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

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem