Sharing Shuls And Pay-What-You-Can Dues.
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Sharing Shuls And Pay-What-You-Can Dues.

Long Island Congregations Adapt To Changing Times

A Port Washington synagogue was able to stem the tide of declining membership by allowing congregants to select the level of dues they wish to pay.

After undergoing a complete change in leadership, a Glen Cove congregation has seen its membership increase from 150 families to 220.

Two South Shore congregations — one Reform and the other Reconstructionist — moved into the same building and their rabbis alternate leading joint Sabbath services even though they have not merged.

These are just some of the approaches congregations throughout Long Island are taking in an effort to remain vital and retain existing members amid major demographic changes and an increasing number of unaffiliated Jews.

At a daylong symposium in Syosset, L.I., earlier this month attended by representatives from 31 Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Long Island synagogues, Ewa Maniawski, senior program executive for Synergy Long Island, stressed that synagogues “have to adapt to survive.”

“There is hope for synagogues in the future, but they are not going to survive by staying the same way they have been,” she said.

Synergy Long Island, an initiative of UJA-Federation of New York, was created to help synagogues do precisely that through cooperative programs and combined resources.

Maniawski pointed out that in the last 10 years “the number of people identifying themselves as Jewish has not changed significantly, but the number of people belonging to synagogues has declined noticeably in the non-Orthodox community.

The UJA-Federation 2011 population survey found that since 2001, the affiliation rate among Jews in Suffolk has remained relatively static at 35 percent of Jewish households. In Nassau, 53 percent of Jewish households were affiliated with a congregation in 2011, down 3 percent from a 2002 survey.

Maniawski said UJA-Federation’s research shows that younger Jews are getting involved in the Jewish community in ways other than synagogues.

“It doesn’t mean that the younger generation doesn’t care,” she stressed. “Having synagogue membership is somewhat less important than supporting particular causes.

Although all Long Island synagogues were invited, Adina Frydman, executive director of the UJA-Federation Synergy program, suggested that the reason Orthodox synagogues did not attend was because “the trends we are speaking about have not yet impacted Orthodox congregations the way they have had an effect on” the other movements.

Among the creative initiatives discussed at the symposium was the introduction of a Fair Share dues structure at the Community Synagogue of Port Washington to “better reflect our vision and values,” according to Joanne Fried, the executive director.

Members are free to set their own dues at five prescribed levels ranging from $2,950 to $15,000.

“The synagogue receives more operating funds this way than if we were dependent on a traditional dues schedule,” she said.

Congregation Beth Emeth, a Reconstructionist congregation, sold its Hewlett synagogue and moved in with the Reform Central Synagogue of Rockville Centre. Last year the rabbis from the two congregations began alternating officiating at Shabbat services in a bid to strengthen both congregations.

At Congregation Tifereth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in the largely non-Jewish City of Glen Cove, a complete change in leadership increased membership from 150 to 220 families.

“We are attracting many new young families,” said Bill Friedlieb, a synagogue officer, “because we were able to show the value in being synagogue connected.

editor@jewishweek.org

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