USCJ Strategic Planning Update

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The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Hayom announce the successful completion of the second Strategic Planning Commission meeting

Please Note: This is a summary report of the commission’s current thinking. All are welcome to write to us at to provide input on the process. This summary is not finalized, but rather a work in progress.

In twelve hours of meetings on August 23 and 24, the USCJ/HaYom joint strategic planning commission continued to make substantial progress in the effort to chart a bold new direction for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The Commission met in Chicago with the UAI consulting team of Dr. Jacob “Jack” Ukeles, Professor Steven M. Cohen, and Dr. Ron Miller.

Most of the meeting was devoted to a thoughtful, and at times spirited, effort to complete the initial framework for a renewed United Synagogue (the “plain sheet of paper exercise”), using input collected from multiple sources to flesh out what a new United Synagogue would look like if we were starting over.

While the strategic planning process is very much a work in progress, there was agreement about some key elements:

  • United Synagogue should be seen as an organization of kehillot – sacred communities – that includes traditional congregations, minyanim, havurot, and groups that share our approach to Judaism. A more precise definition of kehillot will emerge from further discussion. The first function of the renewed United Synagogue would be kehillah strengthening and transformation, focusing on such areas as leadership development, marketing, adult learning and worship. Synagogue transformation will require United Synagogue’s developing core competency in strategic planning and the creation of a management “toolbox.” One of the areas of initial focus being considered is an emphasis on strengthening small congregations.
  • A second major function proposed is educating the next generation. This would take the form of a commitment to engage with partners to create a consolidated vision for education and implement an integrated system of informal and formal education for Conservative Judaism.
  • A third function of the renewed United Synagogue is expected to be cultivating and engaging new and emerging kehillot, including the seeding of new congregations and supporting emerging kehillot. This function provides a particular focus for young adults seeking community, including those seeking a place within Conservative Judaism as well as serious post-denominational frameworks.

Moving beyond the consideration of specific functions of United Synagogue,, the group also reviewed a number of different models of membership, governance, engagement and leadership that should inform United Synagogue going forward. It was accepted that transforming kehillot and educating the next generation should involve the engagement and participation of everyone performing leadership functions within the kehillah — lay leaders (including men’s club and sisterhood leaders), rabbis, cantors, educators, and administrators. Implicit in this vision is a serious examination of the concepts of affiliation and service delivery, and a look as well at the structural model United Synagogue is best advised to adopt. The concept of local change agents and central expert consultants was discussed.

In the second part of the meeting, the Commission began to focus on United Synagogue as it exists today, including an initial review of the financial impact and mission relevance of current United Synagogue programs.

The next step in this process includes melding the analysis of what United Synagogue is today and what it could become to create a set of strategic directions. During this process we will collect additional input from stakeholders and potential partners. The group plans to meet again in October to review a draft of a strategic directions document, striving to meet our goal of producing a draft plan this calendar year.