Tuesday, October 20, 2009


In a JTA article on September 10, the "restructuring" of United Synagogue was painted in broad brushstrokes. Read the article below and then we'll discuss it:

"United Synagogue reorganizing to build efficiency
September 10, 2009

NEW YORK (JTA) -- The umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues is restructuring, its new chief executive said.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, who has been on the job as the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism's executive vice president and CEO for barely two months, told JTA on Thursday that the organization is reducing the number of regions from 15 to six and eliminating five positions in the main office, with more layoffs likely to come.

The restructuring is pending final approval from the organization's board, which is slated to meet Sunday.

The aim is to make United Synagogue smaller and better, Wernick said.

Member synagogues have long complained they don't get enough value for their dues.
Wernick says he wants to reform an unwieldy organization that is "over-institutionalized," with a bloated board and insufficient accountability.

The proposed governance and structural changes are aimed at granting Wernick more authority while also making the organization, which has long been a poster child for the Conservative movement's ills, more directly accountable to the congregations who pay the dues.

"The fundamental goal of United Synagogue has to be strengthening synagogues," Wernick said.

With many young Conservative Jews falling off the map between college and having children, the reorganization intends to place programming for youth and young adults under one heading and provide "seamless programming" as individuals progress from one age group to the next."


Hello?! "The fundamental goal of United Synagogue has to be strengthening synagogues." An epiphany (if Conservative Jews can have one)? So let's move a few words around and change the context: "The fundamental goal of the organization now known as The Jewish Federations of North America has to be strengthening federations." What an idea!! Let's focus on how best that can be accomplished -- let's reach that focus through the federation prism not through the prism of individual leaders who neither understand federations' goals nor care much about them. For the last five years, interrupted by two wars, UJC's leaders have been about their goals, their plans, even their dreams. They would conjure them from their own fertile minds and then work assiduously to implement, sometimes with governance approvals, sometimes not. Alignment with the goals of the federations of North America? Unimportant. And, thus, they failed us and themselves.

Let's see if the new UJC leadership will dedicate themselves to "strengthening federations." The best place to start is by listening to them.



Anonymous said...

So think back to the days when two supposedly "inefficient" archaic organizations served the system. UJA provided speakers, missions, a playground for major donors, stats and outside solicitors and trainers, non federated campaigns, and a young leadership cabinet who's members were sometimes a pain in the you know where to their local communities. CJF gave frameworks for professional and lay networking, one major and two minor conferences a year (remember quarterlies?), personnel assistance and, for communities that needed and asked, some old fashioned handholding, TLC and sound consultations from seasoned pro's who had actually "been there". They even gave out an award, The Shroder, that communities coveted and which focused on Federation accomplishments and successes. Within the system our lay people enjoyed an uparalelled status in the non profit world and we built and nurtured our professional leadership from within our ranks. Israel was not an unspoken word. The havdalah ceremony at the GA was an emotional moment of solidarity and pride usually followed by a prime minister, secretary of state or governor. The combined budgets was about the same as UJC now. Of course we can't and might not want to go back but the starting point for rebuilding might be closer to 1989 than it is to 2009.


paul jeser said...

Davidele - sometimes change is not good. In this case it was a disaster from the begining.

Anonymous said...

Davidele has been around a long time as have I. We don't even need to go back as far as 1989 but much closer to 1997. The last GA before the merger in Indianapolis was spectacular. The quarterlies the year or two before were incredibly meaningful. The only thing missing from his description is "control". Federations did not feel they "controlled" UJA to the same level they controlled CJF. In the desire for control they won the battle but lost the war.

paul jeser said...

Davidele's comment brings back a GA highlight that I do not think anyone will ever forget.

Before Havdalah: Yitz Greenberg & Label Fein in dialogue.

After Havdalah: Golda....

Anonymous said...

The second anonymous is correct about the control issue but the funny thing was that it was a standoff -- Federations were exasporated by UJA behaviors, UJA couldn't control Federation allocations and the dwindling share going overseas. And the final irony was that given time, and a few sensible conversations, JAFI and JDC, the owners of UJA, might have seen the writing on the wall and reformed the UJA apparatus without the meddling. However by the late 90's a bunch of execs (having reinvented themselves as Presidents and CEO's)were itching to destroy a franchise and a brand without a compelling product to replace it.

And thank you Paul for sharing a nostalgic moment bud sadly I fear history and memory have ceased to be a Jewish virtue and we are leaving the next generations as orphans.