Rockville Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, 47, directs the Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values and has a doctorate in Jewish history. His new book, "Finding A Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews Can Transform the American Synagogue," was released this month by Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Here are excerpts from a recent interview:
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: I have met thousands of Jews who care deeply about being Jewish and about their spirituality. I have come to the conclusion that synagogues were not acting as the places in which spiritual needs were being fulfilled for our generation. If the synagogues are not doing their job, then people will pursue their spirituality elsewhere, both in secular and nonsecular areas.
Q: What do you mean by the "new American Jew?"
A: They are people starting at the boomer age and younger. Our generation has lived through a very dramatic break in the Jewish community. Our parents' generation had a survivalist agenda for the synagogue. They had to fight against anti-Semitism. They had to fight for acceptance in American society. They were constantly working for the support of Israel and working to protect Jewish communities around the world.
The issues of the Holocaust also loomed around that survivalist agenda. The new American Jew is no longer motivated by those same things. Instead, they care about matters of membership, meaning in life, spirituality and God. We, as Jewish leaders, have to follow the new priorities.
Q: The Jewish people have a very rich heritage. Why now, when they finally have religious freedom, are they turning their backs on Judaism?
A: I think we are seeing the habits of baby boomers in regards to religion. Boomers are classic religious shoppers. No one, in general, seems to be committed to just one religion anymore. To say the Jewish people are `turning their backs' is a harsh term. In American society, we have moved to a point where at least white minorities are all accepted. We no longer need to stick with the tribe, if you will, because the outside world is no longer threatening to us or our religion.
Q: What opportunities and challenges do you see calling the synagogue …