It was a father-son hiking trip gone terribly wrong. When they reached the mountain peak, the father tied up his son, placed him on a pile of firewood and prepared to slash the boy’s throat—until he heard a voice telling him to stop.
On Sunday, the father—also known as the biblical patriarch Abraham —will be brought up on charges of attempted murder and endangering the welfare of his son, Isaac, in a mock trial at Temple Emanu-El synagogue on the Upper East Side.
Presiding over the Old Testament-inspired case will be U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan. Representing Abraham will be high-profile defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will lead the prosecution.
“Let’s be honest here—if I put an ad asking people to come study Bible on a Sunday morning, not many people will come,” said Gady Levy, the new executive director of the synagogue’s Skirball Center, which is hosting the event.
With this program, he said, “people are going to come and study Torah. But they’re going to do it in a creative way—and in a way that makes religion relevant to their lives.”
The temple has sold more than 1,000 tickets at $36 each for the event, which is part of a broader strategy spearheaded by the congregation’s new senior rabbi, Joshua Davidson. His aim: to expand the temple’s reach at a time when congregations are shrinking across the country and studies have shown that increasing numbers of Jews feel disconnected from religious life.
While Temple Emanu-El remains one of the largest Reform congregations in the world, it hasn’t been immune to trends. About 30 years ago, the congregation peaked with about 3,500 households; today there are just over 2,400, said Rabbi Davidson, 46 years old, who was hired to lead the synagogue last year.
“I believe that if synagogues are going to flourish they have to become more things to more people,” he said.
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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal