Politics, Religion

Reform Jews want davening and Shabbos dinner

JTA reports:

Leaders of Reform synagogues don’t always get what their members want, according to a new study by the movement.
The study shows a marked disconnect in several areas between what the leaders think their members are looking for and what the members say they actually want.
In general, the synagogue leaders seem to underestimate their members’ interest in Jewish practice and worship. And they overestimate the synagogue’s importance in the religious lives of their families.

The study is being released at the URJ Biennial, which just began. The article gives a bunch of info about what’s going on at Biennial, and the emphasis on outreach and membership. Some more findings:

Results showed that current and former members of Reform synagogues mostly join for reasons of community, not for “services” provided.
“Congregations that work go out of their way to integrate new members, inviting them to Shabbat dinner rather than just putting them on committees,” said Emily Grotta, URJ’s communications director, who conducted many of the study’s phone interviews.

It really took a whole study for this to be apparent? I mean, given the choice between a committee meeting and a Shabbat dinner, who would possibly choose the former?
Also, a few more gems:

Interest in worship and spirituality is pronounced among newer as well as former members of Reform congregations, she said.
“What jumped out at us was the number of new people who join for worship, for spirituality, to learn how to become better Jews,” Grotta said. “The leaders didn’t get that at all.”
Money is also important, or rather the perceived value of what members get for their dues: 40 percent of former members of Reform congregations said they withdrew because membership was too expensive. Just 9 percent of the leadership thought cost was an issue.

Full story.

13 thoughts on “Reform Jews want davening and Shabbos dinner

  1. This is fascinating:
    Fifty-eight percent of former members said they “were able to be Jewish without a congregation,” a factor that didn’t show up on the leadership’s radar. Also, 18 percent said they filled their Jewish needs “elsewhere,” again a factor the leadership failed to recognize.
    The leadership presumably equated a lack of interest in their specific congregation with a lack of interest in Judaism. This allows them to rail against how this generation isn’t really committed to Judaism, without cleaning their own house.

  2. It’s interesting that the Conservative movement seems to be emulating Reform, when what they should be doing is reaching out to “the right” (i.e. the observant core – regardless, of course, of their political views) which will strengthen the entire Jewish community, including those with less background.

  3. Avi-
    Your parenthetical disclaimer indicates that you understand that it doesn’t make sense to equate the “right”/”left” dichotomy with the “the observant core”/”those with less background” dichotomy. And the recent ways in which the Conservative movement has “emulated Reform” (e.g. ordination regardless of orientation) can perhaps be characterized as “left”, but not as “those with less background”.

  4. I’m actually pretty bummed that only 58% of folks are able to be Jewish without a congregation. To me that show how many Jews (just less than 1/2) rely on their synagogue for 100% of their jewish identification. Given all the things Jewishness can mean, that single focus is pretty weird.

  5. I’m actually pretty bummed that only 58% of folks are able to be Jewish without a congregation.
    To clarify the meaning of that number, 58% of people who left congregations cited this as a reason for why they left. So we don’t know how many people would also say that they can be Jewish without a congregation, but either aren’t former members of one (i.e. they’re still members, or they never were) or are former members but that wasn’t the reason they left.

  6. As someone who currently attends a Reform congregation pretty regularly, I can say I have definitely seen a lot of peaks and valleys, both in terms of actual membership and periodic attendance (and I’m not just talking RH/YK). I would find the disparity between leaders’ and former members’ impressions significantly more alarming if it weren’t for one thing here: it just demonstrates a tendency for the leadership to beat themselves up more than is necessary over the losses.
    I mean, look at the areas where the greatest disparities exist: worship, rabbi, little sacredness — these all put the ball in the leadership’s court, and *surprise*, the leadership says this is the problem.
    Meanwhile, the varied reasons that former members cite relate to one of two categories: sense of community (or sense of need for that community) and post-b’nei mitzvah dropouts.
    To me, this study doesn’t say that Reform leadership is failing anyone; it’s more an endemic problem of existing in two worlds at the same time; i.e., the galut condition, period. No surprise here: the Reformim tend to err on the side of modernity/non-Jewish culture. In the larger non-Jewish culture, religious affiliation revolves largely around rites of passage and fulfilling a need for community. And while the former requires a physical religious institution, the latter doesn’t.
    (So no wonder Yoffie was so cheesed about those B’nei Mitzvah. The Chabadniks are muscling in on 50% of his market share!)
    Of course, maybe it’s not all bad news. If some of the people who leave based on needs for community are still finding that elsewhere — frimmer kehillos, independent minyanim, chavurot — then continuity is still preserved. But forgive me — doubtless, someone out there will remind me that the sky is in fact still falling (ever faster), and it all started with the Haskalah.

  7. It might help if they required everyone in their rabbinical programs to actually be Jewish – and by “Jewish” I mean at least one parent is Jewish.

  8. Count Raffulon writes:
    and by “Jewish” I mean at least one parent is Jewish.
    I.e., throw out the converts? Are you suggesting that the Reform movement go Syrian?

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