The real problem with the Conservative movement
In response to my crack at "rabbi" Jack Wethieber at JTS, who thinks that Conservative Jews need to become fundamentalist sheep if they expect to preserve Conservative Judaism, Ben Sorer Moreh Makes the follwoing comment:
As an ex-Ortho, I see the liberal movements' inability to remain relevant or (perceptibly) accessible to a larger population to be a serious challenge to their future. The Os, to their "credit" have a sense of mission. Chabad sees a (existing or emerging) community where there are some Jews (e.g., North Williamsburg or Hoboken) and decides that they're gonna weave themselves into the fabric, make themselves visible, relevant and (raise enough funds elsewhere to be) affordable. The liberal movements take years to build expensive synagogue centers (Meir Kahane called them "mausoleums") for "themselves." Now that all sorts of people (Jews included) are buying homes in Harlem, wanna bet who's gonna be first to open the "next" shul there?
I think Ben's money quote is toward the end whe he talks about the expensive synagogues. I know some folks who have a C shul with 100 families that they run on a budget of less than $200,000 a year. Rented space, part-time rabbi, members do all the work, including leading most of the service. They get a crowd 50-100 almost every Shabbos, higher than average shabbos and kashrus observance than most C shuls, and one friend who goes there, who, alas, recently lost a family member, was astounded that they had no trouble rounding up a shiva minyan for him.
He also says that the lcoal USCJ office doesn't know what to do with a congregation like them and is alwys trying to get them to expand, start a building fund and a religious school and become another "typical" C-nagogue. But why should they? They are providing the religious life their members need at a fraction of the cost of a conventional syangogue. Dues are still <$1,000 per family (lower for individual members), and non-members can buy High Holiday tickets for <$100. A Conservative community with 10 C-nagogues like that one would be 10 times more vital than one with a single 1,000 family monstrosity, in which the shul management has to suck up to the big donors just to raise enough money to maintain the property. Of course, with such smaller shuls, it would be harder for the C rabbis to get their 6-figure salaries.
As for Jewish education, the community would do fine with independent Jewish schools that would have combined day school and afternoon school programs. It might ensure higher quality teachers for the supplementary schoo, becuase a community school would be a larger school with more resoruces. Let the large donors contribute to the schools, rather than to congregations. In fact, the little liberal "shtieblach" could rent space in the school buildings.
Ben is right. C needs to reach out to the unafilliated, and do so in a way that doesn't require the unafilliated to start having to spend a lot of money to be part of a Jewish community.