Reports of the Death of the Synagogue Have Been Highly Exaggerated

This Yom Kippur, countless American Jews who rarely engage in communal prayer the rest of the year will show up to synagogues. Many of these institutions are thriving, but many face a host of problems stemming from a changing Jewish population, among them that fewer Jews are purchasing memberships. Matthew Schultz set out to understand the decline of American synagogues, but came to realize he was looking at a very different phenomenon:

The empty pews, the merging communities, and the shul closures that we see today are not actually signs of decline. Rather, they are signs that economic and cultural conditions no longer favor financially propping up institutions mainly for the sake of two holidays a year.

[T]he American synagogue is, as Marc Lee Raphael writes in his book, The Synagogue in America: A Short History, “the most significant Jewish institution in the life of” American Jews. . . . This centrality, however, never amounted to universal appeal. “When we discuss Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox congregants in any period, we are discussing a minority of the Jews in America,” writes Raphael. . . . Despite ebbs and flows, it has always been a small but persistent minority of American Jews which shows up regularly to services. . . .

Reversing the trend of declining memberships might be a futile effort. The typical purchaser of a synagogue membership, after all, is a young family with children, a steady income, and a permanent address. Fewer and fewer people fit this description than ever before in American history. People are more mobile than ever. . . . And they are more likely to live alone.

As for drumming up attendance, Jewish professionals can soul-search all they want, but the truth is that for some Jews, synagogue will never be alluring. The most likely reason is the simplest. They aren’t religious. They don’t believe in God and don’t want to spend precious weekend hours praying to Him in a language they don’t understand. Making it more musical or focusing on social justice may help somewhat, but it won’t overcome the essential barrier that prayer, which is a fundamentally religious act, is not all that tantalizing to atheists, a demographic in which Jews are majorly overrepresented.

Read more at Jewish Journal

More about: American Jewry, American Judaism, Synagogues

Ordinary Gazans Are Turning against Hamas—and Its Western Sympathizers

In the past few days, difficult-to-confirm reports have emerged of unrest in the Gaza Strip, and of civilians throwing stones at Hamas operatives. A recent video from Al Jazeera showed a Gazan declaring that “God will bring Qatar and Turkey to account” for the suffering of Palestinians in the current war. Being an agent of the Qatari government, the journalist turned away, and then pushed the interviewee with his hand to prevent him from getting near the microphone. Yet this brief exchange contributes much to the ongoing debate about Palestinian support for Hamas, and belies the frequent assertion by experts that the Israeli campaign is only “further radicalizing” the population.

For some time, Joseph Braude has worked with a number of journalists and researchers to interview ordinary Gazans under circumstances where they don’t fear reprisals. He notes that the sorts of opinions they share are rarely heard in Western media, let alone on Al Jazeera or Iran-sponsored outlets:

[A] resident of Khan Younis describes how locals in a bakery spontaneously attacked a Hamas member who had come to buy bread. The incident, hardly imaginable before the present war, reflects a widespread feeling of “disgust,” he says, after Gazan aspirations for “a dignified life and to live in peace” were set back by the Hamas atrocities of October 7.

Fears have grown that this misery will needlessly be prolonged by Westerners who strive, in effect, to perpetuate Hamas rule, according to one Gazan woman. Addressing protesters who have taken to the streets to demand a ceasefire on behalf of Palestinians, she calls on them to make a choice: “Either support the Palestinian people or the Hamas regime that oppresses them.” If protesters harbor a humanitarian motive, she asks, “Why don’t we see them demonstrating against Hamas?”

“Hamas is the destruction of the Palestinian people. We’ve had enough. They need to be wiped out—because if they remain, the people will be wiped out.”

You can watch videos of some of the interviews by clicking the link below.

Read more at Free Press

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion