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Youth Leader Commands: 'Gen Y to the Rescue!'
Mordy Greenspan, president of United Synagogue Youth, made this assessment Monday night in front of nearly 1,200 of his peers at the group's 55th annual international convention at the Philadelphia Marriott.
"The movement," stated the Oceanside, N.Y.-native during his presidential address in the hotel's Grand Ballroom, "is losing members in droves."
"When we are adults, will we still be able to find active Conservative communities to join? Will there still be a USY for us to send our kids to?" he continued. "We need to reinvigorate Conservative daily life by joining our home communities and strengthening them."
Greenspan - who's spending the year studying in Israel, and is about to finish up his term as president - told the crowd that between 1990 and 2000, the Conservative movement's share of affiliated Jews fell from 40 percent to 33 percent.
He also claimed that nearly half of adults raised in Conservative synagogues no longer affiliate with the movement.
While Greenspan didn't exactly speculate why, he did read an anonymous letter from an adult that said a Conservative supplementary education "failed to instill any passion or joy about being Jewish."
Those inside and outside of the Conservative movement have speculated that wedge issues could break it apart within a generation, with its more liberal adherents moving to Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism, and those inclined to more observant Judaism shifting toward Orthodoxy.
Hot-button issues - such as whether or not to ordain openly-gay clergy - are expected to be taken up by the movement following the impending departure of Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Schorsch has been a staunch opponent of ordaining homosexuals.
What's the Problem?
How to deal with the phenomenon of intermarriage is another question that could split Conservative Judaism. At its conference earlier this month, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism vowed to step up its efforts at including intermarried couples in synagogue life.
Greenspan did acknowledge that all news is not bad. Outlets for the young are flourishing: USY currently boasts more than 50,000 members, and roughly 8,000 teens and preteens attend one of 10 Ramah summer camps in North America.
Moreover, said Greenspan, enrollment in the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel is at the highest level in its 25-year-history.
"If USY is doing so well, why do we seem to be in so much trouble?" he asked rhetorically.
He answered that the Conservative movement does not have the same kind of presence on college campuses as does Hillel or Chabad Lubavitch.
"It's up to each and every one of us to save this movement," he said to near-deafening applause. "What are each of you going to do?"
High school-aged students from 17 different USY regions attended the convention, which got under way Dec. 25 and continues through Dec. 29. In addition to the president's address, the Dec. 26 evening program also marked the 50th anniversary of USY's Israel Pilgrimage, with a montage of photos of the first 11 students departing in 1955 interspersed with video of participants from last summer's Israel trip.
The Monday-night installment of the conference began with more than 1,000 teenagers reciting blessings over the Chanukah menorah.
An hour-and-a-half later, the event ended with the singing of the Israeli folk-song "Al Kol Eli," with nearly all the participants standing on chairs and waving their arms as they sang.