I was visiting a friend the other day (not him, the other one) who, amongst other things, gets the bulletin from his local Conservative synagogue. Possessed of some down time and with nothing better in reach to read I picked it up and began to leaf through it.
Most of it was the kind of stuff you'll find in any synagogue bulletin. Obituaries, births, upcoming community events and the like. But what caught my attention was their schedule for the upcoming High Holyday season.
It always fascinates me to see how people who don't have much in the way of a Jewish education beyond the very basic handle holidays and where they put the emphasis.
The first thing I noticed was their schedule for the first night of Selichos. To start they had a social hour from 8:30 pm to 9 pm. Yes, having redefined bas mitzvah from 12 to 13 years of age they have gone one step further and redefined hour down to thirty minutes in length. (Perhaps I'm just being cynical and the term "social hour" need not refer to a specific 60 minutes period of time?)
Following this, from 9-10 was the "ceremonial" changng of the the accoutrements. It was time, the blurb noted, to put away the usual clothes and curtains used in the sanctuary year round and bring out the white ones used on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Unlike other shuls where this is done on motzai Shabbos by the shammes and some volunteers this synagogue was going to do it in an offical ceremony. Details were conspicuously missing but I don't think they were going to be chanting tehillim or reciting portions of the Gemara while doing it.
Finally at 10 pm they would have their Selichos service. Yes, I'm aware there are probably leninent opinions allowing the service to be done that early when normally it should be done after chatzos but somehow I doubt the decision to make the service at 10 pm had anything to do with that rather than "What, you expect me to come back here at 1 am? Are you crazy?"
Two things struck me from reading this little bit.
The first was the ridiculousness of what they were calling Jewish tradition. A curtain-changing ceremony? Really? Where did that come from? Keep in mind that the 10 pm Selichos service would be the only Selichos service this synagogue has all year around and the bizarreness of a curtain changing ceremony becomes even clearer. Having ditched actual Jewish traditional ceremonies they then invent a new one to add meaning to the upcoming holiday?
The second was more hopeful. I grew up with many of the people involved in this farce. I am well aware that for most of them their Jewish education ended with learning the letters of the aleph beis (a few didn't even get that far and dismiss the importance of knowing Hebrew in order to be an educated Jew as archaic) and perhaps the names of the Avos. The leader of this motley group has what would pass for a grade 8 education in an Orthodox community but, as the saying goes, in the city of the blind the man with one eye is king. His knowledge base is strong enough to make him look positively rabbinical in the eyes of the followers and they consider his psak as if it was handed to Moshe at Sinai, not that such a thing as matan Torah ever happened mind you.
Yet despite the man with one eye leading the blind, I was optimistic to note that at least they were trying. Yes, they seem to have done away with most aveiros that Jews have traditionally held by, having replaced them with modern sins such as not recycling enough, being less than totally egalitarian and being morally relavistic. And yes, it was at such a Selichos service years ago I heard the line "I like how God forgives us no matter what". However, they still do believe in the concept of sin and the need to approach God in some fashion before Rosh HaShanah hits.
In other words, despite all their misguided attempts the pintele Yid within them is still seeking out a connection to the Ribono shel Olam. It might be barely recognizable as properly Jewish but it is still an attempt. Perhaps the kiruv industry should be coming up with methods of fanning this Jewish spark back into a proper flame while it is still there.