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 of Farmington Hills, a freshman at Western Michigan University, is pursuing a major of Elementary/Early Childhood Education along with a minor in Comparative Religons. He is an active member of WMU's Hillel and teaches 1st and 2nd grade at Congregation of Moses on Sunday Mornings. His goal is to one day receive a masters in Jewish Education and be ordained a Conservative rabbi. Sam’s goal is to “live a life full of passion and meaning.” He has volunteered at Forgotten Harvest and, as a member of the Jewish Fund Teen Board, helped allocate grants totaling $50,000. He’s volunteered at the JCC, working with kindergarteners and first-graders and at the Hillel Early Childhood Center Day Camp as a counselor. He also served as chair of the J-Serve Teen Board Committee. Since studying underneath Cantor Leonard Gutman, Sam has become a regular Torah reader, Davener, Haftorah reader and Megillah reader at Congregation Shaarey Zedek. He attended the JustCity Leadership Institute at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the AIPAC Policy Conference and the Schusterman Conference as a USY representative. He also was the Torah Bytes Fellow for USY Central Region and CSZ's representative for Motor City USY. Sam has worked at CSZ, Aish Detroit and Adat Shalom teaching Hebrew to third-through sixth-graders, and recently helped a congregant learn to read Torah and Haftorah for her 50th bat mitzvah anniversary. He has a love for everything Jewish and started this blog on Times of Israel so that he could share his love of Torah and his thoughts with the world!
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