News / USA

Seeking Younger Members, Synagogues Aim to Remake Themselves

Synagogue Lures Young Adults With Happy Houri
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
December 10, 2012 9:58 PM
America has an abundance of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. But they are all financed by members, and polls suggest that young Americans nowadays feel little obligation to join. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky went to see what one Jewish synagogue in Washington is doing about it.
America has an abundance of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, but they are all financed by members, and polls suggest that young Americans nowadays feel little obligation to join.

So one Washington-based synagogue decided to do something about it.

For thousands of years, Jews have welcomed the Sabbath with solemn prayers. But Elie Greenberg, Director of Informal Programming for Adas Israel Jewish synagogue, felt that tradition needed some updating.

"The traditional approach to Judaism does not speak to them anymore," he says of his own generation while arranging chips and beer for a Friday evening happy hour. "We're constantly looking for new innovative ways of reaching them where they are spiritually."

And it works.

At a time when young Americans of all backgrounds increasingly shun organized religion, a large crowd of young adults shows up.

A recent poll found that only eight percent of synagogue members in the Reform and Conservative movements, the largest group of American Jews, are between 18 and 34. This means that many of those in attendance might otherwise have spent Friday evening in a bar, or anywhere but a synagogue.

Julia Crantz and Casey Girard say they do not feel the same obligation to join that previous generations did.

"For me, belonging to a synagogue, isn't so important to me as having Jewish experiences and Jewish friendships and experiencing my Judaism in other ways," Crantz says.

"I think part of the problem is it is so expensive to join and it is something only our parents do," says Girard.

Faith in flux

Around for more than a century, in 1876, Ulysses S. Grant became the first U.S. president to attend a Hebrew devotional service at Adas Israel's former location in downtown Washington.

Like so many American synagogues — and even more so, many American churches — Adas Israel has long been the focal point of spiritual and religious life for its members. But American religion is in flux, and the future of its houses of worship is up in the air.

In order to appeal to a new generation of members, Adas Israel is conducting a renovation project to convert one of the main chapels into a lounge with coffee and free Wi-Fi.

The financing for the multi-million-dollar project comes mainly from established older members.

According to Rabbi Larry Hoffman of Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary in New York, the question isn't whether synagogues need to be reinvented, but how.

"Young people do not join the way their elders did," says Hoffman, who leads Synagogue3000, a project designed to send rabbis into the community. "They don't join anything, [but] that does not mean they are not interested in what synagogues have to offer. But synagogues have to offer something other than what they have been offering."

That's exactly what Greenberg of Adas Israel has been attempting to do, and so far his strategy seems to be working.

"This is so critical — this is the future of Judaism," says Greenberg as the monthly happy hour, which has continued to grow, begins to wind down.

Several young women mark the start of the Sabbath by lighting two candles on a table off to the side.

The hope is that they and others will stay and pray, like their parents have done for generations.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Young&Jewish from: Washingtondc
December 13, 2012 1:11 PM
As an avid attendee of this Young Professional Shabbat service at Adas Israel, I can tell you that we all go because it is a place where we can find people our own age participating in meaningful, traditional Yiddishkeit. I'm not there for the popcorn or the booze - That's just the oneg, there are supposed to be snacks when people are hungry. We follow the oneg up with full Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv services with impressive Kavanah (intention). There are 300 of us who come for a meaningful experience of Shabbat, not the happy hour - we can drink anywhere.

The reporters were only allowed to film the pre-Shabbat oneg, because once Shabbat came in, all the young people and the staff of Adas Israel demanded that the cameras to be turned off so that they could observe Shabbat traditionally, which is great. The reporters just failed to mention that in the story. We feel no need to dumb down or alcohol-ize Judaism to make it work for young people. I commend Adas Israel and Elie Greenberg for doing such wonderful work in bridging the gap between Young People and their vital Jewish experiences.


by: wishfullthinker from: washington, dc
December 13, 2012 8:07 AM
What I'm sorry this story is missing is that all of the 300 young professionals who come to Adas Israel for the chance to mingle DO stay for a meaningful, moving Friday night service. This is not religion-light. Many congregations' Friday night services offer a chance to celebrate with food and wine (and sometimes schnaps!) together after the service ... this celebration just happens to begin before. Yes, they could be at a nightclub, but they're NOT. The good news is that young people are seeking a meaningful Jewish experience, and, with this service, Adas Israel is providing one way to do this.


by: NVO from: USA
December 11, 2012 10:19 AM
Its plain and simply a hideous approach to try to get people to do something they dont want. You cannot and will not water down GOD with, popcorn, beer, and a bar like atmosphere. How about focusing and helping to rebuild the Third Temple in Jerusalem? The Sanhedrin and Levite priests would be disgusted at this watering down of God. Stay in your nightclubs with your Burger King, "have it your way" to God. It will NOT work, and is a mock at God. Popcorn and beer......my goodness!!!!!


by: NVO from: USA
December 11, 2012 12:03 AM
Rabbi, this country needs a good old fashioned spiritual revival, not a luring with free Wifi and coffee, you might as well sell booze. I can find free Wifi and coffee at McDonalds, NOT a synagogue. If you want God, one must seek him. Shameful approach. Another doped down religious tactic that will fail.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid