A Word From The 11%

If we are the population about which such leaders are concerned, we may be ill advised to leave the movement exclusively in the hands of any generation but our own.

by Maya Zinkow

When I read the Pew Research Center’s independent study of American Jews, I started worrying, I started thinking, and I started talking to my fellow millennial Jews. Of particular interest to me was the section of the study that the Forward classified as the “Conservative Collapse.” This is a pretty grave verdict for a movement that seeks to create a traditionally-minded Judaism for a modern people. Yet it seems that the leaders of the Conservative movement aren’t too worried about the near-death sentence. I am, and I would hope that the rest of the reported 11% of young Jews who still identify with the Conservative movement are as well.

It is dismaying that, in reaction to the study, three leaders of the movement chose either to shrug off shrinking numbers as old news, claim to be working on these problems without specifically identifying solutions, or spin the reality of dwindling numbers into a positive claim that Conservative Judaism is the movement of a small population of people who are truly committed to its ideals of combining modernity with tradition.

As someone whose Judaism has been primarily shaped by Camp Ramah and the Conservative group at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel (formerly Koach, which officially lost its funding from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in June), my gut response to the Pew study is to start brainstorming with my fellow 11% what it is we will do to improve the outlook of the movement whose leadership, time and again, is surprisingly reluctant to acknowledge the severity of the problem and the dire need for change, inspiration, and creative problem solving. Indeed, it is my experiences in these major Conservative institutions that inspire my confidence in young Jewry, in my peers.

The Conservative movement must not be reserved for an elite few. Nor is the reaction of Conservative leadership an accurate portrayal of young Conservative and Conservative-minded Jewry. If we are the population about which such leaders are concerned, we may be ill advised to leave the movement exclusively in the hands of any generation but our own. We are ready to reinvigorate and restructure programs and organizations that are no longer sustainable in bringing our Conservative ideals into Jewish adulthood. We must take on the responsibilities of reshaping our future, and I hope that existing leadership, to whom my peers and I owe a debt of gratitude for our deep connections to Judaism, will work with us to make plans and forge a new path with open hearts and minds.

Maya Zinkow is a senior at Barnard College and is an active member of the Conservative group on campus.