Chapter Two: The Problem – Not just for synagogues
I am a Rabbi and I write from the perspective of the synagogue. I am a Conservative rabbi and so my experience is in Conservative congregations. But this does not mean that those of other denominations will not find anything of interest in this book. The fact is that organized religion all over the U.S. is in decline. There are many churches, mosques, ashrams, temples and meeting halls that can read their own issues into what I am trying to identify, each seeking the best ways to meet the challenges that we collectively face. Each religion has its own parameters that restrict how it can react to changes in the world. Some faiths have difficulty with the expanded role of women in the world. Some religions do not accept members of different races or sexual orientations. Some are able to ask their members for money directly; others rely on free will offerings and are forbidden to ask for money at all. Some Jewish denominations have different rules regarding changes in the service and the use of musical instruments on Shabbat. I only hope that each person reading this will find something that they can apply to their own house of worship; we could all use a little help understanding the issues better and gaining insight as to where answers can be found. Just taking notes and presenting them at a board meeting will not bring about the kind of changes I think the religious world needs. Each group will have to examine the issues independently and decide which will be the best course of action for their particular denomination. We need to stop lamenting that which has been lost and set our best minds to working on solving the problems.
What are the problems that synagogues face? To some extent, they are the same problems that we have always faced: issues of membership, finances, caring for our facilities, helping new families feel welcome and intransigent, older leadership unwilling to make room for new leaders. While the problems may be old, there are some new twists that make dealing with these issues more crucial now than ever.