Conservative Judaism’s North American congregational umbrella has announced the elimination of its regional operations as it begins to implement the strategic plan it adopted this spring.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism terminated 15 staff members and reshuffled others while announcing success in its early fundraising efforts and cuts to membership dues.
The moves signal the start of an effort to revive the USCJ, which faces steeply declining membership and revenue, following months of debate within the Conservative movement over the organization’s future.
“This is a moment of great change within our community,” the USCJ executive vice president and CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick, and international president, Richard Skolnik, wrote in an internal memo circulated June 14.
The USCJ board approved the new USCJ strategic plan, the result of a collaboration between a group of powerful dissident Conservative synagogues and the umbrella group’s leadership, in March. The plan proposed to reinvigorate the USCJ by broadening the movement’s base, developing new revenue streams and decreasing costs.
The staff cuts come two years after a round of layoffs that resulted in the elimination of 12 positions. USCJ leadership warned of these latest cuts as early as February, but did not specify then how many employees would be let go.
“The congregations have been expecting some form of budget relief, and budget relief inevitably means either additional third-party funding or cutting expenditures, and this represents one of those responses,” said Steven M. Cohen, a prominent sociologist of the American Jewish community who consulted with the USCJ during the strategic planning process but is not involved in its implementation.
The restructuring effectively scraps the organization’s regional operations in favor of a network of outreach staff managed out of the USCJ’s central office.
“Their departure is the most difficult part of our restructuring efforts, for us personally and for United Synagogue as a whole,” Wernick and Skolnick wrote of the fired employees in their memo. “This part of the plan involves a number of people who have been with us for a very long time, including senior staffers.”
Kathy Elias, who now directs the USCJ’s mid-Atlantic district, will lead the new outreach network. Ray Goldstein, who directs the Central district, will also be involved in the network’s operation.
The USCJ also announced the hiring of Jerry Herman as the organization’s new chief operating officer.
In addition to staff cuts, the USCJ has decreased the dues payments it asks of its member synagogues — a key expectation prior to the strategic planning process. In late May, the USCJ informed member synagogues that it would cut its 2012 dues by 5% for synagogues that pay before the end of 2011. In return, it asked synagogues to provide the USCJ with an updated mailing list of all congregation members.
The USCJ also announced early success in fundraising, another goal of the strategic plan. In their internal memo, Wernick and Skolnik wrote that the organization had received $800,000 in new commitments for the next three years.
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Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.