Four months after controversial clergy letter, mega-synagogue's board announces ‘oversight’ processes.
Four months after its clergy was roundly criticized for hailing the United Nations’ recognition of Palestinians, the board of B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan has “implemented a new thoughtful sequence of oversight and approval processes.”
In an e-mail to congregants explaining the changes, a copy of which was obtained by The Jewish Week, the board makes no mention of the flap caused when the Upper West Side synagogue’s rabbis said the UN vote upgrading Palestine to a nonmember state “was a great moment for us as citizens of the world.”
The e-mail said the board had embarked on the changes early last year when it hired William Ryan, an expert on nonprofit boards, to “establish a strong governance model.” The purpose, it said, was to ensure the board plays an active role in “new initiatives and strategic directions for the community.”
Last fall, the board said it directed the synagogue’s executive director, Steve Goldberg, to recommend changes to “improve our internal controls and operations.” It is unclear if this occurred before or after the rabbis’ UN letter, for which the rabbis later apologized.
“We regret the feelings of alienation that resulted from our letter,” the rabbis wrote in their apology, adding that the letter did not convey the proper tone.
The letter sparked a front-page article in The New York Times in which one congregant was quoted as saying the rabbis’ letter “was like a high-five to the PLO, and that has left us numb.” Other congregants supported the rabbis’ letter.
In response to Goldberg’s suggestions, the board authorized changes in the areas of fiscal control, communitywide communication and programmatic initiatives.
“An important element of our role as board members is to serve as your ambassadors to BJ’s spiritual leadership and professional staff, and to share with them your concerns,” the board wrote.
The synagogue president, Jeannie Blaustein, declined an e-mail request for an interview.
“The BJ board and I feel that our letter covers all of the relevant issues,” she wrote in an e-mail response.
Goldberg wrote in an e-mail that “this is an extraordinarily busy period with so many wonderful new initiatives underway, and just not the right time for an interview.”