Solution to declining membership? Enlist LBGTQ

A Conservative synagogue in Detroit is facing declining membership and a rising average age..  What’s the rabbi’s solution? Filling the increasingly empty pews with new members who are LGBTQ+ but not with traditional families.

Here is the letter which Senior Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan, sent to congregants this week:

From: “Rabbi Aaron Starr, CSZ”

Thank you, as always, for your leadership of our beloved Synagogue.

I would like your help please in getting word out about Shaarey Zedek’s commitment to welcoming LGBTQ+ Jews into our synagogue and, frankly, changing the stereotype of CSZ as an unfriendly congregation.

If you agree with the view would you then please, ideally, share my Facebook post today of the YouTube sermon on your own Facebook page (you can search for Rabbi Aaron Starr to find it), that would be most helpful. You are welcome of course also to share the link by email or other means:

Thank you for your help in sharing your excitement about the direction in which our CSZ family is heading!

With blessings,

Rabbi Aaron Starr
Congregation Shaarey Zedek

Did Rabbi Starr consider that doing so might be counterproductive, that existing members might be uncomfortable reciting prayers in a room filled with men people of nontraditional sexual orientation and with nontraditional families? That many parents of young girls would be uncomfortable to have their young daughters use bathrooms that are also used by men? That long-time male congregants may be not want use use a bathroom also used by women? That LGBTQ+ members are less likely to increase the number of children born into the community?  That LGBTQ+ members might actually drive off the young professional families with children that the synagogue hopes to attract, though I’m not defending these biases but rather am accepting the reality of how things are and how and why decisions are made?

Apparently not.

While I welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community to join our congregation, they shouldn’t be the focus of the rabbi’s solicitations. We are a congregation and a religion of tradition, as Tevye famously sang, and it’s vital to remain so, while adapting to the times.

Aaron Starr was raised in a Reform household and attended a Reform yeshiva. In December, 2014, he described his conversion to the Conservative tradition.  He wrote that, “I believe Conservative Judaism holds a key to the survival of Liberal Judaism in the 21st Century.”

Why I became a Conservative Jew

Of course, many, if not most, of our synagogue’s members may not all think of themselves as Liberal Jews. But they have a rabbi who is trying to make them be just that.

Thanks to Don Weisberg.

About the Author
A resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan, I hold BA and MA degrees in economics, and spent the first decade after graduate school in journalism. I have worked on Wall Street, met a payroll, won a wire service award, and served on three boards. With a partner, I am involved in a litigation funding business.