Synagogue Attendance Decline

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



On the Horns of a Dilemma

"Wer sich mischt unter die Kleie, den fressen die Säue"


   Our synagogues are dominated by a small clique of self appointed elitists and their insidious sycophants who use our congregations as alternative status systems. It is for that reason that only one half of all American Jews are members of synagogues and only 8% of the membership attends on a regular basis, i.e. at least twice a month.

Anyone who seeks to join a Jewish congregation will soon find that he is welcome only if he is already a relative or friend of the “inner circle” or can make so vast a contribution than he can pay the mortgage all by himself. Normally, newcomers are not greeted, not invited and made to feel unwelcome.

That is even true of members who are, of course, “allowed” to pay dues. In short, our money is never rejected but even long term members are given to understand that they ought not to enter the “shul” or have the gall to participate in any of the social activities.

Every congregation has all sorts of officers who are so anxious to hold on to numerous titles such as president, board chairman, vice president, committee chair, etc. etc. that the sight of an “outsider”, however Jewish, is anathema to them.

Only a gargoyle would not recognize that membership in our synagogues is open “pro forma” in that anyone can hand over his money but that even Saturday “services” are restricted to the aforementioned bosses.

Therefore few are members and fewer attend. Gradually, Judaism is reduced to a few selfish sycophants of the rich and powerful while the Jewish message is buried under the ambitions of the “inner circle”.

The clergy are unable to prevent this since they depend for their income on those who “call the shots”.

This, then, raises the question, “why would anyone, not welcome, attend synagogue?” Here lies the dilemma. Some of us have attended every week or nearly so, all our lives. We have spent a great deal of money over the years and even attached a plaque in memory of our parents on the wall of the “shul”. It is difficult to relinquish the habits of a lifetime and to ignore that we all need a burial site. So we remain members, attend on Saturday though not welcome, avoid all social events and committee assignments and try to live in this dichotomy as best we can.

It is also for these reasons that we have so many small congregations of folks who were excluded in a congregation to which they belonged previously. Seeking to solve this dilemma, such Jews form new congregations which are often financially unable to sustain themselves.

Our children see all this, of course. Therefore they avoid synagogues and the Jewish religion, call themselves “secular” Jews, if Jews at all, and guarantee that the third generation will have forgotten us as we shrink until we vanish.

Over forty years ago, the then still existing “Look” magazine published an article called “The Vanishing American Jew.” The editors did not really understand the reason for this gradual disappearance. Now you see it here. A few arrogant fools have seized our synagogues to their advantage and the exclusion of everyone else until there will be no one left to exclude.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The Restoration of Israel (2006).

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