The Relevancy of Today’s Synagogues

from an opinion piece by Rabbi Sid Schwarz in The Jewish Week:

Are Synagogues Still Relevant?

In many Jewish gatherings of professionals and lay leaders, fingers are being pointed at the synagogue as an increasingly irrelevant institution. The only Jewish institution that suffers greater criticism is the synagogue’s stepchild, the afternoon religious school.

Jewish funders are more eager to fund alternatives to synagogues than innovations within synagogues. Benefitting from this trend are independent minyanim, outreach programs to non-traditional populations (e.g. 20-somethings, LGBTs, interfaith families, etc.), public-space Judaism, environmental programs and social justice initiatives. Indeed many of these new initiatives are benefiting from a burst of energy from the younger generation in things Jewish and growing support for social entrepreneurship to reinvent the Jewish community.

There is much to celebrate in these new developments, but it would be unwise to write off synagogues just yet. The cumulative cost of all synagogue buildings and professional staff in America represents the single biggest investment of Jewish communal dollars that exists. As a class, synagogues can be criticized for not adjusting quickly enough to changes in American society and culture, and they are losing market share as a result. However, I don’t know of anyone who believes that what synagogues offer can be replaced by the Internet.

… Most Jews do not care one whit about the future of the denominations. However, we know that many Jews are hungry to find communities of meaning that can support them in their search for spirituality, for wisdom, for emotional and communal support in times of joy and sorrow and for efforts to advance peace and justice in the world. This should be the agenda of every American synagogue and there are ways to help them deliver this to Jews in new and exciting ways.