This is reprinted from a post in The Times of Israel by Aaron Starr, a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan.
As we welcome in this New Year, we know that we are at a critical juncture in American Jewish history. Synagogue affiliation continues to drop. Jewish ritual practice weakens with every passing year. Parents are far too often choosing for their children to attend soccer and gymnastics over Hebrew School and youth group. Even Israel — that one topic which used to unite the Jewish people — even Israel has become a lightning rod that divides, rather than unites us. Frankly, without a major course correction, the future for non-Orthodox Jews in America appears in jeopardy.
There is no question that American culture is partly to blame. Liberal religion as a whole is decreasing in our country, as fewer people of any religion attend worship services. We are blessed with so many freedoms and privileges that it is easy to choose to be an American first and a Jew second, or to choose not to be Jewish at all. I’m reminded of the story of when Napoleon was trying to conquer Russia. A group of Hasids went up to their rebbe and asked, “Rebbe, should we pray for Napoleon to win, with his promise of liberty, fraternity, and equality? Or should we pray for the Czar, and continue among all this anti-Semitism?” The Rebbe responded, “What is good for the Jews is not necessarily good for Judaism.” In America, it is surely good for the Jews, but it has not been so good for Judaism.
In response to the decline in Jewish life here in America, we have tried to reinvent religious schools and day schools. We have gone through revolutions in prayer styles and published new prayer books. We are ever trying to improve synagogue practices, becoming more welcoming communities and more caring congregations. Yet, somehow, the decline of Conservative and Reform Judaism continues.