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February 18, 2011

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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 18, 2011 Conservative synagogue group releases new strategic plan By Ben Harris NEW YORK (JTA)--In the latest attempt to reverse the fortunes of what was once America's largest synagogue denomination, the congre- gational association of the Conservative movement has released a draft strategic plan that seeks to improve its governance, reduce the financial burden on member synagogues and refocus its . attention on "sacred com- munities." The result of more than a year of deliberations, the plan for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism calls for a narrowing of the group's focus and a raft of organizational changes, from the establishment of regional advisory councils to a name change. Specifically, it urges the United Synagogue to focus on three core areas: strength- ening "kehillot," or sacred communities, a change that points to the possibility of n0n-synagogue-based affili- ation; creating an integrated Rabbi Steven Wernick educational system for pre- school through high school in coordination with other movement arms; and develop- ing new congregations and leadership. "These are the core func- tions that synagogues have been asking for the most," Rabbi Steven Wernick, the USCJ executive vice president, told JTA. The plan is the latest effort to diagnose and treat the ills of the Conservative movement, which has been overtaken as the largest Jewish denomina- tion in the United States by the Reform movement and is still struggling to articulate its position at the center of the Jewish religious spectrum. The movement endured a bruising battle in 2006 as it sought to formulate its policy toward gay clergy, and the economic recession has dealt a punishing blow to the movement's flagship institu: tion, the Jewish Theological Seminary. But the movement's trou- bles have been most acutely felt within the United Syna- gogue, which has faced its own serious budget gaps and seen its member congrega- tions decline sharply in recent years from 800 to 650. In the past nine years, the report notes, there has been a 14 percent drop in membership. In 2008, three Canadian synagogues--among them the largest movement- affiliated congregation in North America--quit the USCJ claiming, among other things, that the organization was not providing a decent return for their membership dues. Then, on the eve of Wernick's appointment as president, the USCJ came under withering criticism by some of the movement's most successful rabbis, who in a coalition calling itselfHayom ("Today") called for a new strategic planning process. United Synagogue was largely responsive to Hayom's demands and has billed the strategic plan as a joint effort between the two. Rabbi Michael Siegel, a Chicago rabbi and leader of Hayom, said the plan repre- sented a "huge step forward" and a "bold move" on the part of the USCJ leadership. Nevertheless, he said, it is only a first step. The United Synagogue does not possess the expertise to deliver on the plan, Siegel said, and its implementation will therefore require a "leap of faith" on the part of mem- ber congregations. "If the United Synagogue is Willing to cooperate and collaborate with organiza- tions that are succeeding in those areas and become the conduit to Conservative congregations for the ideas that are being promulgated around the synagogue world, I thinkitwili succeed," he said. The USCJ board must approve the plan before it becomes operational. Its next meeting is scheduled for March 13. Much in the current plan is a direct response to the criti- cisms Siegel and others have leveled at the organization in the past. The plan calls for a new governance structure, including a General Assembly of representatives of each kehillah, as well as regional district councils that elect their own representative to the board of directors. It also calls for a reduction of synagogue dues. More than 80 percent of UCSJ's $10.5 million budget now comes from dues. The reduction would be paid for in part by increased philanthropic contributions "and unspecified new "profit centers." The plan also proposes reshaping the organization's board to include philanthro- . pists and "thought leaders." The board now raises only about $105,000. But Wernick said the plan's greatest significance is its recognition of broader sociological changes in American Jewish life. Syna- gogue membership is no longer considered a require- ment for Jewish engagement, and many of the movement's most promising younger members have migrated away from formal identifi- cation with Conservative institutions. Adapting to these chang- es, Wernick said, requires a different kind of organiza- tion, one that does not take membership for granted. "The way in which you get people to show up is to en- gage them where they are," Wernick said. "It's a different organizational model, bot- tom up and not top down. Our synagogues, the way in which they are organized, are top down." BGU ranks 46th of world universities committed to environmental education and sustainable policies Dani Machlis/BGU Ben-Gurion University president Professor Rivka Carmi (center), presents students with certificates honoring their work for green initiatives. To Carmi's left is Professor Dan Blumberg, head of the Green Campus program. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has been ranked 46th in the world rank- ings recently compiled by GreenMetric, comparing universities in the world on their degree of commitment to environmental education and implementation of sus- tainable policies. Thousands of institutions and organiza- tions worldwide applied to be graded in the list of 200, and BGU is the only Israeli university to be included.. GreenMetric Ranking of World Universities was estab- lished in April 2010 in order to provide a profile for and way of comparing the commitment of universities towards going green and promoting sustain- able operation. It is hoped that the rank- ings will help to promote awareness in institutions of higher education of the value of putting in place policies and systems that will have a positive impact on global warmingand climate change, ' particularly those that help reduce carbon emissions through efficient energy use, and alternative forms of transport, greening the campus and waste recycling. Policies and management practices should also include ways of communicating the NOTICE OF NON-DISCRIMINATORY POLICY AS TO STUDENTS Orlando Torah Academy, Inc. admits participants of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its edu- cational policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school administered programs. Paid advertisement by Orlando Torah Academy, importance of the endeavor and finding ways of involving everyone and helping them to contribute with supportive behaviors. Prof. Dan Blumbergl deputy vice president and dean of research and development, and the chairperson of BGU's Green Council, commented, "In many western countries environmental awareness is at the top of public discourse. Unfortunately, in Israel we are engaged in many important issues which push aside the discourse on the environ- ment. As a result, creating a culture of awareness and concern for the environment requires activism on the part of public institutions such as universities and schools. Beyond that, the university includes institutions such as the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research and de- partments leading the way in environmental fields, making a unique contribution to the world. Our position in the first 50 in the GreenMetric rank- ings testifies to our achieve- ments in this field. The Kalisher garden, for honored. "The BGU administration and staff have taken on the responsibility of public and environmental action," he con- tinued, praising Mario Copel, the deputy director general for development and logistics, for his hands-on involvement in things happen. "The university is extremely active in this field, indeed it is felt all levels of campus activity campus including among oth- ers: research, teaching 'green activities' and social involve- ment in the community." He noted that the Green Campus steering committee includes himself, an academic; director of BGU's Community Involve- ment Unit Vered Saroussi- Katz, who is experienced in outreach and education; and the university's director of marketing Sagi Langer. "Social change doesn't just happen," Blumberg concluded. "People make it happen." For more information about Ben - Gurion University of the Negev, visit the Web page of the American Associ- ates ofBen- Gurion University at Dani Machlis/BGU which one of the BGU Green Initiatives prize recipients was Dani Machlis/BGU One of the recycling containers of the Marcus Family Campus at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.