I have grown up as a Conservative Jew. I am a third-generation member of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, New Jersey, and was very active in my United Synagogue Youth (USY) chapter and in the Hagalil Region of USY in high school. Since arriving at Pace University, I began working to start a Hillel chapter there along with establishing a Conservative presence on campus though Koach. My grandparents and parents have instilled strong Jewish values in me, and I hope to see the Conservative movement thrive for many generations to come.

Recently, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism announced the elimination of their college program Koach. Within hours of the announcement, students from all over North America, including myself, formed a committee called SaveKoach and were given $100,000 with a reprieve, until December 31, to raise an additional $130,000.

I feel a college presence is absolutely essential to the future of Conservative Judaism and denominational Judaism in general. While a great deal of time, money and effort is consistently committed to pre-college programs including Solomon Schechter Day Schools, Ramah and USY, this funding cannot be used to its full potential without a backbone supporting an organization that abets these students in the next step of their Jewish journey.

Young Jews cannot make the leap from being Conservative Jewish high school students to being committed Conservative Jewish adults on their own. If we do not provide an infrastructure of involvement for Conservative college students, we run the risk of losing a whole generation of Conservative Jewish members and leaders. Sustaining and eventually increasing funding for college efforts will allow the Conservative movement to survive and flourish for ourselves and for generations to come.

Unlike the ideas expressed by the opinion piece “College Dropout,” which appeared in The Jewish Week on July 3, 2012, I feel that movement-based programs still serve a vital purpose. The article discussed how the future of progressive Judaism may evolve best by “casting off denominations.”

With the support of a movement, we can be sure to maintain a strong continuity throughout a young Jewish individual’s life. Independent programs might work at schools such as NYU, with a large population of leaders able to support one another, and put the hard effort in, but schools such as mine (Pace University) need the support of the larger movement, because our smaller size reduces our ability to identify and develop experienced leaders.

Smaller independent programs rely upon the occasional leader coming up on a campus and shining, while denominational college programs provide leaders from other programs within a denomination and fill the gaps in the existing framework.

There are a variety of Jewish movements represented on the typical college campus. These movements can be differentiated by how literally they take the various scriptures. While it is certainly of value to be inclusive of all who identify themselves as Jewish, thousands of young Jews throughout the country still identify themselves with the values and beliefs rooted in Conservative Judaism.

Hillels do a great job at providing a non-denominational platform to reach out, but I believe it is very important to help those raised in the Conservative movement to be able to continue to practice what we were taught as we grew up.

The progressive Jewish movements in America are still drastically different. While I respect Chabad for their dedication and commitment, I believe Judaism must be accepting of women and tolerant of different interpretations of Halacha.

My discomfort with the Reform movement is rooted in my traditional upbringing, with Shabbat and Kashrut. I think it is wonderful that so many individuals are able to connect to Judaism through any of the movements, but for me, I connect through the experiences, values and traditions found in the Conservative movement.

If the movement is not there providing support during the college experience, will there still be a way to reconnect with these students once they leave the college world? Will they still be connected to the values espoused by Conservative Judaism, or will they find the other values that they have been more exposed to during college more attractive? Is the movement willing to gamble its future that they will be able to reconnect successfully? The Orthodox movement’s college outreach is incredibly strong, and I have tremendous respect and admiration for the efforts they are making on our college campuses, but I am concerned that if they are the only denominational movement left on campuses, they will have the strongest connection to my peers. But by relying on the Orthodox to make the connections to all Jewish students, will it be a black-and-white choice? For the countless individuals who grew up Conservative, will they embrace Orthodoxy, or will they reject Judaism altogether? Without a unifying presence throughout the country, how will college students make the leap from USY, Solomon Schechter, or just a Conservative upbringing to being an active member of the Conservative movement as an adult?

The writer is a junior at Pace University where he is president of Hillel, Koach representative and Bridging the Gap fellow. (douglas.kandl@gmail.com)

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