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January 18, 2013

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PAGE 18A By Gil Shefler NEW YORK (JTA)--The congregational arm of the Conservative movement ran a cumulative budget deficit of more than $5 million over the past two years, JTA has learned, renewing longstand- ing concerns for the future of one of the movement's key institutional pillars. According to a financial audit obtained by JTA, the United Synagogue of Conser- vative Judaism reported back- to-back losses of $3 million in 2012 and $2.7 million the previous year. Over the same period, the organization, which is celebrating its cen- tennial this year and counts hundreds of congregations as members, has seen a more than 10 percent drop in its overall assets, from $45.2 million $40.1 million. United Synagogue's chief executive officer, Rabbi Ste- ven Wernick, told JTA that the negative cash flows were due mostly to a handful of one-off events. Not counting those expenses, the operational deficit in 2012 is only about a third as large, at $1:1 million. "We hope to reduce it to $600,000 next year and bal- ance the budget the year after that," Wernick said. HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 18, 2013 $5 million budget hole is latest woe for Conservative synagogue group Courtesy USCJ Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, says the group's $5 million deficit over the last two years stems mainly from three one-time expenditures. "Still, the numbers are bad news for an organization that unveiled a much-heralded strategic plan two years ago that aimed to reverse years of flagging membership and declining revenues. United Synagogue leaders are "rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic," said a senior executive at one of the movement's largest synagogues who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Operating that far in the red is a big red flag," the executive said. "I think it's important for them to get their financial standing in order. I think they wouldn't advise their synagogues that way." Once the largest Jew- ish religious stream in the United States, the Conserva- tive movement has suffered through years of decline brought on in part by an aging and shrinking mem- bership, some bruising philo- sophical battles and most recently a string of financial losses. The movement's flag- ship institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary, went through two rounds of lay- offs in the past four years to close a multimillion-dollar budget gap. United Synagogue has seen a 14 percent drop in its membership rolls over the past decade. In 2008, three Canadian synagogues quit United Synagogue to form their own partnership, claiming the burden of paying fees to the umbrella group outweighed the benefits. According to Wernick, the recent financial troubles stem from three one-time ex- penditures: the settlement of a longstanding lawsuit relat- ed to ownership of the move- ment's Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem that cost $887,000; structural reorganization resulting in a large number of severance packages; and the cost of implementing a new strategic plan. Wernii:k said the orga- nization hoped to balance its books through a mix of savings from structural reorganization carried out in 2011 and 2012, a new fundraising arm and the generation of new revenue by raising membership fees by $1 per household--the first such hike in five years. Under the terms of the stra- tegic plan released last year, synagogue dues were to have been reduced. At the United Synagogue board meeting last month in Las Vegas, discussion of the audit was limited to just a few minutes near the end, leading some to charge that Wernick was deliberately seeking to avoid scrutiny of the budget. Wernick denied claims of any intentional wrongdoing, say- ing the limited time was due to unexpected delays. "In our last meeting we ran out of time, but the process was a normal, healthy pro- cess," he said. Wernick has endured something of a rocky tenure in the three years since he took the helm of United Synagogue. On the eve of his appointment, United Synagogue came under in- tense criticism from some of the movement's most successful rabbis, united in a coalition that called itself HaYom. Shortly thereafter, the Forward reported on an unsent letter from several synagogue presidents accus- ing the organization of being "insular, unresponsive, and of diminishing value to its member congregations." More broadly, many in the movement are coming to believe the time for large, centralized organizations in Jewish religious life in America has passed. "The reason why USCJ con- tinues to struggle is because synagogues can have their needs met without it," said Rabbi Menachem Creditor of C6ngregation Netivot Hasha- lom in Berkeley, Calif. "The question facing Conservative Judaism as an American movement is not the same as the USCJ's financial health. And so as Conservative Ju- daism continues to evolve in North America, a new movement might emerge to connect our synagogues to another." Wernick strongly defended his organization's place with- in Conservative Judaism. He cited a list of programs and activities--including Sulam, a leadership development program, and the subsidies given to member synagogues in times of crisis, like the recent efforts to aid victims of superstorm Sandy--as proof of its relevance. "We believe we're imple- menting [our strategic plan] with great success and that the future is only going to be brighter," he said. "Are some congregational leaders not in' love with what we do? Sure, but there are many more coming to us to ask for our support." The United Synagogue executive board is set to hold a briefing on the audit's find- ings in a conference call and put it to a vote one week later. Wernick said the full content of the audit will be placed online after the vote as part of the organization's commit- ment to transparency. "We're still in the start-up phase and it's not easy, but we're moving out of it and we're growing," Wernick said. "And you don't get that in an audit." Guide From page 1A ing free markets,-privatiza- tion of state industries and reduced regulation. Yisrael Beiteinu, origi- nally founded as a party for Russian immigrants, has attracted a broader base with hard-line nationalist rhetoric, a secularist agenda and calls for universal army or volunteer service. An upstart challenger to Likud-Beiteinu is Jewish Home, a hawkish pro-settler party that also favors som progressive economic poli- cies. Historically a religious Zionist party, Jewish Home has successfully broadened its base this cycle and has an excellent shot at a third- place finish. People to watch: Benja- min Netanyahu, the Likud chairman and current prime minister, almost certainly will win another term. Netanyahu, 63, has relent- lessly sounded the alarm on Iran's nuclear program and shaped Israel's supply-side economic policies. He was first elected prime minister in 1996, lost the 1999 elec- tion and made a comeback in 2009, winning his second term. Avigdor Lieberman, Yis rael Beiteinu's chairman, was Israel's foreign minister until he resigned following Gideon Markowicz/Flash90/JTA Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich addresse supporters Jan. 14 at a campaign event at the Dizengoff Center mall in Tel Aviv. his indictment in Decem- ber for fraud and breach of trust. An immigrant from Moldova, Lieberman, 54, advocates hard-line foreign and domestic policies. Naftali Bennett, a high- tech entrepreneur and past leader of the settlement movement, is the char- ismatic new chairman of Jewish Home. Bennett, 40, has changed the image of the party from a sectarian religious Zionist faction to one that courts Jewish Israelis of all stripes. Moshe Feiglin, 50, has led 1 st ChoiceJ-Iome Companion Services "Touching our Customer's lives one at a time" Best Prices Quality Services 555 Winderley Place Ste. 300 Maitland, FL. 32751 Call 321,594,3579 24 hrs,/7 Days a Week www. 1 Caring for you in your home ......... a revolution within Likud, driving a sharp turn to the right that has led to the rise of other hawkish politicians and nudging out of moder- ates. He is 14th on the Likud list and almost certain to gain a Knesset seat. CENTER Major parties: Israel's most fragmented political bloc, likely headed for the opposition, the center has three major--and largely similar--parties. Labor, Israel's founding party, has pushed progressive, socialist policies. Yesh Atid, a party of political neophyteL em- phasizes middle-class tax cuts and mandatory army or volunteer service for all Is- raelis. Hatnua, also founded last year, supports Israeli- Palestinian negotiations and a two-state solution. Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset and the ruling party from 2006 to 2009, has been largely discredited and may not cross the 2 percent vote threshold necessary to a win a seat in the Knesset. People to watch: Shelly Yachimovich, 52, a former television journalist, is the Labor chair and has shifted the party's focus from a two- state solution back to the progressive socioeconomic policies that once defined it. She has been criticized for barely addressing diplomatic policy, though she recently vowed not to join a..Likud- Beiteinu coalition. Yair Lapid, 49, another former TV journalist and the head of Yesh Atid, an- nounced his entrance into politics early last year amid hype that his party could rival Likud. Lapid is the son of former journalist and politician Tommy Lapid, Tzipi Livni, 54, chairwom- an of Hatnua, has shifted from right to center-left during a lengthy political career. Originally a senior politician in Likud, Livni fol- lowed former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Kadima in 2005 and served as foreign minister from 2006 to 2(109. She resigned from Kadima last year after losing the chairmanship in the party primaries. LEFT WING Major parties: As Labor has tacked to the center, the standard-bearer of the Zion- ist left has become Meretz, a party that advocates Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, equal rights for all Israeli citizens, far greater separa- tion of religion and state, and progressive economic poli- cies. To Meretz's left is the non-Zionist, communist, Arab-Jewish Hadash, which also advocates equal rights and progressive economics but does not prioritize Israel remaining a Jewish state. People to watch: Zahava Gal-on, Meretz's chairwom- an, immigrated to Israel from Russia as a child and has been an outspoken sup- porter of civil liberties since she first entered the Knesset in 1999. Hadash's chairman, Mohammed Barakeh, has been indicted for alleged violence at protests, but also has earned praise for visiting Auschwitz in 2010. Hadash's third in line, Dov Khenin, is a well-known leftist activist who ran for mayor of Tel Aviv. HAREDI ORTHODOX Major parties: The two main haredi parties are the Sephardic Shas and United Torah Judaism, a merger of a few Ashkenazi haredi parties. UTJ's main issues are government support for yeshivot (including stipends for full-time students), continued haredi control of the chief rabbinate, social services for their often low- income haredi constituents and continued exemption of full-time yeshiva students from military service. Shas advocates more moderate versions of those policies as well as social services for Israel's poor families, many of whom are Sephardic and vote for Shas even though they are not haredi. Am Shalem, a new break- away party from Shas, was founded last year and op- poses much of the haredi agenda, advocating military or volunteer service and the elimination of subsidies for most full-time yeshiva students. It is considered a long shot to win any Knes- set seats. People to watch: Aryeh Deri, one of the three lead- ers of Shas, won 17 seats for the party in 1999's Knesset elections only to wind up in prison on charges of bribery a year later. Now, the char- ismatic Deri is free to run again and has retaken the helm at Shas along with Eli Yishai, the current interior minister, whose policies are decidedly right wing. Haim Amsalem, a former member of Shas, is now a thorn in that party's side with his new faction, Am Shalem. Amsalem hasn't pulled his punches, relent- lessly criticizing Shas and claiming in his ads that Mai- monides wuld vote for him. ISRAELI ARABS Major parties: Arab par- ties have never served in a coalition government and historically have under- represented the Israeli Arab population, which is about a quarter of the country. The two Arab slates in this elec- tion are the secular Balad, which is explicitly anti- Zionist and believes that Israel should be a state of all its citizens, and Ra'am-Ta'al, an alliance of the religious Ra'am and the secular Ta'al that is not as explicitly anti- Zionist. All of the parties favor better treatment of Israel's Arab miflority, a two-state solution and peace with neighboring Arab countries. People to watch: As no Israeli government has in- cluded Arab parties, their main purpose is to speak up for Arab-Israeli rights and against what they see as Jewish discrimination. Two of the most outspoken Israeli Arab members of Knesset have been Ta'al leader Ahmad Tibi, a for- mer adviser to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, and Hanin Zouabi of Balad. Both at times have been disqualified from run- ning for Knesset due to anti- Zionist statements, but the .bans have been overturned by Israel's Supreme Court.