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Is Synagogue Affiliation Important? Should it Be?

In my area of Florida, the Southeast portion, which includes Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach, a recent survey said that 85% of the Jewish population there is unaffiliated with any synagogue.

Most of the Jews in this area are from New York and other East coast areas and they are thought to be a wealthy segment of the national Jewish community. They often consider themselves Jewish and they have the money to join, yet they choose not to.

Could it be that synagogues don’t offer much to attract them?

I would say the answer is a resounding YES!

Should we care?

Obviously the synagogues affected care. But we are concerned with larger issues here. We can assume that synagogues everywhere in the United States have serious affiliation issues and that Jews in all areas of the country are only marginally attracted to becoming synagogue members.

Many Jews view synagogues as “institutional religion” and in surveys, these Jews say they are “spiritual but not religious.” Thus, the communal element of being Jewish is lost to most Jews in America.

As a Shalomist, I believe that synagogues need to change what they offer. Most Jews are turned off by Jewish prayer services, synagogue life, and the cost of membership. Rabbis don’t appeal to them and have little or nothing to offer them. For most Jews, the only purpose synagogues serve is as a place to get their kids Bar or Bat Mitzvahed and as a place to go for High Holiday services. If synagogues keep doing things the same old way, they will get the same old results, which amounts to losing more and more of our people with each passing year. If synagogues cannot provide what people need, and what the Jewish people as a whole need, they need to be either replaced or radically reconfigured.

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