Sunday, August 17, 2014

Reform Judaism's dilemma - Serve Jewish community or the help the world?

NY Times    Leafy, affluent Park Slope, Brooklyn, embodies the challenge facing modern American Jewry: Though many Jews live there, few are observant. So it was no small feat when Rabbi Andy Bachman took the helm of Congregation Beth Elohim in the neighborhood eight years ago and began attracting a vibrant congregation of Jewish atheists and agnostics, as well as the more traditionally religious.

Drawn by big-name book talks, family-oriented religious classes and the rabbi’s teaching that to be Jewish is to do good in the world, membership in the Reform synagogue doubled to more than a thousand families. It drew young literati like Jonathan Safran Foer and catapulted to national attention as a model for what might bring some of the nation’s millions of Jews who are unaffiliated with synagogues back to the fold.

Recently, however, Rabbi Bachman shocked many in his congregation and in Jewish circles by announcing that he was stepping down from the pulpit and out of Jewish leadership to help New York’s poorest, regardless of their religion. [...]

His decision was deeply personal, but also touched on vexing questions at the center of Judaism’s future in this country as modern Jews — the secular, the unaffiliated, the questioning — grapple with what it means to be Jewish and what role a synagogue should play in that identity. Nationally, synagogue affiliation is falling as American Jews increasingly decide they do not need to live out their Jewishness in a religious context.


  1. There are other ways of spinning this story. In Park Slope and adjoining neighborhoods there are many thousands of Jews, young, college educated and many with some real Jewish background. Yet all the denominations including MO have been unsuccessful in organizing this community. This rabbi had ideas and the personality to create a formula that works. Conservative and Reform rabbis ought to be sitting at his feet learning how to do their job.

  2. @ej - you are right but that was not the point of the article. the point is that there is an inherent conflict between helping Jews and the world. this successful rabbi is quitting because he thinks the world is more important.


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