The Winter issue of The Reform Jewish Quarterly focuses on the question: How can we attract American Jewish millennials to Judaism, especially synagogue–centered rabbinic Judaism? While each essay sought to answer the question, none took the time to challenge it: Why try to capture millennials in the first place? After all, millennials aren’t the only Jews who have walked away from conventional synagogue–centered rabbinic Judaism: most American Jews have done that. So why focus on millennials? The answer is simple: that’s where the money is (or will be).
Judaism is a brick and mortar business. In Israel state–sanctioned Judaism is financed by taxes. In America, it is every shul for itself. This means we must continually cultivate new revenue streams, and this means Jewish millennials.
My suggestion to synagogues is this: sell off your buildings, lease your land to developers, use the income to seed neighborhood shtiebels where people can pray, study, teach their kids, surf the net, buy fair trade coffee, nosh on locally made baked goods, kibbitz with friends, and create community the old fashion way: by hanging out together. Each shtiebel would be staffed by a salaried shammas and a few college interns earning $15 an hour. Rabbis, cantors, and educators would serve as resources for the entire franchise of neighborhood shtiebels.