February 28, 2011 / 24 Adar I 5771
Rabbi Steven Wernick
Executive Vice President
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Dear Rabbi Wernick,
I write to express The Jewish Theological Seminary's warm support for the significant step forward that has been accomplished in the draft USCJ Strategic Plan. JTS is proud to have played a key role in the formation of United Synagogue nearly a century ago, and we look forward to working with you; the joint commission of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Hayom; the Rabbinical Assembly; and other Conservative Movement partners to seize hold of the present opportunity to revitalize United Synagogue and enable it to fulfill its mission of serving Conservative kehillot. We agree with you that United Synagogue is at a turning point—one that calls for bold, imaginative, and resolute action. The draft Strategic Plan sets us on a course that we think points to urgent and necessary change.
Three aspects of the plan seem especially significant to my colleagues and me.
First: mission focus. We agree with the Strategic Plan that United Synagogue can and must concentrate on a narrower mission than heretofore; namely, strengthening congregations and other kehillot in the areas of management, transformation, and leadership development. A good friend of JTS, himself a businessman, expressed it well in a letter to me a few days ago: the business of the organization should be the business aspects of the synagogues, helping them to run efficiently and to manage change effectively. Other aspects of synagogue life should, in our view, be coordinated with the help of United Synagogue but not provided by it. Offering a targeted number of services, and offering them well, will go a long way toward revitalizing weaker synagogues and further strengthening healthy ones.
Second: a change in governance that makes USCJ directly responsive to its member constituencies, gives lay leaders throughout North America a voice in national decision-making, and adds to the board of USCJ a broader mix of thought- and community-leaders. We know this is not a time for "top-down" governance, certainly not in an organization that will pride itself on its mission of community-building. Democratization of authority, we agree, will help to generate commitment to the USCJ and to Conservative Judaism as a whole.
Third: we applaud the announced aim of an overhaul in dues structure and reduction in the amount that affiliate kehillot are charged for membership. This is an especially courageous step and, so we believe with you, an especially urgent one. Many of the divisions that have plagued the Conservative Movement in recent years have resulted not from differences in opinion over the nature of Conservative Judaism, but over allocation of the burden of funding synagogue activities. The corrective action you have proposed sets us firmly on the right path.
We congratulate you, the joint commission of the USCJ and Hayom, the RA, and all those who advised you on the significant achievement of the draft Strategic Plan. As the draft is vetted around the country, our advice is simple and unequivocal: move as quickly as possible, as boldly as possible, to implement the intent behind the plan, so that when the United Synagogue celebrates its hundredth anniversary two years from now, the process of transformation is not only complete but firmly established. We at JTS look forward to recognizing that accomplishment with you and to joining in the work that will make the celebration of all that USCJ has accomplished in its first century possible.