Recent articles in the Washington Post highlight a growing trend in the young Jewish community. Young Jews - 20s and 30s - seem to be attracted to informal, holiday/shabbat related activities. Some gather regularly in peoples' homes, others gather slightly more formally in "minyanim" at the DCJCC or in churches or other locations downtown. None of these groupings are organized by rabbis and in fact they all prefer to be self-governed and coordinated. They all seem to prefer a "traditional" approach to prayer and emphasize community and "ru'ach" - spirit - in their "davvening".
On the one hand, this could bode well for the future of synagogues. Many synagogue leaders bemoan the lack of trained, committed, young people who care about the future of synagogue life. This new trend could just be the source of new blood that synagogues need to ensure the future.
But, on the other hand, it seems clear that these young Jews have no interest in joining synagogues. They've started these "minyanim" because they grew up in synagogues and found them to be lacking. These new "minyanim" provide the informality, community, tradition, participation, etc. that they are looking for. Only in these groups are they finding the spirituality they seek.
And that poses a serious challenge to synagogue leaders. Hopefully, synagogues will look long and hard at their mission statements and strategic plans and devise a way to attract such young people to their institutions. Gone are the days when young families affiliated with synagogues instinctively. People now are very selfish and look for communities that satisfy their needs. Synagogues can't assume that people will just walk through the door. Synagogues need to actively pursue new members and provide the shul experiences they desire.
This is a wake-up call to synagogue leaders and I hope that we are up to the task! Our future depends on it!