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Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews Can Transform the American Synagogue Hardcover – May, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1st edition (May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787951749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787951740
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,836,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alan D. Abbey on September 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
By Alan. D. Abbey
Virtual Jerusalem Senior News and Business Editor
From the title alone, it is clear that Rabbi Sydney Schwarz is taking on a big topic in his book, "Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews Can Transform the American Synagogue." He offers a perceptive analysis of the current malaise affecting American synagogues (of all denominations, although he focuses on the less stringent ones) and some useful suggestions.
Nonetheless, in the end, he falls
short of offering anything other than programmatic solutions. In part, it's not his fault, because he is not only part of the system that created the problem, but because a true solution to the problem would require a major change in the way most American Jews live.
Schwarz, rabbi of a Reconstructionist synagogue in Bethesda, Md., doesn't shy away from describing the stultifying, boring, uninspiring and essentially unspiritual activities that comprise most Friday evenings and Saturday mornings in American synagogues.
His short history of the development of the American synagogue, from vibrant, crowded, urban, ethnically identified neighborhood "shul" to suburban, palatial, cold, (often) empty and spiritually dead "synagogue center" is right on point and pitiless.
I have sat in many such "Jewish centers," and he is right in his descriptions of them. Except for rare moments - usually self-generated - such places are the last locations one can find an emotional, spiritual charge. There is even one shed of a synagogue I know that people refer to as the "airplane hangar," for its forbidding size, sound problems and empty feeling.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has ever been turned off by, tuned out from, or--even more common--unaffliated with a synagogue or church, should pick up this book. Sidney Schwartz provides history, analysis, and personal stories of individuals that will resonate with anyone not really happy with his or her current religious experience.
This book contains enough pearls of wisdom to turn the most cynical person into an excited, active participant in a movement that could change the face of organized religion in the twenty-first century. The book spotlights congregations from the four major branches of Judaism, but reference to the enormous growth in evangelical churches provides a context for a similar rejuvenation of traditional churches.
Testimonies of individuals from each of the four congregations profiled in the book describe various routes to the kind of active participation that is rarely seen in traditional congregations with a hierarchical structure. Some people searched for years and explored every possible alternative. Others stumbled into a congregation in response to the needs of a child. The theme that emerges is of the deep satisfaction each person feels when he or she has found a spiritual home.
The author's historical analysis of the development of the American synagogue and the American Jewish community is brilliant, as is his study of the baby boomer generation. Here he helps us understand why contemporary Jews have such a hard time connecting with the synagogue. He examines obstacles to synagogue transformation and ways these might be overcome. He frankly admits to the challenges of replicating the success of the institutions profiled in this book, but he does not leave us with the easy option of saying that it can't be done.
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Format: Hardcover
Simply put, this is a must read for any Jewish communal or spiritual leader, anyone who serves on a synagogue board, or any active synagogue member. Rabbi Schwarz presents a short history of American synagogues, a cogent analysis of four successful synagogue models, interviews with some of the members and searchers, and a clarion call to action for a fourth stage of synagogue evolution. It is extremely readable. His hypothesis is similar to those found in Christian lit, such as Mike Regele's "Death of the Church," that it is time for synagogues (and churches) to adapt or die. I cannot tell you how many highly successful Jewish men and women I know, who are at the tops of their fields and professions, who are made to feel stupid, awkward, and worthless in many synagogues. They turn their back on synagogue life, they receive no benefit from congregations. They are not disloyal, just unaffiliated. Is it any wonder that the latest reports state that only 41% of American Jews are affiliated with a synagogue, down from a recent 48%, and down from an 85% rate fifty years ago? Schwarz, who was raised in a Long Island Orthodox family, whose big rebellion was driving on Shabbat in college, discovered that synagogues could be interesting, while he was studying for the rabbinate and had a student pulpit. His study begins with the three stages of history of the 20th Century American synagogue: the immigrant synagogue of recent immigrants, the ethnic, more prosperous synagogue of the anchored middle class Jews, and the child-focused, shul-with-a-pool synagogue center, where the focus was lectures, Israel, and basketball, and the least attended day was the Judaism-lite program on Saturday.Read more ›
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