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Brent Schacter

Brent Schacter's Remarks on Kol Nidre in which He outlines the discussions Shaarey Zedek Has been having With Etz Chaim Re: Merger

by Brent Schacter, President Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, posted September 17, 2013

Rabbi Green, Chazzan Mass, fellow congregants,

I would like to take this opportunity tonight to bring you all up to date on the progress of discussions that our Board has been having with the Etz Chayim Congregation.

On Rosh Hashonah, I mentioned some of the positive accomplishments that our clergy, staff and our congregation have and are continuing to achieve. But as Rabbi Green will (has) told/tell you, Judaism in general and the conservative congregations in our city are struggling to deal with some difficult challenges.

It turns out that Gen X and Gen Y are not “joiners”, for a number of reasons in the very fluid society and environment in which we live. Interfaith unions are creating dispersal from Jewish religious and spiritual life. There is little or no sense of Jewish identity in modern life. Congregations now have very little involvement in the Jewish school system. Our congregations are aging and many of the younger cadre of Jews are simply not joining congregations. There is a real need to solve some of the existential challenges to Conservative Judaism now and in the immediate future.

Your Board and the Strategic Planning Cabinet have thought of several potential solutions to our dilemma. These include development of a daycare within the synagogue perhaps with refurbishment of our building to better meet present day needs; more programming that is attuned to the modern lifestyle;  more and better connection to Jewish education:

 And, perhaps, the fusion of the Conservative congregations, Shaarey Zedek and Etz Chayim into a combined congregation which would be able to provide a broader spectrum of religious, spiritual, educational and cultural programming. A fusion of the two congregations would provide more resources to permit a larger variety of religious options and educational and cultural programs.

For these reasons, this summer we have been examining, in a preliminary fashion with Congregation Etz Chayim representatives, the possibility of joining together as a united Conservative Congregation, which would allow us to pursue new and innovative ways of serving all of our congregants together. Jack London is facilitating the Kehillah Committee with representatives from both congregations’ Boards, and we have also initiated several subcommittees to look at the various areas that required initial joint discussion. We have taken a broad look at similarities and differences and the features in each congregation of ritual and liturgy, programming, financial, membership and governance issues. The dialogue and discussions have been open, frank and very collegial.

Following these initial in depth discussions it is fair to say that there are many more similarities than differences. This makes sense, since we are both conservative congregations that have grown up in the same milieu. Over time there have developed some cultural differences between the two congregations - North End and South End in orientation, but the discussions have been amicable and positive.

I think that the Boards of both congregations recognize that we face similar demographic and economic challenges and need to take steps , sooner rather than later, to ensure the sustainability of Conservative Judaism in our Community. Where we go with this could be any one or a combination of the options that I have briefly described. Once we have a better handle on the preferred option for our congregation, we will be seeking your input before any final decisions are made on this important issue. Please do feel free in the interim to speak with me or other Board members if you have some ideas or thoughts that you wish to share.

For the moment, thanks for your thoughtful attention and we all look forward to a better and brighter New Year.

Shana Tovah to you all



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