More Torah, for More People, in More Places
By Ned Gladstein and Stewart Vogel
As the Conservative Movement addresses the shifting landscape of the 21st Century, two things are clear:
- At a time of increased polarization in every sphere of life, a strong, vibrant, centrist Judaism is more important than ever;
- And at a time when change is happening faster than ever before, our synagogues and other institutions need to make fundamental changes in “how we do business,” focusing exclusively on what is engaging, relevant, and meaningful to participants in Jewish life;
This week we announced that the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the network of over 560 Conservative synagogues and their leadership across North America, and the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), which is the professional association for over 1,600 rabbis in various professional tracks living and leading all over the world, will collaborate together and integrate aspects of our operations. While we will stay separate organizations, we will share one CEO, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, who will oversee both operations, identify and implement areas for integration, forge additional partnerships inside and outside the movement, and work to inspire and renew our approach to Jewish life.
This new beginning seeks to move us from a siloed movement of separate, sometimes uncooperative institutions, towards an ecosystem of partnership and collaboration focused on the needs of participants in and seekers of Jewish life. We will intensify our efforts to transform synagogue life, even as we see our movement as part of a global network of synagogues, projects, and rabbis, including those involving our rabbis outside of congregations.
It is also clear that the most successful spaces in Jewish life (and beyond) are all about partnerships. Our most successful congregations, for example, are usually where there is a true synergy between visionary rabbinic and lay leadership that is focused on creating dynamic, relevant, meaningful, and connecting experiences.
It’s time for our movement institutions to model that sense of partnership, to “live what we teach.” By doing so we will:
- Demonstrate a new level of excellence in all our activities including our personal support of congregational leaders and rabbis, our youth programs, our gatherings and training programs, our resources and programs for learning Torah and experiencing Jewish life, and our new efforts at engagement.
- Convene difficult conversations, train leaders, and implement projects around the big challenges in twenty-first century Jewish life.
- Create additional partnerships both within our movement and beyond.
- Maintain our focus on the needs of our constituents rather than institutions as we seek to develop new methods of direct and engagement and new programs in our communities for youth, college-age students, and young adults.
By operating differently, here are some examples of what we could accomplish:
- Encouraging visionary change in synagogue life, fostering new approaches to relational engagement, worship, education, and community action.
- Developing new models of engagement outside the walls of synagogues, including for youth, college-age individuals, young adults, spiritual seekers, and others who might not otherwise enter our doors, creating a sense of continuity, opportunity, and engagement as individuals move through each life stage.
- A holistic approach to human talent, re-thinking how we recruit, train, support, transition, and create the highest standards of excellence for clergy, educators, administrators, and lay leaders.
- Focusing resources, conversation, and sharing of best practices on the most challenging aspects of centrist Jewish life, including our approach to intermarried couples and families, renewal of prayer and spiritual experience, and an approach to halakhah that responds to the needs of lived Jewish experience in a variety of settings around the globe.
- A broad and strategic approach to connecting and convening those who share our approach to Jewish life, including a global gathering in Toronto in December 2021 to celebrate our Torah, diversity, and cooperate on the strategic direction of a renewed centrist Judaism.
- Developing a platform for helping us track the experiences of our participants across the movement, helping them discover new experiences and be in community with one another.
In short, our desire is to come together to bring more Torah, to more people, in more places, in more ways, enlivening and enriching meaningful Jewish experience, one person and one community at a time, and serving as a revitalized inspiration to the broad center of Jewish life. We would love to hear your thoughts here as we move forward!
Ned Gladstein, a third-generation grocer in New Jersey, is a trustee of JTS and International President of USCJ. Rabbi Stewart Vogel is the spiritual leader of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA and President of the RA.