Bonim Considers Alternative to USCJ

Bonim is a group of clergy, officers and lay leaders of Conservative synagogues who are dedicated to building the movement through the advocacy of change in the relationship between United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the umbrella group of the organization, and its member synagogues. You can read and join the discussion in the Bonim Google Group at

September 15, 2009

Pasted below is a statement that is being released by Bonim in
response to the USCJ Board meeting this past weekend.  As you have
read in other postings, while we were very hopeful with the potential
leadership and impact that Rabbi Wernick could provide toward
substantively changing the organization, the result of the meeting
last weekend fell significantly short of our expectations and prior
discussions with USCJ.  We have two choices, we can watch and wait
until Rabbi Wernick makes further headway or until a new President is
elected or until Hayom issues its report or until the new General
Assembly gets started or until …. (all the while watching $10 – $20
million dollars worth of dues disappear)   – or – we can investigate
alternatives.  Many of us believe that USCJ has been allowed to
continue down this path for so many years un-checked because
synagogues have no alternatives for support.  As the shuls in Canada
found out, once you leave USCJ there is no other association or
organization for synagogue lay leader support within the Conservative
Movement.  We were recently told that 19 more shuls left USCJ this
year alone.  Maybe the time is right for us to consider developing a
new entitity dedicated solely to supporting shul lay leaders.

If any of your synagogues would consider this alternative, I’d like to
hear from you individually.  We expect to begin contacting synagogues
throughout the country just after the chagim to see what people are
thinking.  In the mean time:


Bonim: Builders of value for synagogue lay leaders,
Rejects “New Change at USCJ;” Establishes an Exploratory Committee to
Consider Establishment of New Entity to Address Real and Immediate
Needs of Synagogues

For Immediate Release

Contact: Robert Rubin

(September 15, 2009. Washington, DC) – Bonim, a group of lay leaders
from across the spectrum of conservative synagogues, has established
an exploratory committee to assess the viability of starting a new
synagogue focused organization.  The group is considering a new
paradigm for supporting synagogue lay leadership, after multiple
efforts to engage the United Synagogue of Conservative Judasim (USCJ)
on the issue of value.  The goal of the new entity would be to focus
exclusively on assisting congregations, large and small, in four core
areas:  membership, fundraising, leadership development, and

Two days ago the new Executive Vice President, Rabbi Steven Wernick,
asked the USCJ Board to consider some changes to the organization.
While Rabbi Wernick’s efforts are laudable and progressive by USCJ
standards, the leaders of Bonim are concerned that these new
initiatives will irreparably mire the organization in practices that
have led the organization to a precipitous decline over the last few
years.  It is essentially too little, too late.  At a time when other
national organizations are undertaking wholesale restructuring in
order to meet the needs of their constituency today, the USCJ is
tinkering around the edges – focused on self preservation rather than
delivering value to their members.

According to David Sacks, President of Congregation Har Tzeon–Agudath
Achim, Silver Spring, MD, “A new association of synagogues could be
focused on lay leaders rather than world leaders, on concrete actions
rather than perpetual discussion, and on constituent services rather
than empire building.”

Many congregations, including a group of synagogues in Canada who
broke away from the USCJ several years ago, feel disenfranchised by
the USCJ system of management and governance.  With its professional
team of 150 full time managers and staff, a budget that dwarfs most
other conservative organizations, and new, highly compensated
administrative leadership, the question remains – What hard value is
the organization producing for its 670 member congregations?

So far, Bonim has raised over $50,000 to consider such an alternative
entity and will use the next 3 months to study the matter.  If there
is sufficient interest from synagogues across the country for an
alternative to USCJ, the new entity would be launched by the 1st of
the year.  According to one of is leaders, Diana Lerner of Ner Tamid
Synagogue in Poway, CA, “The group seeks to offer congregations a
choice between the ineffective policies of an expensive institution
and a new, more agile synagogue association that begins with a mantra
of client services.”
For information about Bonim: Builders of value for synagogue lay
leaders, please contact Robert Rubin at or
by calling 301-785-9900.

About Bonim:  The organization was created in response to a widening
disconnect between the needs of conservative congregations today and
the organization meant to serve them, the USCJ.  The group includes
representatives from over 75 synagogues large and small across the US,
with a steering committee that includes those noted above and Robert
L. Rubin, Board Member of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC
and Kim Price, IPP of Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase, MD.