News / USA

    Seeking Younger Members, Synagogues Aim to Remake Themselves

    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.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora