Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements began calculating Tuesday how much money they would receive hours after Israel’s top court ordered the state to fund their conversion programs.
The government currently provides $410,000 to conversion preparatory programs run by the Orthodox. It provides no money for non-Orthodox programs, and in 2006 The Movement for Progressive Judaism, which handles Reform conversions, filed suit.
In yet another indication of the problems plaguing the Conservative movement, as many as 40 synagogues are considering withdrawing from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism because the movement’s congregational arm doesn’t serve their needs, according to a leader of a new group pressing for change.
“I say stay and change from within, but 30 to 40 other synagogues may leave,” said Arthur Glauberman, a founder of Bonim (“Builders”). He was referring to multiple comments on a United Synagogue listserv.
With income down 25 percent, the Jewish Theological Seminary said it would fire 16 staff members, cut salaries of employees making more than $60,000 and not rehire non-tenured faculty. But that still leaves the institution with a $5.5 million projected deficit for the 2009-2010 academic year.
A group of rabbis representing 25 Conservative synagogues has asked the leadership of the United Synagogue to agree to develop a long-range strategic plan for the movement’s future.
“We have given them 30 days [to respond],” said Rabbi Michael Siegel of Chicago, the group’s chairman. “My sense is we’ll hear.”
The request was made during a three hour meeting last Thursday at the headquarters here of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.
With the Conservative movement’s congregational arm under attack on two fronts, the group’s incoming executive stepped into the fray this week with bold promises for sweeping change.
“One of the greatest frustrations is that the United Synagogue is not transparent or sufficiently responsive to the needs of the synagogue,” the executive, Rabbi Steven Wernick, told The Jewish Week. “I want to re-energize and re-engage the synagogues by creating priorities and an agenda of the United Synagogue and therefore also the movement.
At the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial convention in 2005, its top professional drew a line in the sand: He told delegates that the movement could no longer be passive on the issue of conversions. “We must,” Rabbi Jerome Epstein said, “begin aggressively to encourage conversions” of non-Jewish spouses.
A former aide to the top professional at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism filed charges Monday of financial improprieties against her former boss, saying she was fired after reporting his actions.
Rabbi Charles Savenor, former dean of admissions at the Jewish Theological Seminary, last July assumed the position of executive director of the Metropolitan Region of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism representing 108 synagogues. In remarks March 18 to METNY’s synagogue leadership conference, Rabbi Savenor spoke of the need to revitalize the organization. He recently spoke with The Jewish Week.
Q: Is the Conservative movement here dying?