Torah observance - what is the best way?

Conservative Judaism used to be the most popular Jewish denomination in America. Now, it has waned significantly. According to the Jewish Journal, "The Conservative movement has been losing members in droves over the last two decades: It went from claiming 40 percent of American Jewish households in 1990 to 33 percent by 2000, according to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01." (I don't have more recent numbers)

Now the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the Conservative rabbinical school, has a new chancellor (as of September 2007) who is setting out to renew Conservative Judaism. But as the Jewish Journal notes (OK this was 2005, maybe things have changed a bit since then), "Numerous Jewish startup communities...don’t even take the Conservative label, despite their similarities to the movement, namely, a focus on egalitarianism, an evolving halacha and an adherence to tradition."

There is a dichotomy between the stated beliefs of Conservative Judaism and its practice by actual people. Theoretically, Conservative Judaism argues for Jews to "conserve" the law -- to keep the Torah. As Dorff writes here:

"Conservative Judaism requires observance of the laws of classical Judaism, including the dietary laws (kashrut), the Sabbaths and Festivals, daily and Sabbath worship, and the moral norms of the Torah, Prophets, and Sages. It is not the case that you are "Orthodox" if you observe the dietary laws or Shabbat, as many American Jews think: Conservative Judaism requires that too! Following the mitzvot is the "Tradition" part of the motto "Tradition and Change," and it is the reason why the Movement is called "the Conservative Movement"; as we have seen, its founders wanted to conserve Jewish law. That must be the case because Conservative Judaism insists upon studying the tradition historically, and acting in accordance with the mitzvot has always been a key factor in what it means to be a Jew. No non-observant form of Judaism is historically authentic."

Yet in real life, Conservative Jews are "known" (perhaps this is only a reputation?) to be non-observant. Certainly their intermarriage rate is high: 32% according to the National Jewish Population Survey.

So what is the problem with Conservative Judaism? My take on it is that groups tend to go to the lowest common denominator -- and Conservative Judaism, though in theory it sounds good ("tradition + change"), created an opening for people to throw off observance and still call themselves religious.

Similarly, Orthodox Judaism has its own lowest common denominator--people who are technically observant but who are spiritually distant from a sense of achdut (brotherhood/sisterhood) with the Jewish community--judgmental and self-satisfied.

Then there is Reform Judaism, which has its own lowest common denominator--a sense that "anything goes" and can still be called Jewish. I don't think this is what Reform preaches, but it is what people practice.

What is the answer for those who want to be Jewish and still participate in the mainstream of secular life? There is "modern Orthodoxy," which seeks to blend the best of both worlds...integrating solid Jewish observance with participation in the "real world." I recall growing up in a "normal" modern Orthodox community, where there was no distinction between being a good Jew and a "regular" American. However, nowadays the Orthodox community has shifted rightward, and standard modern Orthodoxy is in short supply.

I think the answer is somewhere in between Conservative Judaism and modern Orthodoxy. I certainly would like to learn more about both practices; in fact I'd like to celebrate the best of Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform Judaism and synthesize them into one integrated whole that makes sense -- that could unify the Jewish community around true service to G-d.