Ellen Marc /
The recent Pew Forum survey of religious life in America
doesn’t mention one group that we hear about often as we talk with
congregational leaders: those parents who get close to but rarely enter the
temple’s door. How do we get “drive by” parents to step into the building and
into the congregational community instead of simply dropping off their children?
Our congregations are trying different approaches: drop-in coffee centers,
parenting groups, or other parent-centered programs that increase the chances
that they will remain involved in temple life as their children grow older. To
learn from the experiences of the Reform synagogues that have successfully met
this challenge, visit the Union’s Membership website, www.urj.org/membership.
An even larger group of Jews doesn’t even drive by the synagogue. Once they
were temple “regulars” for their children’s sake; now they come only for Rosh
Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or yahrzeits. The richness that Judaism offers is
not on their radar screen, except for the compelling message of the High Holy
Day season. At the holidays’ end they drift off again, not to be seen for a
year—unless they have a lifecycle event or other reason to step across the
In many of our Reform congregations, the majority of members are
empty-nesters and seniors. According to the Pew Forum survey, 72 percent of all
Jewish households have no children at home—and more than half of us are over the
age of 50.
Why, then, the emphasis on what Rabbi Larry Hoffman, professor at Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, calls “pediatric Judaism”? “We have
planned for our children only,” he wrote in 1996. “In our understandable anxiety
to pass on Judaism as their heritage, we have neglected its spiritual resources
for adults, leaving ourselves with no adequate notion of how we too might draw
sustenance from our faith as we grow up and grow older.”
That same year, in his inaugural sermon, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of
the Union for Reform Judaism, declared that today’s Jews are in “need of
transcendent meaning” and “searching for the poetry of faith.” And so he
launched what has become one of the hallmarks of his presidency—a focus on adult
Jewish literacy. Since then, I am pleased to report, thousands of adults have
risen to the challenge of learning to chant Hebrew, and synagogues throughout
the Union report dramatic growth in their Torah study groups. We have also
witnessed a transformation in worship reflected in the creation of our
Movement’s new prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah.
During the upcoming High Holy Days our sanctuaries will be filled to
overflowing. We will take time to reflect on who we are, our joys and
disappointments, our successes and failures. We will pause from the pressures of
our everyday lives and think about our hopes and dreams for the coming year both
as individuals and as Jews.
My wish for you this year is that you heed Judaism’s eternal pull. Let
yourself respond to the shofar’s call. And, most of all, don’t be a stranger.
Our community needs you—and, more importantly, you need the community.
Joan joins me in wishing you and your loved ones L’shanah tovah.
Peter J. Weidhorn, Chairman
Union for Reform Judaism