United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Unveils Reinvention Strategy

In an effort to redesign the Conservative Synagogue movement in North America, the USCJ – in coordination with Hayom – have come together with a consensus plan for the future. The plan emphasizes not only a new way of doing things, but change, responsiveness and transparency.

Addressed is the way Conservative Judaism see itself and presents itself, change in the way United Synagogue interacts with kehillot/synagogues, brands itself, and a new approach to movement education – in schools, camps and with their youth movements. It stresses USCJ’s commitment to total openness, to providing every opportunity for feedback, and to developing movement consensus. Organizationally this plan will manifest in USCJ operational change, in downsizing, in new governance, in a new leadership and a new means of developing leadership.

Key points include:

  • USCJ will collaborate with JTS and Camp Ramah to create a fully integrated education and implementation plan.
  • Koach will be reconfigured and funding will be provided for new pilot young adult initiatives and outreach.
  • A continental-wide leadership development program will begin; a new advisory committee of major philanthropists and thought leaders is being formed; and more effective marketing of economy-of-scale programs will be employed.
  • An ad hoc governance committee to create new bylaws and recruit new USCJ leadership will be established.
  • USCJ staff will be reduced to effect substantial annual savings; field staff and District leaders will be reassigned as program staff, Kehillah Representatives and Executive Volunteers; an HR Toolbox will be rolled out and a strategic review of the Fuchsberg Center will be initiated.

The Conservative movement sees itself as the anchor of the religious center of North American Jewry and as such feels it is able to appeal to a far broader demographic than the movement has in the past.

Here’s the complete release followed by a link to the draft plan:

A joint commission of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Hayom: The Coalition for the Transformation of Conservative Judaism today made public a draft strategic plan designed to chart a new course for United Synagogue, one that will change and strengthen the experience in Conservative congregations and in the many Kehillot that share their values.

“As we enter a second century of Conservative Judaism, this plan calls for significant changes in focus and leadership and dramatic improvement in the way United Synagogue partners with its congregations and others across North America,” says Rabbi Steven Wernick, United Synagogue’s chief executive officer and executive vice president. “The strategic plan emphasizes tangible change, organizational transparency, openness, and a new way of doing things.”

“We believe that the implementation of this plan should go a long way toward demonstrating the value of United Synagogue and restoring the confidence of member congregation,” says Rabbi R. Michael Siegel, a leader of the Hayom coalition.

The new strategic plan calls for USCJ to focus on strengthening and transforming synagogues. It proposes reshaping the United Synagogue board of trustees to include philanthropists and thought leaders, meshing United Synagogue Youth and Camp Ramah, early childhood programs, congregational schools and Solomon Schechter day schools to create a seamless, unified and fully integrated educational system. The plan also envisions restructuring and reducing congregational dues, developing new philanthropic resources, and cultivating and training new leadership.

The strategic plan was developed by a blue-ribbon commission chaired by Professor Jacob Finkelstein of the USCJ board and Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Hayom, with analytic support and facilitation provided by management consultant Dr. Jacob (Jack) B. Ukeles and sociologist Professor Steven M. Cohen. Beginning today, key stakeholders – especially Conservative congregations of all sizes, urban or rural, long established or just forming – will have the chance to review and respond to the draft plan.

“We are changing the face of our organization in response to the fact that these days, fewer people self-identify as Conservative Jews or choose to affiliate with Conservative synagogues, but still want to feel involved in and seek a home at United Synagogue,” says Richard Skolnik, USCJ’s international president. “No longer do we just represent the congregations we have traditionally had. From this day forward, United Synagogue will be defined as an open and inclusive network of kehillot – sacred communities – that embrace Conservative congregations of all sizes, as well as more informal Jewish prayer and learning groups that are becoming increasingly prevalent.”

A major goal of the plan is to establish stronger connections within and among kehillot throughout North America, brokering resources available inside and outside the movement to assist and partner with these congregations.

“The strategic planning commission believes that by focusing the energy of the United Synagogue on core functions – transforming and strengthening kehillot, creating an integrated, collaborative educational system for children, seeding and nurturing new kehillot and engaging the next generation – United Synagogue can help develop Conservative Judaism as the core of the North American Jewish vital religious center,” Feinstein says.

“We are constantly soliciting feedback on local needs and opportunities, not only as we promote and publicize this plan, but also on an ongoing basis, so that we can develop even stronger consensus still, across the entire Conservative movement,” Wernick says. Wernick is now touring North America, visiting Conservative synagogues and kehillot to help familiarize Conservative Jews with the strategic plan. He is meeting with synagogue leaders, rabbis, and other Jewish groups to solicit feedback from them.

More information on the strategic planning process is available at www.uscj.org/4tomorrow.html. All are invited to post feedback and comments at the site.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism was founded in 1913 as the association of Conservative synagogues in North America. Today it serves as a resource to its 650 affiliated congregations across North America, helping them to enrich the Jewish lives of their members and fulfilling religious, educational and communal responsibilities.

The Hayom Coalition is made up of the rabbi, cantors and leaders of select congregations across the United States and Canada for the purpose of transforming the United Synagogue and ultimately the Conservative Movement.

The complete USCJ Draft plan is available for download.