Attention Indie Minyaneers: the Conservative Movement Wants You. Yes, You.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the congregational arm of the Conservative Movement, has issued a request for proposals from existing or potential independent minyanim that “are interested in developing a relationship directly with a USCJ congregations [sic].” In return, minyanim will receive $2,500. The RFP is extremely vague about what it means to partner with a Conservative congregation, other than that it involves prayer (“or ‘davenning,’” as the RFP clarifies in a seemingly giggle-inducing attempt to speak indie minyan language) and that minyanim “may encompass a spectrum of practices that falls within the Halachic framework of Conservative Judaism.” (More on that below.) While the language of the RFP itself feels clumsy and and a tad self-serving (though no harm there, since that’s their job), it’s probably the smartest thing the USCJ has attempted to do in recent history. I don’t expect they’ll have much success with existing minyanim, but I could see it appealing to a limited set of young people with strong Conservative denominational identities who are looking for more room to do their own thing within the Conservative movement and who want to start new minyanim. Text of the RFP, commentary, and an application below:

PROJECT OVERVIEW AND GOALS
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) recognizes that it must be a dynamic and not a static Movement.

My first reaction to the opening line was something sophisticated along the lines of “duh,” but then I realized that, in all seriousness, and snarkiness aside, this may actually be a revelation for institutional Conservative Judaism.


To that end, this initiative reaches out to engage Jewishly committed young adults. During the last 10-15 years many independent prayer or “davenning” communities of young adults have emerged,

The use of the translation, “davenning” (in quotes no less) does make me laugh. It’s really okay just to call it “prayer.” But they’re trying, they really are, and they get points for that.


often generated by those whose commitment to Jewish life grew from experiences in United Synagogue Youth(USY), Camp Ramah and Solomon Schechter Day Schools.

Ah, denominational possessiveness rears its head once again. The authors of the RFP seem not to have read the recent indie minyan survey, which concluded that “[t]he presence of alumni of the Conservative educational system… in the more visible leadership of emergent communities has prompted many observers to see the movement as drawing primarily from the Conservative demographic heartland…. However, despite these widely held impressions, the distribution of denominational upbringing among the independent minyan… is not all that different from those found in the NJPS… In short, in terms of upbringing, there is not much exceptional about the emergent communities’ denominational profile, with participants’ backgrounds spanning the denominational spectrum [sic]…” (pp.14-15).

On the other hand, the language of the RFP is at least a welcome a change from the rhetoric of former JTS chancellor Ismar Schorsch, who was famous for statements such as “[t]he Hadar movement could not be mistaken for anything but a Conservative synagogue: It’s fully egalitarian and seriously Jewish. The ritual is neither Reform nor Orthodox; it’s quintessentially Conservative… The young people at Hadar are intellectually Conservative and they are ritually Conservative except they are advanced Conservative Jews rather than entry-level Conservative Jews. They wish to distinguish themselves from the materialistic, bourgeois synagogues of suburbia.” (Did he really say that in print and still manage not get fired for either offensiveness or illogic?)

These independent minyanim are playing an important role in Jewish life. Participation in such communities has a very powerful effect on both the individuals involved and the Jewish community as a whole. Young adults with a strong commitment to leading Jewish lives are vital to the future of the Conservative Movement.

I’m not sure why this is a revelation, but it’s certainly true.


Beginning with this RFP, USCJ looks forward to the very positive and vibrant effect that such young adults will have on Conservative Judaism.

Finally! The magic bullet! Once independent minyanim start affiliating Conservative, it’s all going to be okay! And “the very positive and vibrant effect” also sounds like an attempt to atone for others in the Conservative movement who’ve said precisely the opposite for years.


The goal of this RFP is to build on the growing movement of independent minyanim. USCJ is seeking to enable and empower Jewishly committed young adults to develop within the Conservative Movement the communities, programs, and initiatives they seek.

That’s great, but the RFP has thus far failed to answer the million dollar question: Why exactly would young adults and their minyanim want to do this? It’s good news for folks out there who feel deeply tied in to the Conservative movement. I’m thrilled that there may finally be a place for young Conservative Jews where they won’t be taken to task, accused of elitism, or shunned for wanting different things from some of their elders. On the other hand, I’m curious about how many of these folks there actually are out there. If you’re one of them, let us know how you’re feeling about all this.


Such communities may encompass a spectrum of practices that falls within the Halachic framework of Conservative Judaism.

Does that mean that if this proposal had been issued 13 months ago, the minyanim in question wouldn’t have been allowed to perform or host gay weddings? Would two-table potlucks be okay? Why would any minyan agree to be bound by the Conservative take on halacha unless they were in fact actually Conservative? (And then what would remain “independent” about an independent minyan that chose to affiliate?) The indie minyanim I know exist, at least in part, because they don’t want to be bound by denominational interpretations of what’s kosher and what’s not. Most minyanim are also composed of people from the various flavors of Judaism, so it’s hard to see how or why a current independent minyan would affiliate with the Conservative movement (and not lose some significant portion of its participants if it did). So, again, this is a great idea for young adults who self-identify as Conservative, want to daven with others who specifically identify as Conservative, and who want to be bound by the Conservative interpretation of halacha, but it doesn’t feel so relevant to everyone else.


This is a first step by USCJ to address the needs identified through a series of interviews with participants in existing minyanim,

Anyone know what this is about? What interviews? With whom? And what kinds of needs does the USCJ think it can address? If it’s money, I think they’re barking up the wrong tree. Someone with access to a reasonably large living room and the internet can start an indie minyan with $50 for photocopied siddurim (and not even that, if it’s BYO siddur.) And contrary to the $25-a-plate-for-a-badly-catered-Shabbat-dinner ethic, potlucks are free, or close to it. So if not money, then what? Space? See “living room” above. And when that gets too small, see “churches that are usually cheaper to rent and more welcoming to Jewish indie communities than denominationally-affiliated shuls”. And see fundraising from participants. Skills training? See the workshops, batei midrash, and other learning opportunities offered by indie minyan participants for other indie minyan participants. And see the Conservative-style davening that many indie minyanim were trying to get away from, so why would they want skills training from the movement?

Yes, yes, I’m totally being flippant. Money (which buys space, training, etc.) is always a nice thing to have and it certainly makes running a minyan easier. But $2,500 isn’t (I don’t think) going to convince a successful indie minyan to suddenly affiliate Conservative. Either you need hundreds of thousands of dollars to open a new liberal yeshiva or buy a building where you and other indie minyanim can daven rent-free, or you’re probably doing more or less okay on whatever you’re raising from donations and/or small grants.


as well as to address the needs expressed by alumni of the various Conservative schools, camps, Israel programs, and youth and college organizations.

This makes much more sense to me as an impetus for the RFP.

So what do you think? Are you applying? Why or why not? Are you mad at the Conservative Movement for its thoroughly unabashed effort to co-opt indie minyanim, or are you cheering its new attitude toward young Jews? Or none of the above? Comment away! (And the application is below if you want it.)

PS: What does it mean about USCJ’s ability to market itself that I have yet to receive this RFP from one of the many indie minyan OR Conservative listservs that I’m on?!

ELIGIBLE APPLICANTS
Independent davening groups that are interested in developing a relationship directly with a USCJ congregations may submit a proposal. Such communities may already exist outside of USCJ or may be a group that wishes to build a new such community. The location of the davening may be within a synagogue or at a satellite location. Consideration will also be given to minyanim that are not able to partner with a USCJ congregation, but are willing to associate with a USCJ Region. The goal of these pilots is to provide some support for grassroots young adult minyanim within the Conservative framework. In addition, USCJ wishes to encourage its member congregations in areas with a critical mass of young adults to be responsive to the needs of such committed individuals, many of whom grew up in Conservative synagogues and participated in Conservative schools, camps and youth groups.

FUNDING
Each applicant selected will receive up to $2500 for the first year of the program. These funds may be used to offset expenses incurred by the Minyan and/or the synagogue in creating a new community or building on an existing community.

APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS
The application deadline is August 1, 2008. Applicants must describe the davening community they intend to create, including but not limited to:
8. APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS
The application deadline is August 1, 2008. Applicants must describe the davening community they intend to create, including but not limited to:
Partnership arrangements, if any
Demographics of target population
Leadership/organization plan
Outreach efforts
Frequency of minyan services

Part II: Other proposed activities such as shabbat or holiday communal meals, study sessions, etc.

Part III: Details of a project budget for up to $2500

Please limit response narrative to no more than two pages plus a Budget page.

Grantees will be notified by September 1, 2008 with funds available on September 15, 2008.

Please copy the application into Microsoft Word.
APPLICATION
PART I

Name of Respondent Group_________________________
________

Address__________________________________________________
City ______________________State___________________________

Synagogue partner (if applicable)_____________________________

Location: ____In a synagogue ____ synagogue satellite______ other(Please specify)____________________________________________

Key Contact Name__________________________________________
e-mail address __________________Phone Number______________

Type of Proposal; ____Synagogue Partnership ____ Independent
_______ Existing Minyan _____ New Minyan

PART II – Narrative – no more than two typewritten pages

PART III – Budget

Responses should be e-mailed to ehpressman@rcn.com . The response should be in Word format.

31 Responses to “Attention Indie Minyaneers: the Conservative Movement Wants You. Yes, You.”

  1. A lot of indie minyanim have considered affiliating in the past, even without $2500 to back it up. Yes, it’s cheap to run an apartment minyan, but doing so takes a lot more work than depositing a check and using the rec room of the nearest Conservative shul. And if you’ve outgrown apartments, then church basements might be cheaper than market value for that kind of space, but free is even cheaper, and it’s easier to use the closest shul than to shop around for other available space.

    And while some organizers of indie minyanim are idealistic both about the sort of communities that are possible in their neighborhoods and the benefits they reap by staying independent, some just want to get together with the cool kids every few Friday nights in order to relive Hillel/Ramah/USY days, and will happily accept a wad of cash to do so. Staying non-affiliated is only important if you have opinions about affiliation in the first place.

    I predict this program will be very “successful” in the short term, doling out money to lots of the less energetic minyanim that don’t have the same press or passion of a Hadar or a TLS. Communities like that have no compelling reason to turn down the dough.


    Desh · May 25th, 2008 at 12:05 pm
  2. A lot of indie minyanim have considered affiliating in the past,

    Are you talking about the Philly scene or just in general? I’ve never been part of an affiliation discussion, but I’ve only ever lived in other East Coast cities. What movements were considered for affiliation? Why did the decision go one way or the other?


    Rooftopper Rav · May 25th, 2008 at 12:21 pm
  3. I’d prefer to stay away from examples. But if a minyan is invited to use the space of an affiliated congregation, and to implicitly accept being associated with the rules and frameworks and baggage and identity of that community, they might still feel it’s worth the trade. Resources for independence. That’s quite a sweet deal for communities that feel they’re lacking in resources (whether the lack is real or perceived, and whether different people in charge would feel the same pool of resources is lacking or not), and now the pot’s been sweetened further.


    Desh · May 25th, 2008 at 12:29 pm
  4. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) recognizes that it must be a dynamic and not a static Movement.
    [..]
    this may actually be a revelation for institutional Conservative Judaism.

    The name of the movement is “Conservative”, so this idea couldn’t have been around at the beginning.


    BZ · May 25th, 2008 at 12:53 pm
  5. Are you mad at the Conservative Movement for its thoroughly unabashed effort to co-opt indie minyanim, or are you cheering its new attitude toward young Jews?

    Speaking for myself, I’m not particularly interested in having anything to do with the Conservative movement (the synagogue I don’t go to is Reform), and if I were an independent minyan organizer (which I have been in the past), I wouldn’t pursue this for my minyan.

    That said, no, I’m not mad. Minyanim will only be co-opted if they choose to be. And if I were working for the USCJ (ha), I’d probably do the same thing — if their objective is to get young adults in the doors of their synagogues, then this seems like it would be much more effective than previous approaches, e.g. holding young adult “programming”, or complaining about how our generation doesn’t care about Judaism, or telling independent minyanim that they’re doomed, DOOMED.

    And I think having multiple self-governing prayer services in the same building is one possible long-term answer to the “But if you don’t want to pray in a massive sanctuary with pews, then who will organize food drives?”-type questions. I’d be more likely to eventually join a synagogue (and support the other things that they do) if I didn’t ever have to daven there.


    BZ · May 25th, 2008 at 1:11 pm
  6. I think it would be better if the conservative movement just issued a directive to all synagogues to give minyanim the space they need free of charge, if there’s no other activity in the room at the time.


    Amit · May 25th, 2008 at 3:51 pm
  7. This program seems like a good idea with a bunch of silly language and rationales surrounding it. Simply put, they are offering mini-grants to minyanim doing things that the Conservative movement likes. If you don’t fit into that category, you’re not going to change to get the money, but if you do, a mini-grant is welcome.

    I’m not sure what people are talking about here about affiliating to gain access to space in synagogues. Some synagogues might want a formal relationship before allowing space usage and some don’t. There’s nothing from the national USCJ office that can change that. If a synagogue wants money to offset the cost of space usage that’s reasonable. If they want to profit off of an independent minyan, that minyan will probably look elsewhere.

    In general, this program is a very good thing since it means USCJ is looking for better ways to spend their money than in it’s overstaffed NY offices. If they really want to welcome these types of minyans into the movement they need both a new dues system that can handle informal groups with low budgets and a more realistic list of benefits beyond mini-grants.


    d · May 25th, 2008 at 7:49 pm
  8. This seems to me be a pretty bad idea, speaking from a strictly ancedotal perspective, it seems that a lot of indie minyanim come out of a movement for retooling the traditional liturgy with other ethical concerns, specifically feminsim. Perhaps to make this sound clearer I think a lot of the indie minyanim are trying to replicate shirah hadashah and hence want their independence from any movement’s control and be allowed to come up with their own framework, and many people at least from these indie minyanim would not feel comfortable identifying with a conservative synagogue, however close their minyan might practically be to a Conservative service.


    Jon · May 25th, 2008 at 11:06 pm
  9. Some synagogues might want a formal relationship before allowing space usage and some don’t. There’s nothing from the national USCJ office that can change that. If a synagogue wants money to offset the cost of space usage that’s reasonable. If they want to profit off of an independent minyan, that minyan will probably look elsewhere.

    I would advise independent minyanim out there that, if it’s an option for you, you’re better off paying for space than getting it for “free”. Nothing ever really turns out to be free.


    BZ · May 25th, 2008 at 11:31 pm
  10. My indie minyan rents space at a local Conservative shul. We worked very hard on the language of our agreement and everyone in our community knows that we are simply tenants and that we have no official relationship with any movement. A grant like this seems to make a lot of sense for a movement yearning for rejuvenation and for minyanim looking to establish themselves more firmly in the larger community. At least the Conservative movement is acknowledging an area where they can make inroads in community building.


    uzi · May 26th, 2008 at 1:28 am
  11. Just because an indie minyan uses space in an affiliated shul does not mean the minyan is affiliated. Like uzi brought up, there are successful completely independent minyanim that rent space and are simply tenants; they are not subject to the customs and practices of the movement.
    In the experience of my indie minyan on the west coast–when we outgrew apartments and had to move into a permanent location the emotion and energy changed slightly by virtue of the space changing, but our numbers have continued to steadily grow and we are starting to become much more diverse in our age groups and economic brackets, and the more mid- and high-income families we attract, the more substantial our donations are, and our future will be more secured, and we will possibly be able to move into our own space!
    I think that this grant from USCJ shows two things: a) the Conservative movement is desperate to get its young people back that it lost to the indie minyan scene (as shown in the infamous survey) and b) that they have come to reality, and realize that in many ways, the movement (and all movements) have failed to instill a MEANINGFUL Jewish life for those not interested in Ramah/USY et al.

    On a similar note, as one who never had USY or Ramah or anything like it, I reject the notion that indie minyanim “just want to get together with the cool kids every few Friday nights in order to relive Hillel/Ramah/USY days,”

    What they want is non-passive, progressive, traditional Judaism.


    yehuda · May 26th, 2008 at 5:27 pm
  12. On a similar note, as one who never had USY or Ramah or anything like it, I reject the notion that indie minyanim “just want to get together with the cool kids every few Friday nights in order to relive Hillel/Ramah/USY days,”

    Desh said “some”.


    BZ · May 26th, 2008 at 10:48 pm
  13. Just because an indie minyan uses space in an affiliated shul does not mean the minyan is affiliated.

    In this case it seems too. The RFP specifically says it’s looking for minyanim to develop programs, etc. “within the Conservative movement” and that their practices have to be acceptable within Conservative halacha.

    And Jon: Perhaps to make this sound clearer I think a lot of the indie minyanim are trying to replicate shirah hadashah and hence want their independence from any movement’s control

    This is only true (that minyanim are trying to replicate Shira Chadasha) if you’re thinking about the partnership minyanim. Off the top of my head, I can think of Hadar (founded the same year), Park Slope Minyan, KOE, Adas Israel trad-egal minyan, the beginnings of Ruach Minyan and several more that started before Shira Chadasha.


    Rooftopper Rav · May 27th, 2008 at 5:40 am
  14. realize that in many ways, the movement (and all movements) have failed to instill a MEANINGFUL Jewish life for those not interested in Ramah/USY et al.
    Do you mean for teenagers, yehuda? Ramah and USY – for their demographic – are not considered failures. Its the limited venues for Jewish life offered to their alumni which are the issue here. Many Ramah and USY graduates have gone on to join Orthodox congregations (in the US and in Israel) because they didn’t find anything “serious” enough elsewhere.


    Amit · May 27th, 2008 at 5:52 am
  15. Why exactly would young adults and their minyanim want to do this?

    Here’s one reason: Ramah and USY alumni are likely to want their children to have Ramah or USY experiences. And you can’t join USY or go to a Ramah camp if you don’t belong to a Conservative synagogue (at least in theory).

    But as a Ramah alumnus who prefers the indie minyan experience to the bar mitzvah factory experience, and also has a spouse who is in cantorial school (and thus is likely to end up with at least some sort of bar mitzvah factory affiliation), I would also like to see more indie minyans connect with shuls for synergistic reasons (for lack of a less buzzwordy word). As the current crop of indie minyans are growing more mature, many are starting to look more institutional. Surely for some of them it makes sense to give up a little of their autonomy in exchange for the physical, financial and personnel resources that the neighborhood shul has to offer. In some cases, a strong indie minyan may actually have a good shot at “taking over” an ailing shul and reinvigorating it into a vibrant place of worship and community that goes beyond what the indie minyan and the synagogue could have provided separately.


    themicah · May 27th, 2008 at 6:58 pm
  16. In some cases, a strong indie minyan may actually have a good shot at “taking over” an ailing shul and reinvigorating it into a vibrant place of worship and community that goes beyond what the indie minyan and the synagogue could have provided separately.

    Are there historical examples of this happening, other than Ansche Chesed in NY?


    BZ · May 27th, 2008 at 11:16 pm
  17. Are there historical examples of this happening, other than Ansche Chesed in NY?

    Good question. I’m not sure if it counts as an “indie” minyan since it was started by synagogue members rather than independents who later chose to affiliate, but the Museum Minyan at Beth Yeshurun in Houston looks and feels a lot like an indie minyan yet happily exists under the umbrella of a Conservative megashul.

    There’s also a Reconstructionist shul in Portland (Havurah Shalom) that began as an havurah and eventually bought and renovated a building, hired a (part-time) rabbi and became a full-fledged synagogue. When I visited there, I was chatting with a member who had been there since the beginning, and he said they had been very conflicted about whether to take the leap from indie to institution, but that it had worked out really well despite a few sacrifices in flexibility they had to make. Again, it’s not exactly an indie minyan taking over an existing synagogue, but it is an indie minyan giving up its independence in the interest of better serving its participants.

    And I guess I’d ask the flip side of your question: are there historical examples of indie minyans trying to affiliate and failing? I know there are millions of stories of congregations splitting over various issues, but are there examples of indie minyans that tried to affiliate with a shul and gave up because it just didn’t work? If not, then I don’t think the lack of successful precedent should stop anyone from trying.

    But maybe I’m just being overly optimistic…


    themicah · May 28th, 2008 at 7:57 am
  18. And I guess I’d ask the flip side of your question: are there historical examples of indie minyans trying to affiliate and failing? I know there are millions of stories of congregations splitting over various issues, but are there examples of indie minyans that tried to affiliate with a shul and gave up because it just didn’t work?

    I don’t know examples of minyanim trying to affiliate and failing (maybe others do), but there are plenty of examples of independent minyanim that have had various sorts of relationships with synagogues and other Jewish institutions where the relationship has then gone sour. (I won’t enumerate the examples here, so as not to air dirty laundry in public.) And there are also examples of groups trying to “take over” existing congregations, only to discover that they weren’t being greeted as liberators, because the existing members liked things the way they were (and that’s why they were doing things that way in the first place).


    BZ · May 28th, 2008 at 8:34 am
  19. But $2,500 isn’t (I don’t think) going to convince a successful indie minyan to suddenly affiliate Conservative.

    This would be for each minyan-synagogue pair to work out among themselves, but it seems conceivable that the deal could also include free space at the synagogue (rather than charging rent out of the $2500 budget), so the $2500 would be for additional expenses.

    Still, I agree that even $2500 + free space wouldn’t convince many indie minyanim to affiliate Conservative.


    BZ · May 28th, 2008 at 8:41 am
  20. Can someone forward the rfp in its entirety?

    I think you’re all too close to see the forest from the trees. It doesn’t sound like this is formal affiliation- it sounds like the USCJ is tripping over itself to avoid that, sensing that this rfp alone might raise eyebrows.

    I think they’re viewing the ‘big tent” as one which can perhaps offer shelter to a number of “smaller tents” and that’s not a bad thing.

    Nobody will be forced to accept it, and as someone indicated, if big C fits for a minyan, ya may as well. Sometimes space comes at a premium or paying for it is better, and $2500 can help with that too. Or it can pay for a nicely catered event that serves as a fundraiser for the minyan so it can grow. Seed funding.

    And note that this is merely for existing minyans, but for minyans that are startups, or partnerships with existing shuls that could be ‘snifs.’ I think this aspect has been overlooked.

    If growing numbers of Jews move to a part of town unserviced by a shul, here’s a small incentive to start an a community and grow it into something- maybe a chavurah, maybe a minyan, maybe a real shul.

    and if there aren’t enough people interested in doing that on their own, a shul can start something and recruit. That’s a smart strategy for the movement. Sound familiar?

    It should. Seeding minyans is like Chabad granting a franchise to a shaliach…


    Adam Davis · May 28th, 2008 at 6:40 pm
  21. I don’t know examples of minyanim trying to affiliate and failing (maybe others do), but there are plenty of examples of independent minyanim that have had various sorts of relationships with synagogues and other Jewish institutions where the relationship has then gone sour. (I won’t enumerate the examples here, so as not to air dirty laundry in public.) And there are also examples of groups trying to “take over” existing congregations, only to discover that they weren’t being greeted as liberators, because the existing members liked things the way they were (and that’s why they were doing things that way in the first place).

    Sadly none of that surprises me. :(


    themicah · May 28th, 2008 at 7:50 pm
  22. It sounds like each minyan will need to negotiate the relationship with the shul on a case by case basis. As far as $2500 not being enough of an incentive to go Conservative – you would be surprised. If your expenses are minimal as a minyan (what do you have to pay for? kiddush? rent maybe?) $2500 could get you pretty far. Plus if you are already aligned with the movement at least ideologically (egal, progressive halachic stance, commitmed to social justice and learning) it makes even more sense to try to get some of that money.


    uzi · May 28th, 2008 at 10:49 pm
  23. I find the whole thing kind of gross, denominational colonialism, as it were, and indicative of an overall lack of creativity on the part of the Conservative reaction, er..movement. The last great things the Conservative movement did for young people were the creation of Camp Ramah (which were created by the Seminary, not the movement, to provide employment for the seminarians, or so I’ve been told) and the Schechter Day Schools, both decades ago. Ever since, nothing has been done about follow up or integration of bogrim of both of these institutions. Name me one successful program for Genexers or Millenials in a Conservative shul setting?! So in that neglect and vacuum, the bogrim go out and create meaningful fluent communities for themselves and the Conservative shuls, facing decline, strike their foreheads, and think they can buy themselves a generation cheaply?! Don’t bite, I say. Let ‘em sink some serious dollars into doing something other than building palatial Jew mall shuls, and then let’s talk.


    sof maarav · May 29th, 2008 at 9:14 am
  24. Name me one successful program for Genexers or Millenials in a Conservative shul setting?!

    Age-based “programs” aren’t the issue. Young adults aren’t interested in a grown-up version of youth group, and the successful independent minyanim don’t officially target a specific age group (even if that’s who ends up there). The issue is, as you said, meaningful communities that people want to be a part of, whether those communities are homogeneous or heterogeneous in their age compositions.


    BZ · May 29th, 2008 at 9:50 am
  25. this one merits some comment though i do not know where it originated. we spent most of the penn graduation weekend, four consecutive days on the campus though we could have skipped saturday, as there were no official commencement activities. instead we went to penn hillel in lieu of our own shul, partly out of curiosity and partly because i would eventually like to capture our diverse membership into a polyglot model, of which hillel is the prototype. it makes more sense than watching unending attritition.

    what we found were a dozen students at the conservative minyan supplemented by five older folks, including the hillel director. the services were a little abbreviated relative to what probably took place in the orthodox minyan one floor below though more extensive and expertly performed that what i would expect of wilmington’s uscj affiliate. the students divided about 50/50 between men and women, probably all had some form of jewish education beyond the synagogue hebrew school and the men could have blended easily into the orthodox minyan. these are the people that the conservative congregations are struggling to keep, yet who choose to maintain a separate but not that unequal identity from the orthodox. that said, the orthodox attendance was about three times as large, included students, young families, a few older people. in short, a more diverse and stable attraction.

    as another element of my field trips i went to a shul outside cherry hill this winter, another
    of my field trips. this place is a very large uscj affiliate. it ran parallel services, true parity as best i can tell, with traditional minyan and egalitarian minyan. the traditional minyan, which i attended, was the ghost of shabbos past for many a conservative milieu. it was conducted by the rabbi emeritus and nearly all the 15-20 people in attendance were of his generation. the service concluded a few minutes earlier than the one in the main sanctuary so most of us moseyed over to join for kiddush. the main service had about ten times the attendance with the full spectrum of age and participation. the young guys pretty much all wore orthodox style talesim, mostly too big to have been what they wore for their bar mitzvahs. the young women had kippot and beged ishah type talesim. these are the people who the conservative movement places at risk. they will go off to college, some will become part of an egalitarian minyan if there is one, perhaps an outside chance some will create one if there is not. some will perceive that separate but equal is never equal and go orthodox.

    the conservative movement has very little in the way of short term options for keeping their talent in the fold. providing a bounty for minyanim that would exist anyway to replace the congregational minyan that would not otherwise exist really isn’t that bad a trade-off for a movement that has a surplus of funds and a paucity of skilled, dedicated participants.


    furrydoc · May 29th, 2008 at 3:01 pm
  26. I attend that very shul in Cherry Hill you describe in your field trip, tho I dropped my membership for reasons you’ll soon see. It is located in the middle of a neighborhood with a vibrant Jewish life with the potential to be a great magnet for young people starting out on settling down: close to Philly, affordable housing of all kinds, an eruv, a women’s tefilah group, Shabbat family gatherings in a park, a new kollel–But all of this is happening in the Orthodox sector. That shul building you attended also houses a Solomon Schechter day school. You may not have noticed that the shul has a For Sale sign on it. It’s plan for re-invigoration is to move seven miles east to the more affluent side of town a mile away from another large Conservative congregation–at a cost of over 14 million dollars, and that’s not counting the cost to the day school when it had to find itself a new location. The old people in the traditional minyan you saw are folks who’ve been members for many decades, a lot of them Shoah survivors, almost all of whom will be left behind with no Conservative shul to daven in. Those of us who are not elderly, who have diverse views on the egalitarian question but take synagogue and Jewish living seriously enough that we moved to the neighborhood for that neighborhood shul and day school for our kids have been told to get in our cars and drive like everyone else or just join the Orthodox shul, and furthermore we have been told to cease and desist organizing a minyan of our own while in the synagogue…. Now the movement wants to give us $2500? Oh, goody! If this is Conservative Judaism’s future, I agree, it’s a bleak one.


    sof maarav · May 29th, 2008 at 4:33 pm
  27. “Are there historical examples of this happening, other than Ansche Chesed in NY?

    Good question. I’m not sure if it counts as an “indie” minyan since it was started by synagogue members rather than independents who later chose to affiliate, but the Museum Minyan at Beth Yeshurun in Houston looks and feels a lot like an indie minyan yet happily exists under the umbrella of a Conservative megashul.”

    I lived in Houston and was part of the Museum Minyan (which, btw, no longer meets in the museum because there IS no museum anymore, after a multi-million-dollar remodel of the ‘campus’) from 2000-2003, and loved it. But it is most assuredly NOT an ‘indie’ minyan (it was founded as a breakway from an Orthodox shul that had been rescued by the Conservative megagogue, and its founding intellectual leadership resided in Mordecai Kaplan’s grandson and family). As for “taking over”? Try again – Beth Yeshurun has 2500+ member (= DUES PAYING) families — and the 50 of us or so who prayed together on Shabbat weren’t taking anything over. Plus which – to get “benefits” of synagogue membership (like a bar mitzvah for my son), I myself was a dues-paying member of Beth Yeshurun. That minyan was great, I love and miss it — but it’s not part of this model.


    Diane · May 31st, 2008 at 4:48 pm
  28. What about the flip side of all this: you all scorn me because I am part of a conservative synagogue that even I don’t like very much, but when we tried to start our own service… no one came. No one in my neighborhood is very interested in doing something different. So I will continue to go to my synagogue (at least with Jews who pray) and you will all scorn me for being all stuffy… well, I’m not about to move to New york.


    Rosel · July 2nd, 2008 at 4:38 pm
  29. People (including you) may scorn your synagogue, but no one is scorning you. Really, don’t take it personally.


    BZ · July 3rd, 2008 at 8:45 am
  30. [...] a general audience. But this may be the first mainstream (non-Jewish) media source to report on the USCJ grants for minyanim. (This grant program was pooh-poohed to some degree here on Jewschool, but anecdotal reports [...]


    Independent minyanim in the Washington Post | Jewschool · April 30th, 2009 at 2:59 am
  31. [...] embraced (to the point that everyone wants a piece of the magic, and the Conservative movement is offering grants to minyanim that will partner with their [...]


    Decade In Review: Independent Minyanim | Jewschool · February 11th, 2010 at 10:36 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik