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June 14, 2011
This is a moment of great change within our community.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has taken the next step in the aggressive implementation of our new strategic plan, an exciting and dynamic initiative intended to create the framework for a new United Synagogue and to build a more vibrant Conservative movement.
Conservative Judaism in North America is at a crossroads. As we move forward into uncharted territory, the vital religious center must become stronger and more vibrant. As Conservative Jews, we represent that center. We accept the challenge. We are committed to helping our kehillot – sacred communities – transform themselves into places of ever-increasing spirituality and meaning.
The strategic plan, developed by a group of United Synagogue board members and leading pulpit rabbis and laypeople from the Hayom Coalition (and with guidance from Drs. Jack Ukeles and Steven M. Cohen), represents our best effort to ensure that United Synagogue becomes the organization we want and need it to be. The plan will strengthen and revitalize United Synagogue and Conservative kehillot continent-wide by providing them with programmatic and managerial resources to help increase participation, create a welcoming environment, increase revenues, and operate more efficiently and effectively.
Providing such a broad array of transformative services requires United Synagogue to develop new core competencies and to make extensive use of external resources. We intend to go about doing this in a number of ways: kehilla strengthening, lifelong learning, outreach, development and marketing, and governance. This truly new way of thinking about us and our relationship to our kehillot is the core of the strategic plan.
It is likely that you already have noticed some of the initial changes, including the recent five percent prepayment discount in kehilla dues. This represents the initial step in our plan to restructure our dues formula entirely. Rethinking the way we assess and collect dues is a major component of the strategic plan.
But we are not just decreasing dues – we are determined to increase revenues substantially. We already have raised more than $800,000 in new commitments over the next three years as part of a new emphasis on resource development.
We are diving headfirst into a new continent-wide leadership development program. Over the next three years, the program’s goal is to train and develop a corps of 5,000 leaders, all of them deeply committed Jews who know how to respond to the challenges facing today’s Jewish community. This is a new model of leadership. To help achieve this goal, we have partnered with the Alban Institute, one of the country’s premiere congregational consulting and research institutions.
But the first and most visible change is a series of personnel changes that are essential for the strategic plan’s success. As part of our effort to restructure United Synagogue we are reformulating a number of our positions, shaping jobs that require different skill sets than we used to need. Our staff has done a tremendous job in shepherding us to this momentous point in our history, and we remain extraordinarily grateful to them for their devoted work over the years. But some of them will not fit into our new structure. Therefore a number of staff members will be departing, others will be promoted, and we have and will continue to make several new hires, as well.
As you know, earlier this month we were pleased to welcome our first-ever chief operating officer, Jerry H. Herman, who will run the business side of United Synagogue, oversee our planning efforts, and implementing our strategic plan. Jerry has a wide range of corporate, legal and nonprofit leadership and management expertise gained from positions at many companies over three decades. We are thrilled to have him on board, and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.
Among the other reformulated positions will be a chief kehilla officer, who will integrate, coordinate, and foster the relationship between United Synagogue staff and the individual kehillot; the chief learning officer, who will oversee Conservative Jewish education at all levels, integrated and collaborative, and both affective and cognitive, and work with a soon-to-be-named blue-ribbon commission on education; a chief resource development and marketing officer, who will oversee our revamped development and marketing efforts; and a chief outreach officer, who will work to engage young adults, college students, and 20- and 30somethings, both in our current kehillot and minyanim and in new start-ups.
New kehilla relationship managers (KRMs) will maintain regular ongoing contact with congregations; learn about the kehillot assigned to them, build relationships with them, and identify and train executive volunteers. These representatives also will become the ombudsmen for our congregations, following up on progress with consultants or United Synagogue staff and assisting in resolution of questions with United Synagogue. Unlike the district directors, KRMs will not perform such administrative duties as collecting dues or overseeing programs. Rather, they will be charged with building and maintaining kehilla relationships and serving as connectors and conveners with the kehillot. The kehilla relationship team leader will oversee this critical program.
We would like to welcome some new faces and wish mazal tov to the staffers who will take on new roles. Among them is our new chief kehilla officer, Kathy Elias, who is now Mid-Atlantic district director. For 10 years, Kathy was the director of synagogue partnership and institutional strength for the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education/Jewish Outreach Partnership. We also welcome Richard Moline, now the director of youth and young adult services, as chief outreach officer; and our current chief development officer, Barry Mael, as the new chief resource development and marketing officer.
Dr. Ray Goldstein, now interim Central district director, will become the new kehilla relationship team leader, and Rabbi Paul Drazen, our chief program development officer, will become the new director of special projects.
We also want to acknowledge the yeomen’s work that the staff members who will be leaving our organization have done throughout the course of many years. Their departure is the most difficult part of our restructuring efforts, for us personally and for United Synagogue as a whole. This part of the plan involves a number of people who have been with us for a very long time, including senior staffers. All of them have worked hard and contributed greatly. We do not take their departures lightly and we wish them the very best in all they do and give them kol hakavod – all the honor.
The Conservative movement faces a series of choices and challenges, and the changes we make now will determine how we grow and thrive. We believe that by implementing our strategic plan aggressively we position ourselves for a vibrant future. We look to a future where the Conservative movement maintains its position as the bellwether of the Jewish religious center, and our kehillot are thriving organisms, places that beckon Jews of all ages.
During this period of ongoing change in United Synagogue, we are reminded of the words of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel’s first chief rabbi, who once wrote, “The old will be made new and the new will be made holy.”
Now is the moment of truth for the new United Synagogue. Today we have begun to seize that moment.
Rabbi Steve Wernick
Executive Vice President and CEO