There is no escaping the challenging fact that there are more Jews outside the walls of our synagogues than inside. Social scientists such as Robert Putnam and Mark Chaves explain this as being part of a larger phenomenon in North America, where the most rapidly growing religious group is unaffiliated—the “nones.” While middle-aged and older individuals continue to embrace organized religion, exponentially increasing numbers of young people reject it.
Too often I hear Jewish leaders describing those who have no religious affiliation as people “who don’t know and don’t care.” I disagree. The 2012 Pew Forum on Religion survey, “'Nones' on the Rise,” disproves this notion, finding that many of these “nones” believe in God, seek spirituality, and pray regularly. They just do not relate to the world of organized religion. Seventy percent of “nones” reported that religious institutions are too focused on money and power, and reflect worldviews alien to their own.
That’s precisely why a major thrust of the new URJ is to “reach beyond the walls” of synagogues to engage those who have yet to join us inside of our congregations. Doing so effectively means discarding limiting assumptions such as, “they don’t know and they don’t care.”
In our new URJ Communities of Practice, dozens of URJ congregations are experimenting with a variety of compelling ways to engage young adults and young families, who will learn from each other and from our of URJ Faculty of thought leaders and expert practitioners.
Over the past 40 years, while the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated have been on the rise, the Reform Movement has been the fastest growing theologically liberal religious tradition in America. We have become the largest stream in North American Jewish life. This is due in no small measure to our openness to the full tapestry of Jews—gay Jews and straight Jews, intermarried Jews and in-married Jews, ritual Jews and cultural Jews.
The hallmarks of Reform Judaism—dynamism, openness, creativity—should make our Movement extraordinarily attractive to Jews worldwide who mistakenly view all organized religion as insular and out of touch.
I hope you will embrace the challenge of reaching beyond our synagogue walls to engage all those who are seeking a meaningful Jewish life. Let’s give them the opportunity to experience the beauty and power of our Reform Jewish community.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs
President, Union for Reform Judaism
Your thoughts and ideas are welcomed. Contact Rabbi Jacobs: firstname.lastname@example.org and/or send a letter-to-the-editor: email@example.com.