Finding a Spiritual Home
promises to explain "how a new generation of Jews can transform the American synagogue." The book delivers on this promise by describing the lives of four thriving synagogues whose theological orientations range from Reform to Orthodox. Undoubtedly, Finding a Spiritual Home
addresses some burning questions about the future of American Judaism: fully 35 percent of ethnic Jews no longer identify themselves with Judaism, author Sidney Schwarz writes. The book begins with a historical overview of synagogue life in America, then describes the spiritual needs that various generations of American Jews presently experience, and finally offers a prescription for regeneration of synagogue life.
Throughout the book, Schwarz's arguments expertly interweave narratives of individual and communal religious life, taken from the four synagogues in whose innovations Schwarz finds hope for American Judaism. These religious communities have attracted large numbers of worshipers with programs that seem both radical and commonsensical--"establishing public service opportunities such as a Jewish version of Habitat for Humanity," for instance, or encouraging worshipers to write their own prayer books. Schwarz carefully describes the impact such innovations have on synagogue members, citing interviews with worshipers whose enthusiasm jumps off the page: "The Judaism I live is about choosing life," one says. His book will likely inspire more American Jews to make that same choice. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
The newest calling of the American Jewish community--transforming the synagogue into a "spiritual home"--finds its voice in Schwarz's profile of four model congregations, one from each Jewish denomination. Schwarz, a Reconstructionist rabbi and founder of the Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, argues that the suburban, child-centered, service-oriented "synagogue-center" of today is in crisis, unable to provide the connectedness, belonging, intimacy and inclusiveness many baby boomers are seeking. Instead, he proposes, congregations should become participatory and welcoming "synagogue-communities," as exemplified by Beth El Congregation in Sudbury, Mass. (Reform); Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York City (Orthodox); Adat Shalom in Washington, D.C., which he founded (Reconstructionist); and B'nai Jeshurun in Manhattan (Conservative). Ten powerful "spiritual autobiographies" of individual members punctuate Schwarz's congregational profiles, highlighting his thesis that sharing personal journeys can be the most compelling aspect of community. While Schwarz admits that these synagogues are atypical, guided by empowering and charismatic rabbis who built their congregations from the ground up, he hardly touches on other transformation projects that have sprung up across the country. His 10 strategies for transformation should provide first steps for those willing to commit their energies to reinvigorating synagogue life. (Apr.)
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