not be pursued when we had kids and tuition payments, the people who remain seem mired in preservation mode.
People have a life cycle which includes a transition from prime to senescence So do synagogues. They can be Golden Years, but sometime they aren't..