The Sept. 6 article by Stewart Ain “Lured by Cost and Community,” about low-cost startup synagogues on Long Island, could just as well have been titled, “Lured by Low Cost and Low Commitment.”
After reading the lamentation of several interviewees that a supplemental school schedule of more than one day per week is an untenable burden, I recalled the 2011 UJA-Federation study that found, “Among the Reform-raised respondents, the differences in Jewish engagement between the supplemental school and no-school group are minimal, or nearly nonexistent.” In other words, Jewish education is ineffectual when it falls below a threshold commitment.
Additionally a subtext of the article is the exclusive focus on what temples can do for its members to the exclusion of its members’ reciprocal obligations. These facts render the article quaint in its focus. Within a short generation or two, current trends in demography and affiliation, including this race to minimalist Judaism, will make questions of cost and commitment, sadly, moot. Few will bother to ask them. The parallel phenomena of high-cost synagogue dues and fees and the atrophy of Jewish life within the home make low-cost and low-commitment temples an immediately attractive but ultimately vacuous response to the fading of non-Orthodoxy.
Established congregations on Long Island with their grand and often sparsely populated sanctuaries should immediately consolidate — especially if not faced with imminent demise. Such a forward-leaning strategy will both lower costs and reinvigorate congregational communities whose members often contribute as much as they receive. The internally reinforcing energy of robust communities can make its members’ questions of commitment, happily, moot.
Huntington Station, L.I.
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