Thinking About Conservative Judasim
These three mainstream movements are in serious trouble—not merely demographically and generationally, but also ontologically, in terms of their self-understanding. Renewal and Reconstructionism seem to be making gains—for the same reasons as the main denominations are in trouble, probably. All three mainstream movements are entangled in struggles of self-definition and self-legitimation vis-à-vis the others, and all seem to be on the defensive rather than actively articulating a living and viable Judaism.
He describes the Conservative Movement this way:
Largely suburban, middle-brow Conservatism, with its lavish low-rise shuls set in immense parking lots, its showy, hugely expensive b’nei mitzvah celebrations (Reform is guilty here too, of course), its dowdy, ‘participatory’ 1960s liturgy—in which the Saturday morning service might well be the only one of the week—and the well-meaning embrace of ‘traditional’ Judaism without much concern for actual observance outside of the synagogue…
I think in many ways Gow’s critique is thoughtful and correct. Certainly I often feel that the Conservative movement, is, as Gow says, "on the defensive rather than actively articulating a living and viable Judaism." I do think we spend too much time wringing our hands over small and large issues which divide us. And we are not nearly articulate enough about the style of the Judaism we seek. By style, I mean to say all the action-based realities of living as a committed Conservative Jew: daily prayer, Shabbat, etc, all taking place within an egalitarian context. It can be a powerful thing, as many "unaffiliated" or "independent" minyanim like Hadar in New York have, I think, shown. But these successful examples of our style of Judaism also point in the direction Gow is pointing: these minyanim are specifically not Conservative, and while they adopt our style, they will not adopt our name. I think that is largely–though not entirely–due to the hand-wringing over our Movement’s identity; our "brand," if you will, has suffered, to the extent that even those who share our basic approach, as well our stylistic choices, choose not to associate themselves with us.
All of which is to say: we’ve got work to do. But it can be done, and Ramah is a great place to show what we, as a Movement, can do.