Tuesday, October 09, 2007

JTS Chancellor Eisen, standing on one foot

Would that I had Chana's ability to transcribe presentations practically word for word on a laptop. (She could make a killing as a court reporter.) I'd love to give you a full report on Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Dr. Arnold Eisen's talk and question-and-answer session on "The Future of Conservative Judaism in America," but with my so-called memory . . .

Naturally, the one thing I can remember is his response to this question that yours truly stood up and asked in response to the chancellor's own question, "What can JTS do for you?":

"Some 20 years ago, my son was denied admission to a Solomon Schechter School because he has disabilities. I'd like to know what the Conservative Movement can do to help parents of children with disabilities provide a decent Jewish education for their children."

Chancellor Eisen replied that the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education would be pairing with Teachers College--Columbia University, which is literally across the street, to help train teachers to work with special ed. students. It's about time! Not that it's of much relevance now, but this thought occurred to me on the way home: I wonder what kind of Jew our son would be if he'd gone to a school where he was surrounded by Jewish kids, instead of growing up as the only kid in the neighborhood whose weird parents actually went to synagogue.

I also submitted this question to the chancellor in writing: "Why do I have to go to the Orthodox Union's website to get information on Jewish observance? There's little to be found on the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's website, and what little there is can be difficult to find. Can you do anything to encourage the USCJ to post more information on Jewish observance on its website and to make it readily accessible?" (I'm quoting from memory--whatever remains thereof--but that's a reasonable approximation of what I wrote.) I assume that that question was not posed by the moderator because it concerned the USCJ rather than JTS, but, since Dr. Eisen complained about the disorganized state of the Conservative Movement, I hope he'll work with the USCJ to make improvements there, as well.

Eureka! I found some notes that I'd forgotten I'd taken! Dr. Eisen sees three principal challenges facing the Conservative Movement:

1. Message (The movement hasn't done a good enough job of making it clear that there's more to Conservative Judaism than pluralism.)

2. Quality

3. Organization (see the last long-winded paragraph above)

Meeting any of those challenges, much less all of them, should be quite a task.


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