Power in Synagogues

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox  

Differences in ritual and emphasis have divided the American Jewish community for at least a century.  These divisions are augmented by yet another segment of the Jewish community, i.e. the Jewish secularists.  Secularists in this context refers to that large majority of Jews who attend congregational prayers only three days a year, on two days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur.

Innumerable theories have been advanced to explain this lack of interest in Judaism by Jews.  These explanations usually deplore intermarriage, lack of Jewish education, the secularization of the general American community, and failure to understand our history.  Yet, from a sociological point of view, the ever increasing decline in participation in religious observances on the part of American Jews can be found elsewhere.

Evidently, both Conservative and Reform congregations in this country have become alternative status mechanisms which service the needs of a few self appointed elitists.  This crew and their sycophants usually seize control of each congregation and provide themselves with all kinds of labels such as chairman, president, board member, etc., etc.  Fearing that others may compete for these positions, the elitists make certain that the majority of paid members do not participate in the activities of the congregation lest their superior positions become endangered.

Many of the paying majority, as well as non-members, appear in these congregations on occasions such as a bar mitzvah, wedding, or funeral, and promptly discover that they are not welcome.  Therefore it is reasonable to explain the poor attendance at Conservative and Reform congregations by recognizing that these congregations do not seek to advance Judaism but exist only to promote the need of a few to gain a sense of power and prestige relative to the "unwashed masses" who are excluded by several means.

None of this is true of Orthodox Jewish congregations.  There all are welcome, including those who never contributed even one cent.  The difference is evident.  Orthodox Jews seek to maintain Judaism, while the other two denominations seek only to satisfy the ego needs of a few.

Because I have traveled across this country as far as Alaska, San Diego, Miami, Boston, and all communities from Cleveland to Phoenix and back, I can attest to these conditions, which I experienced in the numerous congregations I have visited, including my own.

There are, of course, solutions to this dilemma.  

Shalom uívracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The German Jews in America (2014).

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