In a recent Identity/Crisis Podcast, Park Ave Synagogue Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove describes how/why non-Orthodox institutions are failing to motivate the masses to engage in Judaism and take up leadership positions.
For the majority of North American Jews today, commitment to halakha (Jewish law) is not the engine that drives religious life. Instead, most American Jews see their lived Judaism as the product of their own choices, which may or may not have anything to do with Jewish law. In this episode, Elliot Cosgrove, rabbi of the Conservative congregation of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, joins host Yehuda Kurtzer for a conversation about his recent essay in Sources: A Journal of Jewish Ideas, which argues that liberal Jewish institutions have not properly responded to this reality. Together, they discuss what it might mean to make the case for mitzvot (commandments) within a framework of an autonomous, choice-driven Judaism.
One strand that defines the conversation is the way R Cosgrove is self-critical towards his own Conservative movement, which in his view once appeared to be in the right place at the right time, but like other movements was stuck in a late 19thC European mindset to really understand the present and adapt. (e.g. East Europeans chose C shuls, because they were familiar and not strict, not because of ideological commitment)
Because everything depends on choice, leaders have to shape communities that make obligation and commandedness feel like good decision. This in turn, requires institutions to create scaffolding that rewards/ supports pursuit of leadership. (why become a rabbinic student, risk debt etc have difficulty raising a family, instead of taking a higher paying job?)