What is Modern Conservative?
We are Conservative and yet we are modern. We are Modern Conservative. It’s a simple, clear way to define what makes Beth El special.
You know the story about the Jewish guy who was lost at sea and then was found many years later on a deserted island. His rescuers, amazed at what he had built on the island, pointed to two buildings and asked, “What are those? “Synagogues,” he answered. “That one over there is my synagogue. But, I’ll never step foot in that other one.”
This story has been repeated over the years because it resonates with us. It’s very hard for any shul to consistently meet the needs of every current and prospective member.
This is particularly difficult for a Conservative shul, as many of our decisions require thoughtful interpretation. To give you some historical perspective, Conservative Judaism was established in the mid 19th century in Breslau Germany as a way to moderate between traditional Orthodox and Reform Judaism. As Conservative Jews, we continue to this day to safeguard our ritual traditions while adapting to modern ways of thought through the halachic process — the interpretation of halachic law in today’s world. While it puts a lot of pressure on our Rabbis, we have never in our history failed to evolve in response to major social trends.
It was only some 40 years ago that egalitarianism was seen as monumental change. Now, can you even imagine a service without a woman reading Torah? Where would we be without the sweet sounds of our female readers?
It is our duty to continue that evolution, to modernize, so we stay relevant to who we are and the way we live. As we did in the 1970s, when we became egalitarian, it is now time to recalibrate ourselves and take the next step in the evolution of Conservative Judaism. For Beth El, it’s time to build on the awesome, inspiring work Rabbi Alex is doing. It’s time to instill a new energy into ourselves and into our community to reinvigorate not only what it means to be a Conservative Jew, but also what it means to belong to a Conservative synagogue, and what it means to belong to Beth El today.
Beth El’s strength is unique among Conservative shuls. It gives us the platform and the imperative to step up and say who we are and where we’re going.
- Modern Conservative. Think of it as a riff on Modern Orthodox. It’s a signal to our community that we get it. We understand that today’s needs may be different.
- Modern Conservative isn’t unlike much of what we’re doing now at Beth El. But it helps us keep our eye on the ball. As we develop our long-term plan, it brings a focus to our efforts, informs our decisions and drives our actions to make sure we’re considering the world around us, and what our current and prospective congregants need.
- Modern Conservative is not a thinly veiled effort to forego our traditions in the name of engagement and membership. It’s not asking Rabbi for a different halachic interpretation. Modern Conservative means that we can explore and grow without surrendering who and what we are.
- Modern Conservative is not a splinter movement away from and counter to our support for USCJ. It’s just the opposite. Modern Conservative is our effort to reignite passion for the Conservative movement. It’s a way to signal and inspire change in the way we think and tell those unfamiliar with Beth El, that we may be different than what they think of when they think of a Conservative shul.
- Modern Conservative sees Interfaith families, as an opportunity, not as a threat. It’s recognition that we can’t expect the non-Jewish spouse to embrace Conservative Judaism and support raising Jewish children if they don’t feel welcome in our shul.
- Modern Conservative reminds us that we all have different needs and requirements from Beth El. It takes problems, created as our lives evolve at an ever-accelerating pace, and turns them into opportunities to better relate to and help one another. For example, it’s the recognition that while the traditional elevated bima in our most used prayer space worked for many decades, it is not accessible to our growing elderly population and others with physical disabilities. Modern Conservative reminds us that halachic law doesn’t require an elevated bima. It’s not about adding a ramp–it’s about rethinking the space to better meet our needs. By removing the elevated bima entirely, we can create a more intimate, more engaging and more versatile shul-in-the-round.
- Modern Conservative tells us some of our congregants avoid services, along with the opportunity to engage with the community, because the service doesn’t speak to them. Modern Conservative provides the impetus for initiatives such as our Learner’s Minyan and alternative musical services to go along with our more traditional services.
- Modern Conservative provides the recognition that not all Congregants want or need the same things from their shul. Modern Conservative provides an array of quality programs and services, allowing Congregants to pick and choose what interests them so they assemble the shul experience that works best their family, without judgment.
- Modern Conservative is an effort to say, we get it. We are going to work hard to understand your needs, whether you’re a Millenial, gen Xer, boomer, or a golden-ager. Or, whether you’re among the interfaith, our most observant, our least observant, the LGBTQ community, the physically disabled. Whether you’re member of our family, or a future member. For some of these groups we have just started to scratch the surface of understanding and responding to your needs. Modern Conservative ensures we don’t take our eye off the ball.
Whether a congregant wants to be in the building three times a year or three hundred, Beth El will be here for them with quality programs and services that allow them to pick and choose what works. One of the things congregants get at Beth El that they probably don’t get from the other organizations in the community is spiritual fulfillment when they want it and the unconditional support of the Beth El family when they need it.