Jewish students participate in program 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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. (firstname.lastname@example.org)