Conservative Judaism: Time to Balance the “What” with the “Why”

This past December, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly partnered together for a collaborative convention titled 20/20 Judaism. This convention, meant to bring together Conservative Rabbi’s, Cantors, Educators and members from all across the United States affiliated with the Conservative Movement, had one goal: To tackle the biggest questions and challenges facing the Conservative Movement.

While I could not attend the convention, much of what I saw was from Facebook. Therefore, I saw videos posted of Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, JTS Rabbinical Student Deborah Sacks Mintz and Joey Weisenberg providing innovative Nigguns and Zimrot for Synagogue and everyday life. I saw pictures of esteemed writer Bari Weiss speaking on Anti Semitism and many Rabbis/Organizational leaders teaching on topics having to do with Inclusivity, Programming and Tefillah. However, while all of this caught my eye, the one thing that really stood out to me the most was a message (the video is attached above) for the Rabbinical Assembly and USCJ from the 2018-2019 USY International President: Noa Kligfeld.

Speaking from Eretz Israel, Noa used the teachings of the Torah Portion, Parshat Vayetze, and insight of motivational speaker Simon Spinek to convey that for Conservative Judaism to be successful, “We need to build a Judaism full of both the “what” and the why.” Speaking from her personal beliefs, Noa mentions that it is okay to “Believe in an Egalitarian, Halachic and Traditional Judaism, while still standing up for American Values like Feminism and Inclusivity.”

It is that message that Noa provides that like many others, makes my love of Conservative Judaism grow. I can seek the Debates of the Talmud and Mitzvot of the Torah and put them to use in a meaningful way that speaks for the twenty first century. When it comes to prayer, I can appreciate and find beauty in the powerful words of the Siddur, while watching my sister, Shoshana, lead Ashrei on a Shabbos Morning or my Mom daven a Shiva Minyan or Weekday Minchah/Maariv. That is Egalitarianism and Traditional Judaism! Additionally, I can seek the teachings of Social activists, those who stand up for American Values and those who seek to fulfill Tikkun Olam so like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I can pray with my feet!

But, as Noa pointed out (and I agree with!), there is no meaning unless we combine the “why” and the “what.” The amount of times that I have heard one advocate for getting rid of Musaf on a Shabbos Morning or watching my Shul cut out Psukei D’Zimrah on the High Holy Days illustrates that there are classes that need to happen and explanations needing to be given so that everyone understands not only “What” the purpose is, but, “Why” these Prayers are essential to us as twenty first century Conservative Jews.

On top of that, it is a must that Conservative Synagogues focus on the membership that is active and hungry for taking part in Jewish life. Time after time, dwindling numbers have been something that has been spoken of. However, I and so many others believe that Conservative Judaism is alive and thriving! Therefore, if we strive to make Judaism innovative, accessible and exciting for every walk of life, we can keep our “Ner Tamid,” our eternal flame filled with our love for Halacha, Torah, Ritual, Prayer and Tikkun Olam sustained for many generations to come!

Just as Noa voiced, I believe that it is not only appropriate and needed, but also time for the Rabbinical Assembly, the USCJ and the many affiliates (The Cantors Assembly etc.) that make up the Conservative Movement to keep coming together because as Noa stated: “Only by working together as one Conservative Movement can we ensure that our values continue to be lived out!”

שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה, שִׁיר חָדָשׁ; שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ: May we, as a Conservative Movement, be able to compose a new Zimrot for Hashem and the World filled with the respect and beauty for the old, yet, at the same time, appreciation for the new, exciting and beautiful ideas and meanings that can come out of our traditions, Torah and everything in between!

כן יהי רצון: May this truly be Hashem’s Will!

About the Author
Sam Arnold is a Magna Cum Laude and Presidential Scholar graduate from Western Michigan University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood/Elementary Education with a minor in Comparative Religions. While at the University, Sam taught various grades at the Marvin and Rosalie Okun Kalamazoo Community Jewish School – a joint Religious School between the Congregation of Moses and Temple B’nai Israel. Additionally, Sam was a part of the first-ever NEWCAJE College Cohort, the second HUC Teaching Impact Fellowship, was a past Hadar Davening College Fellow, and is a Past President of the Western Michigan University Hillel. Sam currently lives in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
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