The synagogue nearest to my new house is the second-oldest in Los Angeles. Recessed from the street in the largely Hispanic neighborhood of Highland Park, it’s so small that it nearly looks like a house — albeit one with lovely stained glass windows. The Rabbi, who used to be a dancer, seems to have brought new life to the place, but the congregation is still so small that it can’t support a traditional Hebrew school. The shul “has roots in conservative Judaism” but is unaffiliated.
I know all this because as soon as I moved from the west side to the east side of Los Angeles, I Googled the heck out of the place and, of course, did a drive-by. I’m intrigued, and I’m curious, but I haven’t been inside Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, and I can’t decide if I want to.
Oh, not this old chestnut again, you’re thinking. But listen. We all know that non-Orthodox American Jews are increasingly uninterested in synagogue attendance and membership. We’ve seen the studies. Only 7% of conservative and reform synagogue members are between the ages of 18 and 34, according to a 2010 survey, and that number doesn’t exclude those college kids who are still on their parents’ memberships. What percent of post-college but pre-parenthood Jews belong to shuls, let alone take interest in them? Surely the number is tiny.
But I’m open. I want to be sold on a shul. I’ve already visited most of the conservative synagogues in the Los Angeles area and, for one reason or another, found them wanting. I’ve come to realize that what I want in a shul assuredly does not exist, which is why I’m avoiding setting foot inside the walls of my new neighbor.