Coalition Seeks Overhaul of Conservative Movement

By Anthony Weiss

Published March 10, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Some of the most prominent figures in Conservative Judaism are demanding a meeting with the leadership of the movement’s congregational arm to discuss a major overhaul of the way the troubled movement functions.

In a letter addressed to Ray Goldstein, international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a coalition of more than 50 rabbis, cantors and lay leaders argued that time was running short for the Conservative movement and that urgent action should be taken.

“We are writing to you to continue what we believe is an urgent conversation on which hangs nothing less than the future of the Conservative Movement and the fulfillment of its enormous potential in which you and we deeply believe,” wrote Rabbi Michael Siegel, a prominent Chicago rabbi, in the letter, dated March 2. Siegel is chairing the coalition, which is calling itself HaYom (Hebrew for “today”).

The letter demanded a meeting within one month with Goldstein and other leaders to discuss restructuring the United Synagogue, adding, “Time is not on our side as a Movement.”

The letter comes at a time when Conservative Judaism is seen as facing a potentially grave period of decline. Membership is shrinking and aging, and many younger Conservative Jews have split off to start their own prayer and study groups. The United Synagogue is in the process of searching for a new executive vice president to replace the outgoing Rabbi Jerome Epstein, and many see the outcome of this process as critical to the movement’s future.

In an interview, Siegel emphasized that the members of HaYom wanted to work cooperatively with the United Synagogue leadership. But the relationship is already off to a rocky start. Electronic copies of the letter, which Siegel said was intended to be for just Goldstein and other United Synagogue leaders, were leaked to the media, along with an accompanying press release. Representatives of the group said that the letter was intended to remain private and that the press release was merely a contingency.

“I think the letter is an excellent letter, and I think we all know that the movement has challenges, and I look forward to meeting and working with the group of people who have offered to assist in working with the United Synagogue for the transformation of the movement,” Goldstein told the Forward. “However, I’m disturbed by the fact that nobody contacted me in advance of letter and nobody spoke to me about the content of the letter.”

Goldstein noted, too, that the electronic document’s properties file identified its “author” — computerese for “the source computer” —– as Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, incoming executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which is the Conservative rabbis’ professional association. “That sort of disturbs me,” he said, without elaborating.

Interagency rivalries have been known to surface within the movement in the past.

Schonfeld is not a signatory to the letter. She and Siegel both said that she had not been involved in the group and that she had been sent the draft simply as a courtesy. She offered a few comments and then sent it back.

In addition to Siegel, co-chair of Hekhsher Tzedek, signatories of the letter include Rabbi David Wolpe, a popular rabbi in Los Angeles; Rabbi Gordon Tucker, former dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinical school, and Cantor Alberto Mizrahi of Chicago, a recording artist and treasurer of the Cantors Assembly. The letter had 57 signatories in all.

One issue in particular that the letter raises is concern that the search for the new professional head of the United Synagogue has not been transparent enough to members of the movement outside the organization’s leadership.

Goldstein said he had no apologies for the way the search process was conducted and that the United Synagogue was now negotiating with a specific candidate and hoped to announce its choice within “a couple of weeks.” He said he would consult other lay leaders of the United Synagogue on how to proceed regarding the letter.






Find us on Facebook!
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.