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There are vibrant non-Orthodox Judaism alternatives out there

Reader comment on item: The Orthodox Future of Judaism

Submitted by Stephen Asbel (United States), Jan 26, 2005 at 12:47

Dear Dr. Pipes,
I enjoy your writings and it was a pleasure to hear you speak in person.. .

I read in the Jerusalem Post with interest your column on Orthodoxy being the possible future for Judaism. The points you make are very well taken as there is a lot of assimilation among non-Orthodox Jews. However, there are vibrant alternatives to Orthodoxy for Jews seeking halachic observance.

One example can be found at my synagogue, Suburban Jewish Community Center Bnai Aaron in Havertown, PA. We are a Conservative congregation – a member of USCJ with about 325 member households. Rabbi Lisa Malik, the top rabbinical graduate of JTS in 2004 who just assumed our pulpit less than 6 months ago, is implementing an exciting brand of halachic Judaism that combines tradition and innovation. Since Rabbi Malik's arrival, attendance at services has gone up significantly. We are the only Conservative synagogue, at least in our part of the Philadelphia suburbs, that has daily prayer services both in the morning and evening. Since Rabbi Malik arrived, we have had greatly increased success in making a quorum for prayers daily – in the mornings, until the big snow storm, we had not missed making a quorum in the morning in nearly 2 months. We have a variety of classes on prayer, Jewish tradition, Talmud and others. We have a junior congregation in which children as young as 8 years old (including both of my daughters) are learning to read Torah. We have bnai mitzvah who do entire Torah readings, teens and adults who can lead entire services. We have dinners and lunches where we join together for traditional zmirot. We read all 5 Megillot on the designated holidays, have specially scheduled afternoon services for Torah reading on the various fast days – and there is much more. We have all of these wonderful traditional elements in a congregation that is fully egalitarian up to and including our pulpit.

We have been using with increasing frequency a wonderful Shlomo Carlebach format for Friday evening services in which we sit and daven together around a large table instead of sitting in pews. The melodies are very catchy and full of ruach and this is my favorite way to begin Shabbat. We have had several "Shabbat on time" services using the Carlebach format starting as early as 4:20 pm followed by a dinner. Skeptics thought few people would come home from work early enough to attend such services but the results have been astounding – attendance at our last Shabbat on Time, on January 14, was about 120 people.

Non-Orthodox Judaism may be in trouble in many places but in this little shul, anyway, it is getting stronger. Come and see for yourself. For more information, call the synagogue office – 610-446-1967 and visit the synagogue web site at sjccba.org.


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