Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some days I feel like a Conservative

In a post on the Conservative Movement, Elf wrote:
So it doesn't bother me that the movement doesn't always reflect my ideals, or even that it doesn't seem to have a clear-cut mission. From my perspective, the movement's function is to serve as an umbrella organization for similarly-minded Jewish leaders to build and sustain communities, grapple with contemporary issues, and educate the next generation. Granted, it doesn't always do these things very well, but it hobbles along. And since I don't generally expect much from religious institutions (or institutions in general), I'm not seriously disappointed.

Elf very much reflects my feelings on the matter despite the fact that I (a) grew up in the Conservative Movement, and (b) sometimes identify as Conservative. 

Actually growing up with it, I don't think I ever had the idea that it was supposed to be any different than what Elf describes. And it met my needs by providing us with the UJ, Hebrew High, and the United Synagogue Website (which was my way of figuring out where I might want to daven when entering a new city -- seriously, I must have been the only college student to actually use this tool!)

As for identity, well, when I identify as Conservative (which is not always) I do so first because it's convenient (other days I prefer to say observant, or observant and egalitarian, for example, but what does that mean?!), and secondly because I appreciate being able to label myself as somehow still under the same umbrella as my family despite being at a quite different place on the spectrum that is Conservative Judaism.

Of course, I’m a bit unsure of the utility of the Conservative label for someone who isn’t involved in the Movement. I tend to agree with those who say that the distinction between Conservative and anything else to the right is mixed seating. You may think I’m exaggerating or referring to an old-fashioned distinction. But truly – one of the 2 Conservative shuls where I grew up had mixed seating but did not count women for minyan nor allow women on the bima, while the last post-denominational minyan I was involved in has separate seating but allows women to do basically everything. Moreover, if this really is the distinction, and I if I have concluded that seating arrangement is not a deal breaker (which clearly I have, given my involvement in said minyan), then can I really claim to be Conservative? Perhaps not. But today it’s the best I’ve got. If you want tomorrow’s opinion, you’ll have to ask then!

Now, regarding Katrina's observation about disproportionate disillusionment among Conservative Jews... I have to admit that most of the conservative, formerly-conservative, and would-be-conservative-except people I spend time with fall somewhere close to the conservadox / observant-egalitarian / post-denominational / modern orthodox fault-line. Which is to say, I'm not convinced that I have a representative sample.

That said, is it a problem that the most educated and involved Conservative Jews seem disillusioned with the movement? Yes. That can't be good.

But then again, J is going to be a passionate Conservative rabbi someday – one who actually believes in the movement for its potential. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the happens.

And why don’t I personally feel angsty and disillusioned? I guess I think the Conservative movement did well by me, and made me who I am. And, despite all the musing in this blog post, I actually don’t feel required to stick myself in a label/box. I can therefore accept that legacy without worrying too much about whether it is for me today.

No comments: