Merging Our Tents - Out of Necessity or Desire?

Just as we see a lot of mergers and acquisitions taking place in the for-profit world, we are now experiencing the same in the Jewish community. However, what is often taking place in the secular community (Google gobbling up tech start-ups for their talent more than for their market niche) is not necessarily what is motivating the various mergers in the Jewish community. Rather, it is sometimes a declining population that forces two institutions (former “competitors” or representatives of different religious movements) to merge. Sometimes, it starts out as a simple space-sharing arrangement, since many of the edifices that were built to accommodate the suburban baby boom in post-World War II expansion often stand empty. Thus, these mergers are usually motivated by economic necessity rather than by shared values. Is this a reflection of post-denominational Judaism? Or perhaps it is a step toward the eventuality of post-institutional Judaism (something no one wants to talk about).

I wonder: what would the community—and its myriad institutions—look like if we decided to share space, or to merge, because we believe that it will benefit the community and the people we serve, instead of as a result of the economic downturn or the shrinking community? If we highlight the positive values such mergers can represent over the latter expressions of survivalism, could we create institutions (not campuses) that reflect the ideals of Big Tent Judaism—where there would be different expressions of worship, different expressions of Zionism, and different forms/formats for study all under the same roof? Perhaps before your institution makes its next decision about its building and facilities, we can look at the community around us, and work in the direction of merging our tents for the betterment of the Jewish community.


  1. Kerry -
    Thank you for this. It is validating to read your thoughts. Already it was more than a year ago that I first wrote of our community’s need for a “Courageous Conversation.” And since, while we have acclimated to the present climate, the challenges inherent to congregational life only grow more pressing. In recent years, our communities have achieved a great deal with less. Insiders are rightly proud of all we’ve accomplished; yet, surely, those in the know are anything but satisfied with what we’ve become.

    Consider the most significant intangibles of continuing in the absence of collaborations and synergistic partnerships, whatsoever these shared undertakings are called (or who gets the credit):

    1. Communal leaders will continue to see their respective congregations as ends in themselves, each of which is necessarily more important that what serves the “global good of the community.”

    2. Congregational leaders will feel it necessary to maintain a congregation’s identity as distinct from its neighbors; each rabbi and board of trustees focused on accentuating congregational differences over commonalities.

    3. Congregations will all need to continue staffing, programming and paying for separate and unique youth groups, religious and Hebrew schools, bnei mitzvah and confirmation programs, as well as adult education programs, interfaith activities, social action efforts, pastoral care, leadership training and development agendas, etc. (as well as regular maintenance demanded by buildings and day-to-day budgets).

    4. Communal resources of all kinds will be depleted, with future funding all but inperiled for an inability to step outside narrow parochial interests, as opposed to our all working together to solve our common challenges and to address our shared missions and to achieve our self-same goals.

    Changing this paradigm — answering the questions you raise will require a new way of thinking or way through that which is before us. But encouragingly, if it’s creativity (and courage) this moment demands (and indeed it is), then lets us take heed of the lesson within Jonah Lehrer’s new book “Imagination: How Creativity Works” because there he explains that insights and solutions to otherwise intractable challenges often come as a direct result of both our transposing our ideas as well as our changing our assumptions about a given domain or familiar set of challenges.

    Anyway, Kerry, these are the initial thoughts your posting stimulated. Let’s keep this courageous conversation going. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks again for leading the way…
    - Aaron Bisno

    Comment by Rabbi Aaron Bisno — June 23, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

  2. As I am quiet new in Jewish, looking around for some Jewish information> Got something important here. Nice to get it.
    Have you seen this video ? It helped me get over my internal anger.

    Comment by nahid hasan — July 3, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

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