The media has reported that, due to dwindling numbers, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has decided to rebrand itself. According to the New York Post, the Good Omen PR agency of New York has been hired to interview hundreds of Conservative Jews “to get their views on the movement in order to develop a new ‘position statement’ for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.”
It distresses me that the leaders of the Conservative movement have reduced it to something like a failing soft drink manufacturing company searching for a new way to increase sales.
So, if that’s the case, let’s learn from Coca-Cola. The success of Coca-Cola reminds me of the Midrash, which explains why the Israelites never lost their identity during their 200 years of slavery in Egypt. The Rabbis explained that the key to their success was that they maintained their Hebrew names, they kept on speaking Hebrew and they remained a moral and ethical people, loyal to each other.
Throughout the past 100-plus years, the Coca-Cola name has remained the same. Its logo hasn’t changed and its loyal staff hasn’t shared the recipe with anyone. And I would like to believe that their business dealings have been, and remain, moral and ethical.
So, what can we learn from Coca Cola?
For years, Coke was advertised as “the real thing,” or in Hebrew, “Ta’am Hachaim (the taste of life).” The Conservative Movement should present itself as the “real thing” and that davening in Conservative shuls offers the worshipper a wonderful and engaging “taste of authentic Jewish life.”
The Coca-Cola logo is unchanging and recognized the world over. Consumers see it and immediately know that it stands for a popular and tasty soft drink – a great thirst quencher.
When one sees a sign for “Congregation X, a Conservative Synagogue,” that person should immediately identify the shul as a welcoming, engaging, participatory Conservative shul that embraces and upholds tradition and, if necessary, is willing to find halachic ways to deal with the challenges of modernity.
In order to succeed like Coke, the Conservative congregation doesn’t have to change the recipe that offers a “taste of authentic Jewish life.” However, it does need loyal and committed members to create, as Professor Arnie Eisen wrote, “strong face-to-face communities” which have “the power to persuade Jews to remain Jews and to sustain the conviction that our beliefs and values really matter to the world.” It needs members who will actively participate in all aspects of synagogue life and serve as agents and recruiters to help grow the congregations and inspire the unaffiliated to come through the doors and get involved.
The Conservative movement doesn’t have to rebrand itself. It must remember that it has a great recipe with ingredients that have stood the test of time and that adherence to tradition is the key element in the mix.
The Conservative movement must have faith in itself and truly believe it is marketing a wonderful, exciting product that is traditional, spiritually inspiring, attractive, friendly and welcoming.