Monday, February 7, 2011

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February 28

Hevre,

On behalf of the USCJ/HaYom Strategic Planning Commission I want to thank you all for writing and sharing your strong and vocal support for [Koach/CY].  We have been overwhelmed and surprised by the responses you have all sent in.  They display a passion and commitment for this program, and demonstrate what an impact [Koach/CY] has had on your lives. 

The discussions currently taking place about the draft strategic plan and the future of USCJ is focused on how best to use our resources, in an era of tightened belts, and fiscal responsibility.  We must ensure that we can continue to create the most impact with our programs, and that they are relevant to the new vision and mission of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

We greatly appreciate the spirit and ruach that you have put into advocating for this program, and look forward to continuing to be engaged with you in this discussion of a new USCJ in the months to come.

B’shalom,
Rabbi Steven Wernick
Executive Vice President and CEO


We invite your comments on United Synagogue's strategic plan . . .

131 comments:

  1. All of the Rabbis and the Teachers working within the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem are the role models of what the Conservative students need: lessons in what and how an excellent Yeshiva should be taught; how an excellent Conservative Yeshiva should be run and finally how an excellent Conservative Yeshiva should lead by example in the Jewish Community. It is critical for people from around the world who want to attend such an institution, to be able to see such a vital Yeshiva now and certainly for several years to come. Lorraine Skupsky, Alumni of Conservative Yeshiva, member of Hebrew Educational Alliance Denver, Colorado.

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  2. Rather than identifying perceived flaws, Cantor Steven W. Dress, Temple Israel, Sharon MA comments on 4 USCJ strengths that remain vital and vibrant in 2011: #1. USY. Thanks to long-standing talented and sincere national (J. Gutin) and N.E.R. (J. Juda) leadership, supportive regional executive/support staff, engaged lay leadership, relatively strong parental base, and supportive congregations, USY’s impressive range and exceptional quality of meaningful programming offers our teens many rich and diverse religious, educational, cultural, and social opportunities. The USCJ profile trend away from younger memberships, is already challenging USY’s healthy future. Yet, its success is obvious and commonly cited by Young Israel/”Modern” Orthodox Movement members as its growing source of adult members. This observation should motivate us to repair the USCJ synagogue as an institution that offers enhanced clarity of mission and corresponding practices to our observant young adults/families whose commitment we nurtured.
    #2. Jerusalem’s Fuchsberg Ctr and notably, its Conservative Yeshiva, is a beacon of pride to many of us and must become a beacon of recognition and pride to all USCJ members. Arguably, Fuchsberg/Yeshiva is the transplanted heart of our movement. Yet, its pulse is not obvious to enough of our constituency. As one who has studied at the Yeshiva and is returning this summer to study again with my 22 year-old son, I rank it a 10 out of 10 in terms of excellence. The Conservative Yeshiva distinguishes itself in terms of its integrity to its mission, its Administrative excellence, its brilliant and devoted faculty, its hevruta-styled substantive egalitarian approach, its engaging and exciting offerings and yes— the manner that respect, warmth, and friendliness encompasses all aspects of its programming including its first-rate Ulpan. Israel needs to trump all programming in synagogues. Synagogues need to integrate Israel into its programming whenever possible and to encourage many more educationally-oriented touring experiences to Israel with Fuchsberg/Yeshiva as a thrilling place to extend one’s visit. #3 Masorti’s Israel Special Needs Program (Z. Nativ, director) is a proven educational system without parallel. We need to recommit both moral and financial support of this program that reaches out to the most vulnerable of our USCJ family. Doing so, will demonstrate that we are truly responsible one to another. Doing less, in favor of other far less necessary programming, taints our reputation as a truly socially conscious organization. #4. Camp Ramah is a pillar that needs to continue flourishing. Camp Ramah exemplifies the best in our Movement synthesizing Hebrew language, culture, Torah, with recreation and socialization that helps us nurture the hearts, minds, and bodies of our Jewish youngsters encouraging them to maintain loyalty to our people and consider future membership within our USCJ movement that nurtured them in their youth. Under Rabbi Gelb’s direction our Ramah-Palmer camp (its physical plant, programming, and reputation) has become a shining example of a USCJ regional affiliate.

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  3. Shalom!

    1) I applaud the hard work and planning going into this effort, and hope it revitalizes the United Synagogue and the Conservative Movement as a whole.

    2) Full disclosure: I teach at the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem.

    3) I find it extremely problematic that there is no mention of the Conservative Yeshiva in the working document. The CY is without question the most cost effective institution of advanced intensive text learning under the direction of highly trained faculty anywhere in the Conservative Movement. Any attempt to provide a similar number of hours of study per student with a similar staff in the United States would cost many, many times what it costs to run the CY. The reason for this is simple enough: only in Israel will highly qualified teachers of Jewish studies (with doctoral and rabbinic degrees) work for so little money. You might call it "outsourcing Torah learning": never could you invest so much Torah in so many American Jews (who then return to their U.S. homes) for so little money. I admit its a bit distasteful to talk about Torah study and money in the same sentence, but in these circumstances I think its important to state the facts clearly.

    Making no mention of the CY and the other programming at the Fuchsberg Center while stating that "many congregations do not see the Center as relevant to their needs" strikes me as extremely problematic and misleading.

    Are these "many congregations" aware of the tremendous depth and quantity of Torah learning, benefiting the Conservative movement as a whole and particular in America, made available here in Jerusalem for only a fraction of what it would cost anywhere in the United States? If not, this somewhat cryptic paragraph on the Fuchsberg Center, lacking any mention of even the most basic and critical information about the Center's activities, will only compound their lack of understanding.

    But let me stress again that I really do applaud this important and necessary effort of the United Synagogue, and hope that it will bring the desired results.

    Bivracha,
    Dr. Shaiya Rothberg

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  4. Sherri Vishner, Baltimore MDFebruary 8, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    I am an active participant and alumna of two USCJ programs slated for 'serious review'. While I was involved with USY in high school, it was not until college and I became involved with KOACH that I found my own place within Judaism and the Conservative movement. I attended all 4 KOACH Kallot in college and then went on to work or KOACH for 4 additional years. I participated on KOACH's Birthright Israel program, which was my first experience in Israel. I continue to maintain a relationship with the current KOACH staff and share my positive experiences with high schoolers and high school educators. I currently teach at Baltimore's Chizuk Amuno Hebrew High School program and will be chaperoning a group of high schoolers to DC in March to learn about Jewish college life, including how they can get involved with KOACH and maintain a connection to the Conservative Movement. I feel very passionately about this program and while it may not reach everyone, those students for whom it does reach are left with a lasting impact that should not be discounted. Many of my KOACH friends have gone on to work for KOACH, USY, and Hillel, teach in USCJ Hebrew schools and Day Schools, have founded independent minyanim, etc. We are a small but invigorated group.
    While on Birthright, we visited the Conservative Yeshiva and shared Tefilla experiences with the students in attendance. I then chose to spend a summer learning at the CY in 2002 at a time when many other Israel programs were cancelled due to the intifada. I have since spend a year as well as another summer at the CY. It is my home away from home in so many ways. Whenever I visit Israel, I am sure to stop in to learn and visit with the faculty. Many faculty have invited me into their homes and families. They are my family. I learned how to lead tefillot at the CY and now regularly due so in the US. I regularly use lessons learned at the CY in my own Hebrew School lesson plans.
    If it wasn't for KOACH and the CY together, I would probably be another statistic of 'lost to another movement' young adult. These programs showed me that I could be a serious Conservative Jew, interested in Jewish learning and davening.
    Much work needs to be made to USCJ synagogues for the young adult population especially but these changes should not be made at the expense of the 2 programs that worked for me.

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  5. I had the privilege of being part of the Commission on Halachah, which seems to me to be a forerunner to this study. We could not jump into the middle of the discussion - halachah in Conservative Judaism - without talking about our other core values. So I read this document with interest and applaud many of the directions it introduces. However, as other writers stated, the absence of the Fuchsberg Center in general and the Conservative Yeshiva in particular from this study is glaring, especially considering the priority of Jewish education as “true to the vision of Conservative Judaism.” If engaging the next generation in kehilla leadership is truly a main concern, then CY needs to be elevated to a higher priority of the movement.
    As for me, the experience of studying at CY, at an older age, was powerful and life altering, leading me to a path towards the rabbinate. It is one of Conservative Judaism’s greatest treasures, and any new strategic plan must note its importance to our future.
    Rabbi Debbie Israel

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  6. Koach is the vital link for Conservative Jews, and anyone, who desires a warm and open, traditional egalitarian community among the many enticing options, both Jewish and otherwise, available on campus. Columbia/Barnard KOACH has been that community for me and hundreds of other students during the past four years. Contrary to what was stated in the report, Koach is NOT a duplication of efforts already existent at Hillel. At Columbia, if Koach did not exist (and keeping up the community can be a struggle at times), students would end up in a large (but non-Egalitarian) Orthodox community or without a meaningful Jewish experience (and while JTS provides Jewish student life, it is not a replacement for Koach or Hillel).

    At Columbia, we are lucky to have a knowledgeable community who can organize its own services and events, down to the halakhic and liturgical details - but that does not disregard the fact that we struggle financially without support from USCJ. Other campuses require much more support, both educationally and financially than we do. In a quickly assimilating generation, USCJ and American Judaism cannot afford to pull out from Koach.

    In contrast, we need to devote even more resources (and garner donors) so that there ARE young Jews ten years down the road to join kehillot. The OU has a wonderful program called JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) which sends young rabbinic couples to campuses across North America to teach and serve as Jewish Role models. I dream of a day in the near future when there is a Conservative JLI couple, lay or rabbinic, on every campus with a small or large traditional egalitarian presence. Conservative students need positive role models much more than their Orthodox peers, and USCJ cannot afford not to pour additional resources, both spiritual and material into campuses. If USCJ is not there for Conservative students, who will be?!

    I hope that the USCJ leadership will listen to these passionate reelections of a committed traditional-egalitarian Jew cultivated by the Conservative movement to ensure that the opportunities that the Fuschberg Center, Conservative Yeshiva and Koach gave me are there for others for years to come. Thank you for listening!

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  7. I am a product of the Conservative Movement: I was the Chattanooga, TN USY chapter until my brother doubled our numbers, served as Ein Gedi Rel/Ed, attended Ramah Darom for 2 years and worked there for the last 9 years, and now teach in the Hebrew School of a Conservative shul in Chicago where I also lead youth services, give B'nai Mitzvah lessons, and participate in a large number of activities going on in this synagogue. I am also the Davening Coordinator for the Young Adult Division of my shul. I would say that I have managed to be strong in my involvement in the Conservative Movement since graduating from college.
    I have many peers who attended Ramah with me and did USY. What distinguishes the ones who will show up again in Conservative shuls when they have children who need to attend Hebrew School from those who like me are involved in Conservative kehillot now is largely whether or not they were involved in KOACH. College is the time where people choose their identities that will determine their behaviors for decades to come. For me, I jumped into KOACH. It was a chance to see my friends from USY, and to stay active. My freshman year I went on the KOACH Birthright trip. To see those friends, I went to KOACH Kallah. The following year I became a KOACH Intern. In all I went to 3 KOACH Kallot, including helping to plan one; the one year that I didn't attend I was at Hebrew U doing the Conservative Beit Midrash program with the Rabbinical students (a brilliant, low-cost program). Through KOACH, I had the chance to attend the USCJ Biennial in Orlando. USY and Ramah may have hooked me on Conservative Judaism, but KOACH is what has reeled me in.
    And I don't think it's just me, either. A girl that I met at my second Kallah is now the Ritual Director of a New England Conservative shul. Another girl who coordinated the davening at a Kallah is now starting a minyan in Chicago that is effectively Conservative. My best friend in Chicago is somebody I met on KOACH Birthright and saw only at Kallot for 3 years. He is the Chair of the Young Adult Division of my Conservative Chicago synagogue, and he was just asked to join the Strategic Planning Committee. I think it would be fair to say that without KOACH, he may have not chosen to stay involved after high school.
    I understand the desire to par down the budget of KOACH. It's expensive and in an area covered by other organizations. Yet I don't think the Conservative Movement can afford to cut down excessively on its college presence. Having just left college 2 years ago, I can tell you that Chabad and Aish are just upping their college presence. They take 2 types of people away from the Conservative movement - those who will be somewhat involved and those who take their Judaism very seriously. The Conservative Movement can not afford to be so confident in believing that it's got a good enough product that after college people will recognize how great it is and come to us. You don't get sales by assuming that people will come to you. If the Conservative Movement wants to get young adults after college, it can't lose contact with them for 4 years.
    So what does that mean? The KOACH Birthright trip is a wonderful idea, but I understand if it gets cut. KOACH Kallah is a terrific way to bring together the future leaders of the Conservative Movement so that they become friends now. In some low-cost way it ought to be kept. KOACH Interns also ought to be kept. Perhaps expenses are cut and a tighter budget is imposed. Yet they are the best way to have a presence on campus. And KOACH Shabbat is a good way to have a high-profile reminder of our existence on an annual basis, though expenses for that could be cut also.
    I am a future leader of the Conservative Movement, and I credit KOACH with that. Those whom I met through KOACH are also future leaders of the Conservative Movement. I urge USCJ to not shoot itself in the foot by severing the connection between USY/Ramah and the post-college years.

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  8. The Conservative Yeshiva is a top-tier Jewish educational institution. It's support is, and should be, vital to the Conservative movement.

    Professor Daniel Asia, University of Arizona

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  9. The Fuchsberg Center, is 'home' for the Conservative Ango-Saxon Community in Yerushalayim - for visitors from outside of Israel and for Jerusalem residents. CY (Conservative Yeshiva) is it's crown jewel, providing stimulating studies that are accessible to adults of all ages and background. Personally, I will be attending my third summer session at CY this coming summer (and wish I could afford travel to Israel to study more often). CY provides what is not available in the USA, at least not in the communities where I have lived, a place for Conserative Jews to learn about and practice Judaism in a nuturing, stimulating environment, with the end result of making me a 'better Jew',who gives more to my Conservative Jewish community when back in the USA - with increased skills, knowledge and dedication.

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  10. While improving the education and services to children high school aged and younger is certainly a good step, the key to retaining these people within the Conservative movement is after they have left home and are making the decision on their own. The college campus is a place where students are discovering their identities and place in the world. By giving them a Conservative community and program, we give them the opportunity to discover its stength. The Stategic Plan refers to the "'best and the brightest'” as "the products of Ramah camps, Nativ and other programs in Israel, Schechter Schools, List College and USY". However, for the most part, these people are in high school, and thus still living at their parent's home. They often do not need to make the decision of how to observe Judaism in the home, or which movement to follow. Because they are living at home, in order to participate in these programs parental consent is needed. In order to attract members to the Conservative movement, we should not care whether the parents of potential members sent them to Conservative programs. Also, in many cases, these programs cost a lot of money. We are also selecting the participants based on economic status.

    In addition, we cannot just ignore the four most vital years in a person's Jewish exploration. College students deserve to be served with a Conservative program as much as any other age group. KOACH is vital to the involvement of the youth in the Conservative movement. Perhaps it does need to be improved, but getting rid of it altogether is not the way to do it. This is similar to removal of a limb to heal a cut.

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  11. Support Conservative Jewish line staff the way you would want Rubashkins line staff supported or else the movement will continue to reek of do as we say not as we do Judaism.

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  12. I am a former Hillel professional (still working on campus for the "competition") who can attest to the impact Koach has made on many different campuses. In both of the places I worked, were it not for Koach, the only religious role models and support available would have either come from Chabad or Orthodox rabbis with an agenda. While I may not agree with many of the tenets of the Conservative Movement, I have great respect for the approach and love and care Koach provided for my students. It needs more resources, not fewer. It's like planting a tree. If you want it to grow, don't stop watering it.

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  13. I am the Education Director at Moriah Congregation in Deerfield, Illinois. Last summer I had the zchut of attending classes at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. That institution is one which the United Synagogue should showcase to exemplify the concept of Kehillah in North America. Classes were of the highest quality, teachers were superb, and the feeling of community, inclusiveness, and living vibrant Conservative Judaism pervaded everything. The experience made me return more enthusiastic, more knowledgeable and more ready to serve my community as a professional and it inspired me spiritually. I will counsel teens to plan their studies to include shiurim at the Yeshiva, and will urge congregants to study as I did during summer trips, and on line in the Yeshiva’s outstanding distance learning classes. In my opinion United Synagogue could do no better for the future of Conservative Judaism than to continue to allocate/increase funding for this jewel of an institution.

    Esther Weiss
    Moriah Cong., Deerfield, Il.

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  14. The Conservative Yeshivah fulfills all aspects listed in the mission.

    o inspire meaningful prayer - Students at CY learn how to lead and understand liturgy in a way that increases prayer's meaningfulness in daily lives.
    o sustain a culture of life-long Jewish learning - Many students come to CY with little to no exposure to text study and leave with the skills to continue studying at home on their own or with chevruta partners.
    o nurture religious and spiritual growth - The experience of living in Israel surrounded by Jewish texts, teachers, and colleagues fosters and encourages both religious and spiritual growth for all those who participate in either the CY summer or year-long programs.
    o promote excellence in kehilla leadership - The CY helps train students in such a way as to encourage and enable them to take on positions of leadership in the community.
    • To ensure Jewish educational excellence for children true to the vision of
    Conservative Judaism in, and for, kehillot. - Many CY alumni go on to teach children, whether in a classroom, camp, or in their own homes.
    • To engage the next generation of kehilla leadership. - The programs at CY attract this next generation of leaders and equips them to take on such positions.
    • To encourage and build new kehillot. - Many CY alumni have gone on to start new minyanim or to go on to become rabbis and rabbinical students

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  15. I'm in my early 20s and work for a successful start-up. I am a product of USY and Camp Ramah. I'm also involved in an independent minyan which is Conservative in all but name. However, I wouldn't be where I am today without KOACH. I am gay, and when I was in college and in the process of coming out, KOACH was the only place that let me in. It didn't matter that I was gay; I was welcomed unconditionally. I can't say the same for any other arm of the Movement.

    I know hindsight is 20/20, but if it wasn't for KOACH, I'm certain I would have left the Conservative Movement altogether. I hate to think of what might happen to others like me if that program is cut.

    Synagogues (kehillot?) are not the answer for college students. If you want them to stay connected and become involved later in life, you need the presence that KOACH provides (that means you also need to fund it properly).

    It's easy to throw the college students under the bus for the sake of this plan because they don't pay dues and it won't affect synagogue operations. But in 5-10 years, you will be very, very sorry. Please don't let it happen.

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  16. I am the cantor at Congregation B'nai Israel in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. My husband and I both spent a year studying at the Conservative Yeshiva; he for conversion before we were married, and I for my first year of cantorial school through JTS (though I later transferred to Hebrew College in Newton MA). The year at the Conservative Yeshiva was pivotal for both my husband and me. I feel I learned as much in that year as all the rest of my time in school put together. The style of intense hevruta study and discussion, the camaraderie, the joy of teaching and learning that the teachers expressed, and the community of prayer and love of Torah that the students built was truly a unique experience. My only sorrow is that I don't know of any place like it in the US that I can recommend to interested friends and congregants.
    - Cantor Shana Onigman, Congregation B'nai Israel, Basking Ridge, NJ

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  17. Jennifer Feder BobbFebruary 14, 2011 at 7:00 AM

    As an alumna of the year program of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem (2006-2007), I wanted to tell you how much this program strengthened my identity as a Conservative Jew. Before my experience at CY, I believed that orthodoxy was the future of the Jewish people, as I thought that the orthodox Jews I knew were the most committed and dedicated to the Jewish cause. This changed after my year at CY. Through Jewish learning with intelligent, generous, and supportive teachers who daily demonstrate their commitment to a vibrant Conservative Judaism, my belief in a strong future for this movement was renewed.

    It is imperative that the Yeshiva continue to be fully supported as an asset in the Conservative movement, and that community members be encouraged to spend a day, month, summer, and especially year as a part of this incredible program. Please continue to fully support the Conservative Yeshiva and the Fuchsberg center. Education is the future of the movement, and the teachers at CY exemplify Conservative Judaism and share it in the most meaningful ways with the students. I am neither a Rabbi nor a formal Jewish educator, but I hope to continue to be a leader in the Jewish community; my time spent learning at CY deeply strengthened my commitment and love of Judaism.

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  18. I am a senior citizen,living in New York state. In recent years, through the Conservative Yeshiva's on-line courses, my learning has been enriched not only by the teachers at the Yeshiva, but also by my fellow students. These have included rabbis from the US, an adult educator from Paris, rabbinical students from several countries, a Catholic theologian in the Phillipines, and other wonderful people who have brought their experience of the world, as well as of Judaism and Jewish texts, to our conversations. My life has been enriched by these experiences, and by attending briefly each Spring, while staying in Jerusalem, a weekly shiur that is given for residents of the city.
    Others have written about the value of USCJ's programs for youths. I want acclaim the value for retirees of the Conservative movement in Jerusalem, especially, the Conservative Yeshiva.

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  19. Balance of leadership: Many nonprofits have boards members who are fundraisers, but not the organization’s clients. Congregations, by definition, have member-leaders who are also participants in the spiritual community. The world needs stronger congregations, not another Birthright or Federation (they’re already successful at that). How do we reorganize and still differentiate ourselves?

    Rhetoric about “under-40” leadership probably refers to recent Koach/USY/Ramah alumni. I’m 36. I think there’s a need for around 40 leaders, ensuring leadership isn’t divided between the under-30’s and over-50’s. (Those of us in the middle are your “best customers” in terms of school and camp tuition, etc!) How can you ensure my age cohort is represented?

    The “vital religious center”: Will the USCJ require members to be an RA “union shop,” including placement process? Can we allow “free agents” and still maintain the admirable goal of derech eretz in clergy employment agreements? More generally, the religious center includes many kehilot that are not Conservative (post-denominational, “unorthodox,” independent, Renewal, Reconstructionist). Do we serve them, too? Does it make sense that group purchasing of insurance or web hosting be done along ideological lines?

    Benefits of USCJ involvement: Will there be tangible benefits to individual synagogue members so they would seek out USCJ congregations? Reciprocity for participation in member programs; shared catalogs of adult learning offerings; or visibly sponsoring or co-sponsoring community events? How much should the average Conservative Jew be expected to care about the USCJ?

    If the current USCJ honestly stated its mission, it might be something like: “Offering rabbinic placement, inter-congregational youth activities, and occasional related services to member-supported congregations lead by RA rabbis.” Is something wrong with that?

    Connections: People want to connect with each other beyond their local communities. In our grandparents’ time, that followed a predictable pattern: an association that adopted a platform, held conventions, ran a central office, and sent out newsletters. Is that model outdated?

    I worked on IT and marketing for the USCJ in the 1990’s. We talked about the potential of technology, and it’s been more disruptive that we imagined. Now, I work for a non-profit hospital group that uses information technology to succeed as a diverse yet integrated system. For an association of synagogues, operational aspects such as membership records, bookkeeping, purchasing, and marketing could be consolidated, with investment in shared infrastructure. With major changes on the table, why not consider this?

    Name change: Would changing the name back to “United Synagogue of America” better reflect our historical mission to serve the entire religious center?

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  20. The Conservative Yeshiva (especially through the availability of the Legacy Heritage fellowships) was a boon to me both professionally and personally. The summer I spent there studying was enriching and rewarding. I truly hope that whatever financial issues the existence of the institution presents, the future of CY is secure and every effort will be made to continue its successes. As a youth professional in the field, it is a place beloved by our USY Pilgrims and Nativ participants. It is so wonderful to have such a great place of our own in Jerusalem.

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  21. From Child Centered to Life Long Learning for USCJ

    The strategic plan for USCJ has an extensive section on improvements to religious education for children from preschool through high school. Such concern for education has been one of the hallmarks of Conservative Judaism and the USCJ since its inception. While the strategic plan does mention “life long learning” there is little in the plan to implement education beyond the high school years. I want to make the case that this concern is too limited and too exclusive for the twenty-first century.

    From the position of demographics, a concentration on education only for children is too narrow a focus. The Jewish community of North America is having far fewer children than since the end of the “baby boom.” In addition, young Jewish adults are waiting far longer to have children than at any time in modern history. These young adults, in many cases, delay both marriage and children until they are in their mid thirties or early forties. While there are many important reasons to focus educational resources on adult learning, the fact is that there will be fewer children being raised by parents not engaged by our congregations during these parents' formative post college years. This is an important reason not to put so much of our resources in the child/youth education basket.

    The need is great to educate Jewish adults who, when they become parents, have little idea about what they want their children to know about being Jewish. A core component of Jewish education is creating a Jewish environment in which to raise the child. While there will always be a need for the community to educate Jewish children, the need is even greater to educate Jewish adults.

    If we can establish life long learning for post college Jews, they will have a lifetime of connection to our Kehillot and are more likely, when they are ready, to become members. We see in many different venues like Limmud, Machon Hadar, The Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, that there is a solid market for young adults looking for advanced Jewish learning. I think one of the reasons we have sent so many of our movement “graduates” to Orthodox congregations is because of the serious learning communities that they find there.

    While we will always need to improve our system of religious education, I think that we should spend as least as many resources of time, money and staffing on creating advanced Jewish learning for all ages as part of the movement's Lifelong Learning Program. It is important enough that it should be included in the Mission as well as in the Vision.


    Respectfully submitted for addition to the strategic plan,
    Rabbi Konigsburg
    Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
    Temple Emeth
    5780 W. Atlantic Ave.
    Delray Beach, FL 33484
    rabbi@temple-emeth.org
    msharmelech@gmail.com
    harmelech@aol.com

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  22. The strategic plan draft for the USCJ states:

    "While the commitment to Conservative Judaism and Conservative congregations is at the core of USCJ’s vision and mission, the new USCJ can become a nexus for serious, post-denominational Judaism as well."

    The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem is the (only?) arm of the USCJ that is working towards this mission. The CY provides students of all backgrounds with serious Torah that embodies the values and ideology of the Conservative Movement. It offers American Jews (and others) an opportunity that no other institution in the world does. The CY is one of the shining successes of the movement. Let's look to the CY as an example of how the rest of the USJC institutions can become relevant and welcoming to all Jewish seekers.

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  23. I'd also like to write in support of the Conservative Yeshiva. An active member of Congregation Beth Sholom - Chevra Shas in Syracuse NY, I've recently served as Adult Education VP and Chair of our Rabbinic Search Committee.
    I had the pleasure of studying at the CY for 3 weeks in the summer of 2009. (In this I'm in good company in our congregation -- 5 of our members have attended a summer session at the CY in recent years.) In addition, I've been able to continue studying there through taking online courses -- right now I'm taking my third course since my visit there.
    The CY is a true jewel of the Conservative Movement. Time spent there is a chance to live a model Jewish life: learning Jewish texts and the Hebrew language in Jerusalem, together with a committed and caring community who study and worship together. There is no other experience that I have had that has better embodied the ideals of Judaism for me. My friends who have attended feel the same way.
    We need to find a way to make this experience available to more people if we want Judaism to thrive in the coming years. I'm trying to find a way to get back there for another session, and in the meantime I cherish the intellectual connection with its strong faculty that the CY's online courses make available. But it is the Jewish life that is lived there in person that is the most precious.
    During this period of reflection on how to strengthen the Conservative Movement, I hope that people will recognize that the Conservative Yeshiva is one of our most valuable assets, and will find a way to strengthen it and to expand its reach.

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  24. A response from Lorri Lewis,

    The draft of the Strategic Plan for the New USCJ is an important step toward the future of a vital USCJ. It is time that we as an organization define our values and vision and create a mission statement we can work to implement now and for the future.

    Outreach to the nondenominational, post-denominational, unaffiliated, independent kehillot and individuals is very important for USCJ. Finding a way to be a part of the Conservative Movement that is not membership dues based is another very important goal.

    USY and Camp Ramah are the two places where the children and teens of our Kehillot learn to live as Conservative Jews. We need to nourish these programs which nourish our young people. The leaders of our future come from these programs. Out movement must do all we can to encourage and nurture our leadership from the bottom up.

    Let me suggest that a number of the values, visions, core functions, and mission stated in the draft document are precisely what Fuchsberg Center programs are now doing with great skill, meaning, and purpose. The Conservative Yeshiva, Nativ, and the Oded programs each teach serious Jewish text study of high quality and relevance to the individuals’ experience, each to a different cohort. Members from our North American Kehillot have opportunities as teens and young adults and mature adults to study in Israel and learn experientially to be engaged with Israel in the various Fuchsberg programs. These are places where adult leaning and adult spiritual development are nourished. One of Nativ’s explicit goals is leadership development. To be an effective leader in the Jewish world one must be educated as a Jew. The Yeshiva’s online classes offer quality, high level classes to members of our Kehillot where ever they are geographically located.

    Over more than 30 years years my family has spent several sabbaticals in Jerusalem. I have studied with marvelous teachers at both the Conservative Yeshiva and in the Oded program and other adult education programs before the name Fuchsberg was attached to the complex.. Because Oded classes are open to drop in students as well as adults living in Jerusalem, I have met many interesting people who stop in at Fuchsberg for a class or two or for a few weeks while they are tourists in Jerusalem. Rabbi Gail Diamond teaches a class on the writings between the close of the Tanach and the beginning of Mishna which I attended in 2006-2007 then again in 2010. Many of the same students, who are permanent residents in Jerusalem, were still in the class when I returned, there were also new students, both regulars and visitors.

    CY offers the only place in Israel where gap year teens can learn Torah in an egalitarian environment as part of Nativ. North American rabbinical students, Jewish educators, Kehillot members find themselves studying together in the Beit Midrash of CY for a year or a few weeks, no where else can this be found in an egalitarian setting from the Conservative perspective. As part of congregational tours to Israel our groups have spent time studying at CY with CY faculty, this is always a particularly meaningful experience for the travelers.

    How many members of our Kehillot find themselves in Jerusalem with a need to say kaddish?. At Fuchsberg our members find minyanim that accept them and count them in the shul or the yeshiva or with Nativ. Where else can the women of USCJ Kehillot be counted in Jerusalem for Shacharit or Mincha or Maariv? This is an invaluable service to our North America members and our Jerusalem community.

    These are a few examples of what, I believe, make the Fuchsberg Center programs an important component for USCJ to live its vision and fulfill its mission. Without our own center and presence in Jerusalem, USCJ looses credibility and relevance among world Jewry.

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  25. Jonathan S. GreenbergFebruary 16, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    Executive Summary Recommendation 13.0, and in particular, the reference to the lead District professional as the "District Relationship Manager": From both a philosophical and a nomenclature perspective, I recommend that this title be changed:

    --From a philosophical perspective, a "relationship" is a means to an end. The end (the goal) of the USCJ is and should be the provision of content and meaning through delivered services. A relationship (or a series of relationships) does not constitute an end in and of itself.

    --From a nomenclature perspective, calling the lead District professional a District Relationship Manager trivializes the critical role of that professional. An executive recruiter (a/k/a a "headhunter") is a relationship manager, but delivers little in the way of content or meaning.

    --My Recommendation: The lead District professionals should be called "District Services Directors." They are working in a District, and they are directing the delivery of services. Their name should reflect the true value that their jobs entail.

    --This comment applies everywhere in the Plan where the "District Relationship Manager" is currently referenced.

    Recommendation 3.1: There is no basis stated for why educational programs should be reorganized by type of consumer rather than by type of service or product. The proposed reorganization principle necessarily suggests that any professional who works with (for example) teens can work on anything with teens. Wisdom and experience teach that that proposition is not a sound proposition. Rather, wisdom and experience teach that, for example, a Solomon Schechter Day School teacher, on the one hand, and a USY educator, on the other hand, have and should have different skill sets in order to deliver services that are for sure related, but which nevertheless are and should be distinct services. Given that there is no basis stated in support for a proposed reorganization in this regard, and given that wisdom and experience, to the contrary, suggest that it would not be sound to reorganize in this regard, it makes sense for 3.1 in fact to be deleted.

    Recommendation 13.6: I recommend that a few words be added to the end of this Recommendation:

    --The Recommended Revised Text: "Regional USY Activities will be addressed in the overall approach to integrating formal and experiential educational programs, consistent with the direction of the International Youth Commission of the USCJ."

    --The rationale for the Recommended Revised Text is that the USCJ has already recognized the need for a distinct strategic plan for USY and Kadima. That distinct strategic plan has been driven to date, and continues to be driven as to its implementation, by the International Youth Commission.

    --There can be no concern about the International Youth Commission's ability to drive changes that are necessary and appropriate as regards USY and Kadima with an appropriate sense of urgency. This is demonstrated by the objective fact that the International Youth Commission's strategic plan was completed months in advance of the USCJ's own strategic plan.

    --And, referring to the USCJ's own strategic plan, the International Youth Commission is populated by the very "highly skilled and trained" volunteers (see Recommendation 13.4) that the USCJ's own plan designates as necessary partners for the implementation of the USCJ's own plan.

    --Though it is not appropriate to add too much detail/too much verbiage in a strategic plan document, the twelve additional words that are recommended above do not significantly increase the word count of the Plan, but do constitute an essential addition, for the reasons articulated above.

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  26. I write from Nice, France, and must be brief because of heavy professional responsibilities at the moment. My study at the Conservative Yeshiva in June-July 2009 remains one of the highlights of my spiritual and intellectual way of these last years. I hope to have the chance to study again soon with the brilliant teachers and in the stimulating atmosphere of the Conservative Yeshiva . Joanna Kubar

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  27. Please allow Project Oded at the Fuchsberg Center, Jerusalem, to continue. I have been a student of "Hebrew for Hebrew Speakers" for about 12 years. Before coming to those classes, I wouldn't dare speak Hebrew even though I have a very good background in the language. I am also a student of Rabbi Ed Romm's Parsha of the Week class. I look forward to his class every week. The Hebrew class and the Torah class are the focal points of my week. Roberta

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  28. The Fuchsberg Center and Conservative Yeshiva form an oasis in the desert of Orthodox/Haredi institutions in Jerusalem & Israel

    I’ve spent over 275 days in Jerusalem since 1994- 5 trips more than a month long. My husband and I studied at CY for summer 2005. Until the Fuchsberg Center and CY were around, I never really felt my time in Jerusalem was “shalem- complete.” My spiritual life was not fulfilled until I found Masorti Kehillot in the neighborhoods we stay, but that was for shabbat. Having the Fuchsberg Center in the middle of town & studying other times at CY, dropping in for a class or lecture whenever I am in Jerusalem, is what has made my time in Jerusalem feel like home. I went to CY for dad’s yahrzeit when none of the Masorti kehillot had maariv.

    Our extended time at CY is a learning experience we cherish each day and hope to repeat. It is a place unlike anywhere else in Jerusalem, Israel or even the US. CY is a unique place for learning. While RS/ CS students study there for their year in Israel (great for other students), it is mostly for those of us who are not Jewish professionals or educators. Most of the students are on the younger side of the demographic-great for all the right reasons. Faculty is top notch, engaging, concerned about each student-their love of Klal Yisrael shows through , too. I strongly believe that the CY has, and will, train the lay leaders of the Conservative movement who will be key players in helping our movement grow and prosper now and in the coming years. It engages people where they are in their learning, therefore it is for everyone. It teaches not just Jewish texts but Conservative movement philosophy, tikkun olam, love of Israel, etc. The connection with NATIV, USY, Ramah, USCJ, Masorti, etc. is critical.

    I am not a rabbi, hazzan or trained educator. I have a strong hebrew school background, some college Hebrew, and until recently, was chair of the adult education committee at our large suburban synagogue for almost 10 years, winning multiple GOLD Solomon Schechter awards from USCJ in the past several years. I just completed my duties as the chair of the Lifelong Learning Taskforce at my synagogue, which evaluated how best to serve our adult learners in the next year, the next five years and beyond.

    I think my background qaulifies me to say how important the CY and Fuchsberg Center is to our Conservative Movement, and therefore by extension, to our Masorti movement in Israel and the Diaspora, as well. It is a great place for HS, college, post college students, and adults to connect. I know not all of our USCJ congregants can or will have the opportunity to study at CY, or even visit Israel, but we still need to support this outstanding and unique and very high quality learning institution for those who can avail themselves of the study.Those who can’t be there in person can take advantage of their excellent onlne learning program.

    The Fuchsberg Center provides a place for those in our movement to meet, greet, have a tour, and connect with others. Its importance is likely difficult to under-stand if one has not been there, or often. Israel is a core value of our movement and Fuchsberg/CYis an important part of our Israel experience, in addition to praying and learning at our Masorti kehillot as well,

    I can say what a loss it would be to our movement’s future leaders and to all who can attend classes, in person or online at the CY, or just come to Fuchsberg for a few hours for a program, if the funds to them were cut.

    I understand that the expense is not insignificant at Fuchsberg and CY, but if people are educated about the outstanding opportunity both Fuchsberg and CY offer our congregants and that our current and future lay leaders are being trained there, I believe we will be able to raise more funds to support this oasis for Conservative/Masorti Jews in Israel, and in Jerusalem in particular-

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  29. I am glad there was mention of “ sustain a culture of Lifelong Jewish Learning” in the strategic plan, but it seems to center mostly on pre-school through high school and maybe college-the latter which seems to be on the chopping block now. Why not include adults in the mission and vision of lifelong learning at USCJ? It is imperative we educate our adults as well as our younger members. Parents can educate their children more easily and more thoroughly if they are knowledgable Jews. Jewish learning is for life!!

    Appropriate Lifelong learning opportunities will contribute to the strength of each Kehillah by retaining current and helping to recruit new members, both key to the survival of all of our kehillot. Adult Jewish learning can help congregants feel connected to their congregation/kehilla and to their congregational community.

    “Learning is the best outreach tool we have for transforming marginal Jews into committed involved adult Jews. . . all the studies on Jewish identity show that Jews who do more, do so across the board. .  they care  more about community, Israel, and they give of their resources to maintain Jewishlife. Investing in Adult Jewish learning makes good sense for building a strong Jewish future.“ Rabbi Art Ver- non, Agenda: Jewish Education,JESNA summer 1999 

    A famous discussion in the Talmud (Kiddusin 40b) debates the relative merits of “study” versus “action.” Though convincing arguments are mounted on both sides, the matter is resolved by Rabbi Akiva, who concludes that “Study is greater than action because it leads to action.” . . . Contemporary Jews first must begin to understand the Jewish experience, and make enough of that experience their own. . . “ ( Dr Hal Lewis, Pres/CEO of Spertus, Chicago, Feb 10, 2011 JTA online article)

    I think we can learn much from these wise statements above- Many of our more engaged, knowledgable and/or more observant congregants, especially from our younger demographic, educated via Ramah, USY, Schechter, JTS, and/or CY, etc. often go to the Orthodox world because they can’t study enough in most of our kehillot- rather problematic to say the least. We can change this now.

    Adult Jewish learning is key for our Conservative movement now and for a bright future.

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  30. The Conservative Yeshiva is without question one of the most important and successful components of the Conservative movement. While many in the movement may not be aware of the Fuchsberg Center and its offerings, this represents not a problem with the center or the Yeshiva, but of the movements publicizing and using its resources effectively. The Conservative Yeshiva is a true house of learning that enables serious students of Torah to remain within the conservative movement and participate in a high level of learning otherwise not regularly available outside of the Orthodox world. Further, the Yeshiva represents an ideal, one in which Jews live serious lives of study without necessarily becoming rabbis.

    The level of study is unparalleled and the environment of the Yeshiva is both inspiring and critical in developing and spreading Torah Lishma.

    The movement should be growing the Yeshiva and encouraging all its young people to spend time there. It is a place where college students can study alongside Rabbis and PhDs, a place where people of all ages are able to develop a deep love for Judaism in a strong, sophisticated, egalitarian context. Without it, many find themselves drawn to the many similar environments in the Orthodox world.

    I would hope that the goals becomes to encourage more and more people to experience study at the Yeshiva and create other Yeshivot in its style.

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  31. I am a graduate college student who was heavily involved in USY throughout high school and who studied in Israel (Ben-Gurion University). I heard of the Fuchsberg Center often during my USY years as a home I would have in Israel. I stayed there while on Poland/Israel Pilgrimage. The staff were friendly and the facilities great. It is one of the distinct memories I have of my first trip to Israel. When I studied in Israel, I was connected with a family and synagogue through the Fuchsberg Center - connections that made that time in Israel an amazing experience and allowed me to create lasting relationships that resulted in places to stay and people to visit with on a subsequent trip. The College Outreach programs were amazing - helping me find a family to stay with for holidays and allowing me to meet other Conservative college students/Yeshiva students in Israel. I would be amiss not to credit these programs and opportunities as key to how much I enjoyed Israel and increasing my desire to return.

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  32. I applaud your efforts to serve the young adult population - one that has been long neglected (I know because I'm one of them). I do hope it's more than lip service. If such an effort is not properly funded, you might as well not do it.

    Don't think you can reach us without a framework. That framework needs to come from the college campus. If you severely diminish your efforts on campus, I assure you that allegiances will be made with those who are making it a priority, which mainly means Chabad and Orthodoxy.

    Hillel will not meet our needs as Conservative Jews. They have shied away from most things denominational.

    I know synagogues are important - they are the "bread and butter" of USCJ. But if you don't put adequate resources into the 18-30 age group there will be very few synagogues left to serve.

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  33. I have to echo so many of the comments that have been shared in support of the excellent program of they CY and the Fuchsberg Center. I have a bit of a different perspective. I am a lifelong and active member of the reform movement in the US. As a new career about 10 years ago I becomea a Jewish educator. The shul I had been a member of and worked at, merged with a conservative shul, so we are now a dual-congregation. I actually learned about the CY program from another active member of the reform movement who knew I was interested in serious and high level Jewish adult learning. The CY is such a treasure for what is otherwise so sorely lacking in the "liberal" Jewish work, a place where adults can do serious and sophisticated learning. The future of our people is dependent on the realization that Judaism is not just a pediatric religion. I attended the CY program last summer and found it to be an amazing place where adults of all ages and all backgrounds from the liberal traditions,can come and study with great teachers. What a treasure. What needs to happen is that the conservative movement has to figure out a way to make this treasure better knows to the outside world. Last summer was one of the greatest experiences, getting to study and live in Jerusalem. Thanks to the staff and faculty at CY for all they do. The strategic plan needs to figure out ways to promote and encourage this program not just in the conservative movement. Shabbat Shalom. Jeff Agron

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  34. My time at the CY was deeply transformational...and I know this sentiment was shared by my many friends. The CY should be a priority for the Conservative movement--it has already been achieving the future vision of "denominational" Judaism...and, frankly, is the most exciting/promising element of the Conservative movement.

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  35. I have spent two summers at The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and would like to do in future. For me, living in Europe, with no clear denominational bounds, it's a perfect place to learn and share in a friendly, egalitarian, cross-denominational settings with brilliant faculty. It is also a rare opportunity to meet with the Americans and exchange ideas, at the summer program there are special interests groups for rabbis, educators, and community staff. CY is not only about high quality Jewish learning, not only about practical skills mastering (e.g.Torah reading, Nusakh etc.), but also networking and building bridges. Yasher koakh!

    Alexander Grodensky,
    Vienna, Austria

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  36. I'm a third year college student at a major, mid-size university. While we have a wonderful Hillel, if it wasn't for Koach, there would be no opportunity for me and my friends to identify as Conservative Jews. Don't abandon us.

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  37. The lay leadership and Senior Rabbi of Temple Sholom in Greenwich, Connecticut has created a detailed analysis and comments to the Draft Strategic Plan which is too long to post. If you would like a copy please email steve.katz@templesholom.com

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  38. Laurence ScheindlinFebruary 25, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    At a time of cut-backs nothing is more predictable than every affected group raising its voice in protest. But one hopes that a strategic planning document would at least be founded on facts and, from there, move on to plans for the future. How is it possible for the USCJ’s strategic planning document to refer explicitly to the Solomon Schechter Day School Association as an organization “outside of USCJ” (p. 12, item 3.3)? The Association’s small staff are employees of USCJ and report directly to its executives, its offices are at the USCJ, its budget is part of USCJ’s, and it is funded partly by dues of member schools and partly by USCJ funds.

    If the foundational facts are so blatantly wrong, one must question the value of the future plans articulated in the document. In the area of education, informal and formal education, supplementary school and day school education have been blurred into a single framework by age. While “linking silos” is in vogue, it is an error not to identify the need for specific types of expertise in different types of programs. The range of expertise needed in day school work is vastly different from that required for working with, let’s say, teens in a club or even camp setting. (It is not clear either what the commitment is to supplementary education for that matter).

    The Schechter Association has a strategic plan of its own that outlines initiatives important to Schechter schools and therefore to the movement, yet the USCJ document takes no cognizance of it.

    All of the above does not add up to a call for the status quo. Far from it. New configurations of Schechter, the United Synagogue and organizations that truly are “outside” may be the productive paradigms for the future. But Schechter will continue to need support, financial and otherwise, from the movement so that it can continue to serve Schechter schools and the movement as a whole. Placing it "outside" the organization's deliberations is an unfortunate strategic error.

    Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin
    Headmaster, Sinai Akiba Academy, Los Angeles
    Past president, Solomon Schechter Day School Association

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  39. My name is Gabriela Geselowitz, and I am a Sophomore at Hunter College and the William E. Macaulay Honors College. I went to a Schechter School and was active in USY.

    I am passionate about the Conservative Movement, and I need its support always. Koach has been an integral part of my College Experience, and my Jewish life would decrease in quality without its existence.

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  40. It is great that so much work has gone into this proposal and that people are taking the time to discuss and analyze the major issues that confront our movement today. However, it seems like you have spent a year creating a proposal that says nothing. You have created a 30 some page document that says nothing. This document does not actually say anything. I am glad that the issues are being discussed, but we are at a crossroads and this is a time to do something not sit around and talk about. If resources are as low as we are constantly being told they are then it is pivotal to stop wasting them creating documents that have no meaning.

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  41. I am currently sitting in Evanston, IL at my first Koach Kallah. Hearing that the new USCJ plan involves a severe cut in the Koach budget and possibly an end to this fantastic event was quite unsettling.

    My upstate NY college campus has a large number of Conservative Jews but they are largely inactive in our campus Hillel. I am the daughter of a Conservative Rabbi and I have attended Ramah, as well as, USY. I felt it my duty to play a role in maintaining and helping the Hillel on our campus to grow. The Hillel has been struggling significantly in past years; we no longer have a Rabbi, but we have managed to start turning the negative view of the Hillel on our campus around.

    Coming to this Kallah, I have had the great privilege to meet with other Jewish leaders on their respective campuses. It is hard to describe how reassuring it is to hear that other active Conservative Jewish students are doing the same things on their campuses as I am trying to do on mine. The ability to meet with this amazing group of people from colleges and universities all over the United States, a group of people who clearly care deeply about their affiliation with the Conservative movement, has given me a new way to approach what we can do at my home campus to try and keep students who grew up as Conservative Jews, within the Conservative movement.

    This Kallah event is very important. These leaders on campuses are the kids who were active in Ramah, in USY, who went to Conservative synagogues. They are working very hard to keep the college Jewish communities alive. If these leaders are not given the chance to hear from others like them, the efforts they put in to campus Jewish communities start to seem hopeless. Communication with other members of the larger Koach community provides the inspiration and means to continue strengthening the Conservative Jewish presence on campus.

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  42. I was very fortunate to attend the KOACH Kallah this past weekend and had the privilege to review USCJ strategic plan for the upcoming fiscal year. I attend Miami University of Ohio which has a very small Jewish population. Miami University's Hillel relies heavily on funding from KOACH to support the only religious programming on campus. Without this programming, our Hillel would have no religious learning program and we would lose a vital aspect of Jewish life on campus. I would urge USCJ to reconsider budget cuts to the national KOACH fund because many universities rely on funding from KOACH to support important religious learning on their campuses.

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  43. Our fear is that because of this flourish of kiruv, the future of American Judaism will look quite like the emerging situation in Israel and Europe: a majority secular population that turns to ultra-Orthodox rabbis when in need of something Jewish. We are committed to making Conservative Judaism a viable option for the 21st century and any alternative to this outcome is simply unacceptable. But unless we act today to stand up for our values on college campuses, this will be where we are headed.

    KOACH also has the potential to offer an alternative to the social programming and social action focus of some Hillels. People accustomed to the passionate prayer and learning of Conservative Judaism feel that their patterns of observance, especially on issues of prayer and egalitarianism are not supported within some of these Hillels.

    But some campuses are devoid of any Jewish programming. Jews in colleges in rural areas or campuses without a significant population of Jews feel neglected and forgotten by the Jewish community or are only served sporadically and superficially. For these students, the only viable solution is a national, short-term convention program to inspire and minister to these students and equip them with leadership and religious skills to cultivate Conservative Jewish life on their campuses. The KOACH Kallah should be continued to fill this need and serve students on small campuses. For students from more developed campuses and others, the KOACH Kallah provides a unique opportunity to engage in advanced Jewish learning from a uniquely Conservative perspective.

    We would like to see KOACH transformed along the lines of the new USCJ: an organization that provides resources, expertise, grants, and opportunities for learning and spiritual development. As with the rest of USCJ, we want KOACH to focus on building communities and broad-based participation, not only the leadership development of the elite.

    With this in mind, we offer the following as one potential model for what a new KOACH might look like:
    • Continue the grants program as seed money for Conservative Jewish programming on strong and developing campuses. Strict evaluation and following up will ensure money is well-spent. Interns and facilitators should be volunteer or only paid expenses.
    • The Kallah should be used as a way to fill a deep void in serving students on small campuses with minimal Jewish infrastructure. This is the only such program in the country and has an opportunity to make deep impact with relatively small expenditure.
    • The KOACH Shabbat program should continue but should be a designated Shabbat weekend with programming implemented and tweaked on a per-campus basis by the local students, with the option of hosting a visiting scholar at their own expense.

    With limited and focused investments, the Mahar Coalition looks forward to a brighter tomorrow where KOACH fills the voids on the Jewish college scene by serving students, particularly those on small campuses, through national programming, contributing back to the local community through campus-synagogue partnerships and pooling the resources of our movement to do something that no one congregation can do alone. Groups of college students are no less a kehilla than an established synagogue and deserve the full support of USCJ to ensure a vigorous and vibrant future.

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  44. Mahar Coalition מחר חברת

    Feburary 27, 2011
    Evanston, IL
    Open Statement from the Mahar Coalition

    The Mahar Coalition, a group of concerned alumni, participants and future participants in the USCJ’s KOACH program, advocates for a better, more effective and satisfactory alternative to the current restructuring of KOACH, as suggested in section 4 and 5 of the proposed USCJ Strategic Plan. We believe that the drastic cuts to the KOACH program lack nuance and are blunt, ineffective and counterproductive. We speak for ourselves and for current high school students who are unaware of these potential changes to their college experience. To our knowledge, no college-aged people were consulted in the initial strategic plan draft, so we would like to take this opportunity to share our thoughts.

    We understand and appreciate that USCJ is moving towards a value-added model. As KOACH students, we want both to contribute and to benefit from this system in cost-effective ways that are based on the particularities of the college experience. We hope to find locally- based ways to contribute to the greater Conservative movement. We look forward to establishing fruitful partnerships with local synagogues to offer our services as mentors for high school students on issues of college admission and emerging Jewish adulthood, as volunteer tutors, or as collaborators on social action projects. So, potential partnerships between synagogues and campuses, while a way for college students to contribute to the system, by no means diminishes the need to invest in the future of Conservative Judaism on the college campus. It is very unlikely that students, who tend to live in their school’s “bubble”, will go off-campus on a regular basis for services or other events. Students supported today will yield leadership and participants for USCJ institutions, both on college campuses and in other communities, in the future.

    As soon-to-be young adults, we applaud and appreciate the increased effort in serving young adults. However, this effort does not warrant the reduction of college programming. As the Strategic Plan notes, “the North American Jewish community has made a much more substantial investment in Jewish life on the college campus than it has in the young adult post-college generation.” The college Judaism space is crowded precisely because it is so important. More than any other unifying activity, young Jews today go to college—almost 90% of them. Students, at the cusp of their adult lives, explore their values and what kind of life they want to lead. College students are concentrated on campuses, and, free of professional and familial responsibilities, they have the time to commit to serious thinking, study, and community participation. Any Jewish community that wants a future must have a presence on college campuses.

    We believe that KOACH has the potential to fill several significant voids in the College Jewish community. In recent years and decades, a variety of ultra-Orthodox "kiruv" organizations have sprung up on dozens of campuses nationwide. Typically, these types of organizations dispatch a rabbi and his family to a campus, with the goal of bringing Jewish college students closer to their brand of Judaism.

    Through home-style hospitality, classes that they pay students to take, free trips to Israel and one on one time, these rabbis and rebbetzins sometimes succeed in convincing students that these rabbis represent "real" Judaism, that as they go through their lives, the student should turn to them for guidance, community and lifecycle matters—and not to the liberal communities in which they grew up.

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  45. My name is Robyn Goldman and I'm a student at Hofstra University. Since aging out of USY, I haven't had a place where I felt I truly belonged. My first year of college, I felt truly alone as a Conservative Jew. After driving the director of Hillel crazy with all my ideas for a brighter future for Conservative Judaism, he offered me the opportunity to go to Brandise Bardin and be a part of Koach Kallah. That weekend changed my life. I met my best friend there and cannot imagine my life without her. In addition, the torah study and the discussions were vital in my growth as a Jew and as a person. I was truly inspired and went back to my campus more determined than ever to help share my excitement for Conservative Judaism with others. I applied for the Koach Internship and became an intern on my campus Sophomore Year. I learned so much from the internship and that has also changed me forever. I went to Kallah that year as an Intern and ended up meeting my boyfriend, a loving Conservative Jew that I hope to spend the rest of my life with. If not for Kallah, I would never have met him, and would not be the person I am today. This year, I was on the planning committee for the Kallah. I worked harder than ever before to make sure that it was a wonderful experience for those who were returning from past years, but also to make sure it rivaled my first Kallah. From the start of Kallah, the spirit of the 73 students who were able to afford to come was unbelievable. Just singing together in a circle brought tears to many eyes. As the weekend continued, so did our spirit. When we learned that the new strategic plan was going to cost us everything, something amazing happened. Within 24 hours, a coalition was mobilized and a fight began. We are fighting to save what is to many of us the most important weekend of the year. At Kallah, no one is alone, no one doesn't belong, and everyone attending is a Jewish leader in their own way. I would not be who I am without Koach and I hope I have expressed that in my story. We are not the future of Conservative Judaism... we ARE Conservative Judaism. If USCJ doesn't hold a continued presence on college campuses and doesn't provide for the students, there won't be a Conservative Movement for much longer. You will lose some of the most spirited people in the movement and I fear the movement will never recover. Please don't let this happen! Reconsider your stand on the college student and help us to remain active in the movement and help us to be the leaders we already strive to be.

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  46. The first paragraph on page 5 of the draft of the "Strategic Plan for the New USCJ" outlines the general characteristics of Jews in the center of Conservative Judaism. While this description may apply to a significant number of congregants in New York City and similar metropolitan areas, it describes only a small segment of the Jewish population in our area and even of the membership in our synagogue. I don’t believe that our congregation is unique in having a membership where a significant fraction of our members do not place high importance on prayer conducted largely in Hebrew, on social events with a distinctively Jewish take, and on Jewish text learning.

    I recognize that there are some large synagogues whose membership is accurately defined on page 5, and that these congregants represent a majority of the USCJ membership. But if the Strategic Plan is designed for a congregation of Jews whose center fits the description as outlined, it is not recognizing the reality that faces congregations who want to sustain Conservative Judaism in areas with less than ideal Jewish demographics.

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  47. The new USCJ strategic plan says that "Conservative congregations face financial stress, declining and aging membership, a narrow leadership base, weak denominational commitment, and a loss of meaning for many younger people."

    To me personally, this is USCJ recognizing that more young people need to get involved with the Conservative Movement. However, the new strategic plan cuts funding for college programming (KOACH) down to about one quarter of what is was just a few years ago. It is extremely hypocritical for the leaders of USCJ to say that they want a bright future for the movement, but continue to cut funding to the programs that educate and engage college-age Jews.

    Granted, Hillel and other organizations spend a large amount of money trying to keep university students involved in Jewish life, but in my experience Hillel is somewhat afraid to be religious, because they want to engage all Jews on campus, including the non-religious. Furthermore, certain Orthodox programs are now paying students to go study in Israel, or even take a series of classes to learn about the 'real' (Orthodox) Jewish values.

    'The college Judaism space is crowded precisely because it is so important. More than any other unifying activity, young Jews today go to college—almost 90% of them. Students, at the cusp of their adult lives, explore their values and what kind of life they want to lead. College students are concentrated on campuses, and, free of professional and familial responsibilities, they have the time to commit to serious thinking, study, and community participation. Any Jewish community that wants a future must have a presence on college campuses.' (Mahar Coalition)

    The leaders need to realize that the Conservative Movement will cease to exist without young and proud Conservative Jews to lead the way. The leaders must also realize that only a small fraction of Jewish leaders go to Ramah, List College, JTS, or any formal religious school. The students at the schools represent such a small fraction of the over one million Conservative Jews in North America.

    I have been a participant in KOACH for the past three and a half years on my college campus (The University of Texas at Austin). I have participated in the KOACH Kallah the past two years, and have brought much of the energy and ruach from my fellow KOACHniks around the country back to my school. We (students) see the problem in not providing us any funding because our friends, our family, our mishpachah are the ones leaving the Conservative Movement in favor of other brands of Judaism that can offer them opportunities in learning (from having a Rabbi present to answer any questions), funding for trips (i.e. Shabbatons, Israel, New York), and just in general doing a better job of pushing their own values.

    When the active Conservative Jewish college students must spend their time lobbying for a right to exist (or even some recognition) even within their own movement, you know something is wrong.

    -Brandon Plost
    Member of the Mahar Coalition
    http://maharcoalition.blogspot.com/

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  48. Funding campus programming is important. KOACH has virtually no staff presence on campus. Chabad has *two* dedicated staff members on most campuses and they're working hard to expand that. If you're wondering why so many kids grow up in the Conservative movement and become Orthodox during college, do the math. College students need religious guidance during college, and we're not there for them.

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  49. The USCJ mission statement in the draft strategic plan calls for both the strengthening of our current kehillot as well as the encouragement and building of new kehillot.

    Important Considerations:
    1. New Vs Existing Kehillot: The strengthening of existing kehillot and the building of new ones are both described as core functions of USCJ. USCJ needs to carefully consider when and how to implement these core functions so they do not come into conflict with each other and the limited resources of USCJ can be maximized.

    2. In communities where there are large geographic areas separating current USCJ congregations, both the establishment of new kehillot or satellites might help bring Conservative Judaism to underserved populations.

    3. In large metropolitan areas with established USCJ congregations, very careful analysis is required before seeding new kehillot or establishing satellites. The presence of large young adult populations should not intrinsically suggest that they are not being adequately serviced by existing kehillot. We cannot assume that new kehillot are needed in every area where young adults happen to reside. On a case by case basis we should determine whether investing in the outreach and programming efforts of existing USCJ kehillot would be more effective then establishing new kehillot or satellites.

    Implementation:.
    1. USCJ needs to establish standards and guidelines both for strengthening existing kehillot and seeding new ones. Needs assessments should precede the establishment of new kehillot as well as impact analysis on existing kehillot in the geographic area.

    2. Needs assessment, funding and resource allocations for new kehillot should be managed by the district offices and not by existing USCJ congregations.

    3. If a new kehillah is going to be established, the USCJ affiliate(s) in close geographic proximity should be invited to partner with USCJ.

    4. Many USCJ affiliates are currently striving to serve young adult populations. We all know and understand that is where the future lies. Today’s young adults will later require weddings, children’s education and B’nai Mitzvot. USCJ must be commended for its efforts in attempting to retain this important target population as part of the Conservative Movement. However, care should be taken to insure that existing congregations do not attempt to establish either new kehillot or satellites’ in the back yard of another USCJ congregation. This could allow large congregations with more resources to diminish the potential of smaller existing USCJ congregations and thus be counterproductive to the overall mission of USCJ in strengthening our current kehillot.

    5. Each district office should appoint an ombudsman to resolve any issues regarding the establishment of new kehillot or satellites.

    Marvin M. Weinstein, President
    Central Synagogue of Chicago
    The Traditional Egalitarian Conservative Kehillah at Water Tower Place

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  50. Ko’ach must not have its funding impeded. It has created an esprit de corps among Conservative students in recent years that has made them proud of their Conservative heritage and origins in a strength that I have never seen before in forty years of campus work. Their gathering at Conferences, the Campus presence of Rabbi Elyse Winick, and the Rabbinic interns that come for Shabbat give our students an institutional loyalty that inspires not just the current campus leadership but their freshmen successors as well.

    Don’t cut!

    rjp

    Rabbi Joseph Polak
    Director of The Florence and Chafetz Hillel House
    at Boston University, and University Chaplain

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  51. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  52. From the perspective of a small liberal arts school, with no KOACH on campus...our Jewish Life and pride is dwindling...the MAJORITY of Jewish students seeing nothing appealing in Hillel or chabad because they were brought up conservative. Jewish life is failing on our campus...these brilliant students with so much capability will now not be the strong Jewish leaders they were raised to be because their passion has dwindled away. WE NEED KOACH and we need it now...keep it alive and bring it everywhere!
    College students are the future of Judaism, with no home base for conservative jews on many college campus...These pasionate young jewish leaders loose their voice! They loose interest and basically this
    leads to more intermarriage, more assimilation and more dwindling of the Jewish Conservative movement.
    This is SCARY

    Female, 20, New York

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  53. I attend a University with a strong Jewish presence and a relatively large number of commit Conservative Jews. I am very fortunate in this sense. Other students are not as lucky. They struggle to find a Jewish community, a Shabbat experience and opportunities for Jewish learning. USCJ needs to continue to support KOACH and increase KOACH's funding. Without KOACH students turn to other organizations, mostly Orthodox ones, or lose touch with their Judaism for 4 years. How can we expect these people to become the next leaders in the Conservative movement? KOACH needs to strengthen it's presence on these campuses and not give up on them. For many college students the KOACH Kallah is their only opportunity to spend Shabbat with other young and committed Conservative Jews. Those who attend are the future of the Conservative movement and the Kallah must continue even if it's budget is significantly lower than it has been in the past. Keep Koach strong!

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  54. I am one of those people that the strategic plan talks about. I no longer identify as a Conservative Jew because I do not agree with denominations as an idea. I believe that they attempt to unify and put a label on a group that is not cohesive, and this forces differences to be erased. If we are truly pluralistic, than we should recognize that everyone practices and relates to their Judaism differently, and give people the tools to make informed choices. Trying to bind people who are different into one united front is stifling and alienating. The Conservative movement is the perfect case in point. If the movement tries to define itself by its elite, than the majority of people who only go to shul on Yom Kippur are left out. They have always been Conservative. Who's to say that they are not Conservative now? On the other hand, if it chooses to define itself by its majority, than the elite will feel alienated. Anyway you choose, it's going to leave people out. This is why I don't appreciate denominations. They do not identify a group that already exists in the world but try to impose characteristics on a very disparate group of people.
    It is not only me that feels this way. Most people I know, from various Jewish backgrounds, feel this way. But there is a reason it's a bigger issue for the Conservative movement. A non-egalitarian traditional friend of mine does not identify as Orthodox because he does not believe in denominations. He does, however, feel comfortable in and Orthodox praying space and in an Orthodox community. He therefore davens with and supports that community, regardless of his ideology. I do not identify as Conservative because I do not believe in denominations. I do not feel comfortable in most Conservative synagogues. Therefore, I seek out communities that enrich me and that I am comfortable in, regardless of ideology. This, than, is my main point. Is is great that the movement is trying to turn synagogues into "kehillot" and to make people like me feel more welcome. That's wonderful. But it's not going to make me identify as a Conservative Jew, because that's an ideological issue. If I don't want to be labeled, I won't choose this label over another.
    This is coming from a place of deep respect. I am a movement baby: Rabbi's kid, 12 years of Schechter, USY, Ramah, and Nativ. But it is because of what I have learned and seen over my years that I feel so strongly. My upbringing gave me such a love for Jewish community and identity that I care enough to take these questions seriously.
    I believe that great change is taking place, not just for Conservative Judaism, but for the entire Jewish community. I am going to devote my life to that change. I want to be on the front lines. Do denominations have a place in this future? That has yet to be decided.

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  55. KOACH on campus provides an opportunity for the “best and brightest” of the Conservative movement to participate in their Judaism as well as to teach and engage others who were not fortunate enough to be involved in youth programming in high school. By removing KOACH from the campuses, Conservative Jewish undergraduates will thirst for a presence which no longer exists and will simply migrate to post-denominational or Orthodox Judaism earlier. College is where many students define themselves—secularly as well as Jewishly—and without parameters for Jewish students, some may lose touch with their Judaism all together. In order to keep the “best and brightest”—the products of USCJ programs—within the movement and giving back to the movement, there needs to be a Conservative option on campus which provides engaging and educational religious and social experiences with other Conservative Jews from the same college as well as from colleges across the United States.
    Conservative Jusdaism needs to be more accessible to Jewish students who are leaving home but still wish to be engaged with their community. Removing KOACH from college campuses will make Conservative Judaism less accessible to undergraduate and graduate students, potentially isolating them from communities which they could impact strongly in their adult lives. In a few years, there will not be any adult Conservative Jews if the current college-age Conservative Jews have no community in which to grow and develop.
    KOACH is an investment in Conservative Judaism’s future, the benefits of which can be seen even before engaged college students graduate. Conservative Jewish college students are teaching in local Conservative Hebrew Schools, in a sense “paying forward” the education they received in order to engage a new generation of Conservative Jews. Conservative Jewish college students are making meaningful impacts on their campuses, holding interfaith programming in an effort to create peace and understanding between students of different religions. The programs we run today may be the impetus for understanding and cooperation tomorrow. Engaged Conservative Jews are staffing USY trips, Ramah programs, and religious schools, and are providing some of the greatest Israel advocacy in the United States today.
    Conservative Jewish college students are benefiting from the opportunities we have been given, and we recognize the importance of investing in the future of the movement. We can only continue to make this impact while we, ourselves, are being invested in through campus programs like KOACH. We are the future Rabbis, Cantors, teachers, educators, USY directors, Ramah directors, and USCJ CEOs. We are the future Jewish mothers and fathers who will light Shabbat candles with our children each week and send our children to Hebrew school to learn how to invest themselves in Conservative Judaism. We hope that our children will have the same outlet to be strong Conservative Jews that we were fortunate enough to have.
    At this past KOACH Kallah, Dr. Finkelstein spoke about the need for the USCJ to listen to the students who are quickly becoming the movement’s future leaders. We are speaking out, and we are ready to lead now. I fully support the MAHAR Coalition’s potential model for a new KOACH. We students are passionate about maintaining the opportunities for learning and development which we were given as students, and we want to ensure that our friends, siblings, and children will have the same opportunities.

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  56. I have grown up in the Conservative movement and am a proud member of the USCJ affiliated Oceanside Jewish Center (Oceanside, NY).

    This past weekend, I was privileged to be able to attend the annual KOACH Kallah. I was never involved in Ramah or USY, so for the first time, I found myself surrounded by Conservative Jewish peers who understood and shared my ideologies. The environment was fantastic. I studied, learned, questioned, discussed, and formed beautiful friendships. I fell further in love with the Conservative movement. I explored my spirituality. I truly felt at home.

    Without KOACH, there would be no Conservative Jewish presence in my life while I am at school at CUNY Queens College. The Jewish population at Queens is overwhelmingly Orthodox, and without KOACH, those of other denominations have no hope of exploring their Jewishness. Hundreds and thousands of Jewish students will not have the opportunity to explore faith and connect with Judaism. If they are not able to do so in college, what other chance will they have?

    Please do not allow KOACH to crumble. Please do not allow college-level Conservative Judaism to disappear.

    Alyssa Blumenthal
    CUNY Queens
    The Mahar Coalition

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  57. As a Jewish university student, I was upset to hear that USCJ’s new strategic plan will drastically cut support for KOACH.

    First my story: My parents are an interfaith couple. I was raised with my dad’s religion and culture (Catholicism), and, after I rejected that, no religion. I didn’t learn anything about my Jewish heritage until I was getting ready to move away from my family to attend school. 3 years ago, I arrived in Texas, knowing no one and wondering what on earth it meant to be a Jew.

    When I first started looking for answers, no one knew what to do with me. I suppose I was a really bad prospect as far as having a future in the Jewish community. All of the other young single people I met had been to summer camp, Hebrew school, and youth group together. I had no Jewish education or Jewish cultural experiences, and none of my friends were Jewish.

    The first place I really felt welcomed was the Conservative Minyan/KOACH. There, people were connected not by their parents’ decision to raise them Jewish but by their own commitment to Judaism. KOACH interns and visiting Conservative rabbinical students were very helpful in helping me learn the things that everyone else assumed I should just know. Being a part of KOACH also helped me relate my Jewish identity to other things I care about, such as the environment and social justice. Because of KOACH, I now attend services every week and will be moving to Israel next year.

    In the past 3 years, I've met other people with similar family situations. I've also learned that most of us get pulled into an Orthodox/Ultraorthodox program when we're first exploring our Jewish identities. This results in some people becoming completely turned off to Judaism, and others accepting everything Orthodox rabbis say simply so they have a place to belong.

    If you want to prevent young Jews from disappearing into kiruv organizations or the land of the unaffiliated, give us another option. Please don’t depend on our parents having the commitment or the money to send us to Jewish youth programs listed in the strategic plan. Not everyone has the chance to participate in those programs, but having working-class or religiously indifferent parents doesn't make us any less Jewish.

    It’s great that you’re working on developing programs for Jewish young adults, but if you ignore us while we’re in college, we may never get there.

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  58. I echo the many comments of those lamenting the plan to cut funding for KOACH, thus effectively eliminating our already tiny presence on the college campus.

    Many of my Jewish commitments were nurtured in ATID, a forerunner of KOACH in the 1960s and early 1970s. I fear that our movement is making the same mistake now as it has in the past by failing to devote resources to an increasingly critical area.

    Rabbi Danny Horwitz
    Houston
    United Synagogue/ATID Bookmobile driver/manager, 1973-75

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  59. To the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism:
    A few years ago, the USCJ program Koach began to make inroads at Boston University. Under the Internship Program, Yael Werber and Jill Wolfson were able to invigorate a Conservative community that formerly had a difficult time making minyan on Friday nights, turning it into a vibrant and engaged group.Each week we have Friday evening and Shabbat morning services,, Torah study with Rabbi Winick, and several monthly social events, such as a Tu B’shevat Seder, Rosh Chodesh Minyan and challah baking. Without these programs, we would be forced to turn to Chabad, Aish, Meor, JLI, or lose the opportunity for any kind of Torah study altogether. Koach provides us with the only option that is liberal, historically minded, topically relevant to our lives, and taught in an engaging and modern way. Since Koach came to Boston University, we now see 40-50 students regularly in Friday night services, and average 15 students at our weekly Drash N’ Dine with Rabbi Winick, who comes in specially to teach.
    We have seen students who were largely unaffiliated with either the Conservative movement, or Judaism of any kind, have a positive communal learning experience, studying texts both relevant to our tradition and upholding the maxim that studying Torah is equal to all the mitzvot. The topics of Drash N’ Dine are decided upon mutually by students and Rabbi Winick and are subject to feedback after every weekly session. This constant alteration of the program to fit our needs increases its efficacy, placing the locus of power within the students’ hands.
    With the support of Koach, we are also able to create social programming based upon the students’ needs. The Strategic Plan assumes that we are “heavily serviced by Hillel and numerous other well-funded and professionally staffed efforts.” However, while we are fortunate to have a large Hillel, they are limited in the financial support they can provide us, and have made clear they will not be giving us any funding in the coming year. As the Strategic Plan now stands, we would be forced to rely on local synagogues for Conservative learning and social programming. The nearest synagogue is almost two miles away, which is off campus and inconvenient for a college lifestyle. This will discourage student participation in our community and ultimately have a detrimental effect on the strength of our kehillah.
    This plan, which was written without the knowledge, consultation, or consent of Conservative college students, will have a considerably negative impact on Conservative college students, both at BU and at other campuses nationwide.
    With this in mind, we, the undersigned students at Boston University, request that the proposed allocation of funds to Koach be reconsidered. We need Koach to provide us with an option to the Orthodox dominated campus, and we have found that it has been an incredibly valuable resource. Koach should be funded more, not less and its growth must be fostered to allow it to reach its full potential and ultimately help shape the leaders of tomorrow.
    Thank you, Jacob Slutsky Abby Gavens Arielle Solomon
    Rafi Spitzer Joel Udwin Marissa Snyder Rachel Klepper
    LeeAnn Langer Rachel Udwin Eryn Trauben Josh Mellits
    Sharon Wolfson Jill Wolfson Adriel Klein Alissa Fromkin
    Sammi Pulley Jamie Levin

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  60. College is a time for people to find their identities. I am a Conservative Jew who did not go to Ramah or USY because I didn't necessarily feel a connection to the Conservative Jewish community. I felt like I was Conservative because it is how I was raised, and it is how my parents wanted me to be. I went to college, and found my Jewish identity. I am currently very active in Hillel on my campus. I go to a small liberal arts college with a relatively small Jewish community. We do not have a Koach on campus. Hillel is great, but seems like an all-purpose Jewish organization meant to attract actively religious and non-religious Jews. This past weekend, I had the great experience to attend the Koach Kallah. I felt more connected to the Conservative Jewish community than I ever have before. It is very difficult to be active in the Conservative Jewish community as a college student in my situation. The plan to cut Koach will make it increasingly difficult for college students like myself (and also those at universities with large Jewish communities) to find a place in the Conservative Jewish community. Since college is a time for self-exploration, it is very dangerous to practically eliminate ties college students would have to the Conservative Jewish community. If Koach is not present, college students could easily be lured to Orthodoxy through Chabad, or simply non-observant because of other social aspects of college. College students are a huge part of the current and future of the Conservative movement, and they should be given the opportunity to find where they belong through Koach.

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  61. I am a junior at University of Maryland-College Park, and I am a member of KOACH.

    I grew up in a Conservative synagogue. I went to Hebrew School, I participated in Kadima and USY, and now I am heavily involved in KOACH (a former Gabbai). However, my path to sticking with Conservative Judaism was not an easy one. When I first came to University of Maryland, I lived in a regular dorm, about as far from Hillel as you can get. I went to Friday night services carrying my umbrella (it was pouring rain, but at least I made it!), and when I walked in to Hillel, I was stunned. Instead of being welcomed with open arms by the vibrant Conservative community I was used to from home, I was gawked at. The large Orthodox community overwhelmed me, and the sheer size and number of people at Hillel made me feel small and nervous. I finally made it inside, up the stairs, and to the KOACH services. Unfortunately, the crowd was still very overwhelming and, being a scared freshman, I didn’t meet anyone or find my community. I left Hillel very disappointed and disillusioned.

    Soon after my disappointing experience at Hillel, I was approached by a campus Kiruv organization. The organization offered me home-cooked meals, intimidate discussions, a welcoming community and a family atmosphere that Hillel really lacked. I was hooked. I began attending classes regularly, participating in all of the Shabbat meals, and I found myself attracted to the life offered to me by the organization. I became more observant, attending services more, keeping Kashrut more, and keeping Shabbat more. All of these positive changes in my life left me feeling very alone and confused—how could I follow the life that I saw myself leading that would bring me to the community I wanted to be a member of without losing my status as an equal in services? I could not wrap my head around no longer being able to read Torah, sing loudly, or sit with my father during prayer. These were major stumbling blocks for me, and I began feeling more and more alienated from both communities.

    Fortunately, an acquaintance happened to find out that I was Jewish, organized and looking to meet more people at Hillel. She asked me consider replacing her as Gabbai Sheini for the next KOACH board. After careful consideration, I accepted her offer. I have never made a better decision for myself in college. As soon as I joined KOACH board, the doors to Hillel and my own uniquely Conservative community opened up. Suddenly, I had a reason to talk to everyone, and everyone knew me. What used to feel like a building that I would never feel comfortable in suddenly became my second home. More importantly, all of my doubts about how I could be observant, have a community, and still maintain my egalitarian beliefs went away. There was a place for me on campus that allowed me to feel loved, protected, and like I belong while fostering my spiritual growth and observance. A place called KOACH.

    KOACH truly changed my campus experience. I no longer find the lifestyle offered by the Kiruv organizations tempting, and I am able to reach out to newcomers and make Hillel seem smaller for them. I am happy with myself, with my observance and with the community I have found here. If KOACH were not here, me and my many other Kiruv-oriented KOACH friends would have never found our way back to our roots in Conservative Judaism. As the economic crisis hits USCJ ever-more-strongly, the only way to keep Conservative college students oriented with the movement is through KOACH. Nothing could be worse for the future growth of the Conservative movement than majorly decreasing support for KOACH, as an entire generation will be lost from the movement. Please consider my story and realize that it is not just mine—it is that of at least 10 other students at UMD alone, not to mention the rest of the country. KOACH matters, and we are the leaders of not only tomorrow, but also of today.

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  62. My name is Jodi Schwartz and i am currently a Junior at the University of Washington. I believe that the plan to cut KOACH funding (and consequently programming) as a way to ensure a better future for the Conservative Movement, is counterintuitive. During my years in USY and in the many conversations we had about Conservative Judaism on Nativ, the problem specified was that "Conservative Jews" were either too far left and losing the important halachic aspects that our movement stands for, or disenchanted with the wide spectrum of affiliates and becoming modern orthodox. College programs available to Jews on most campuses perpetuate this model. Most Hillel foundations serve the model of "catering to everyone but serving no one" and the alternative groups are Orthodox and beyond. This is undeniably the situation on my campus. As someone who grew up attending a conservative synagogue, was involved in KADIMA, USY, NATIV, and taught hebrew school in a conservative setting as well, I find myself without a place on campus that meets my Jewish needs. This year I staffed USY's International Convention, and over a year out of my Nativ experience, I was re-inspired by the ruach of the kehillah I saw there. I learned about KOACH Kallah, and made it my goal to attend for the first time this year, in hopes of returning from the Kallah with the ability to establish my own KOACH chapter here at my Hillel. I was finally able to gather the resources to attend Kallah and set off on my Journey to Evanston, IL on a snowy Seattle night.
    Within the first several hours of Kallah, I was meeting new incredible people, learning in a setting that was comfortable for me and was even more excited about the outlook of starting a KOACH chapter on my campus. Unfortunately, those hopes were short-lived because on Friday morning in a session about the Strategic Plan I was told that resources would not be allocated to communities such as my own. I asked then, and I ask now, do I have to move to the East Coast to practice a kind of Judaism that I believe in?
    This question should be answered with a simple no. I should feel confident that my community will not be overlooked by this plan, and even if it is I should be able to take solace in KOACH. For me, KOACH means a framework in which I can create for myself a community on my campus. It is a program through which I can be reassured, that there is a network of people just like me around the country, wanting to practice Judaism as I do. Kallah specifically provides KOACHniks around the country a forum with which to connect with other Conservative Jewish peers to share ideas, learn together, and create lasting bonds (what is the point of all Jewish Youth programming... Do the words Yente or Shiduch ring a bell?). In all seriousness, I do not see how we can discount the importance of continuity from high school involvement in USY or NATIV, into college. I imagine a model in which the transition between USY/NATIV and KOACH is as smooth and as natural as the transition between KADIMA AND USY. I visualize communities of college students leading our movement not only via those taking the Jewish professional route at List, JTS or AJU, but through campuses around the country empowered by the movement who wants to ensure its viability in future generations. I truly believe that by cutting KOACH, we are condemning the Conservative Movement's membership to dwindle even more by allowing the disintegration of a passionate, driven community of young people during the years between high school and "20's and 30's-hood".
    In USY we were encouraged to take positions of leadership, to affect the movement and to drive our passion into building a better future for the Conservative Movement. If these were not empty words, let us contribute our ideas and work together with the current leadership to drive USCJ into a better and brighter MAHAR!

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  63. A. Silow-CarrollMarch 1, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    My son is active in Rutgers Hillel and a regular participant in the KOACH minyan. With the expanding strength of Chabad on that campus and Orthodox-run programs like the Rutgers Jewish Xperience, it is vital that students being given a vital Conservative option. If not, we essentially concede the field to Reform Judaism on our left, and movements to our right.

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  64. To Whom It May Concern:

    We must accept that United Synagogue isn’t where it was at years ago. If United Synagogue is to continue to exist, it must re-brand itself. And I believe that is what the new strategic plan is attempting to do; however I am not convinced that its current proposal will actually do that.

    Take J.J. Abrams’ most recent Star Trek film as an example. The reason why it was so successful was because it was geared towards both the die-hard Star Trek fans, but also primarily the younger audience. You didn’t have to be a Star Trek fan or even know much about it to enjoy the movie. In fact if you recall it was marketed under the slogan of “This is not your father’s Star Trek”. So too, this is not my father’s United Synagogue. Conservative Judaism has evolved over the years and so has its organizations. But if it wants to continue to exist, an emphasis must be put on its younger generations, and the only way to successful do that is to actually listen to people my age.

    So I ask, when will my voice be heard?

    USY is the greatest and most successful product of USCJ. USY, Ramah, and Nativ have over the years, produced so many leaders. But where are they now? Why were they not at the KOACH Kallah this past weekend? Why are they not active Conservative Jews on the college campus? And for the few like myself that are, or at least try to be, what happens to us after college ends? Where do we go as we venture off into the real world? To put it bluntly, United Synagogue has failed to captivate leaders like myself and keep us involved.

    In fact, I write this letter upon my return from the annual KOACH Kallah, and I have to say I am quite disappointed. This is my third Kallah and probably the one I enjoyed the most, but it’s lacked two main components.

    The first are the leaders. 70+ students from all across North America joined me for an exciting, fun, and ruach-filled weekend. Yet out of those 70 attendees, maybe a dozen of them were either Nativ alumni or former USY officers. Again I bring up the question…where are all these precious Ramah Staff, Nativ Alumni, and former USY leaders? Obviously money is a concern (trust me, I wouldn’t have been at this Kallah if I didn’t receive a lot of scholarship help), but money should not be a tolerable excuse to invalidate the lack of attendance by these leaders.

    The second and more important disappointment I had with KOACH Kallah is the lack of representation from United Synagogue. Where are its leaders? Over and over it has been said that these people, many whom sit on the strategic planning committee, care about the future, about us, the young adults, the college students. Yet perhaps it is unclear to them that the 20-30 age demographic they wish to engage with this new plan includes my peers.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I am the future of the Conservative movement. No. That is an inaccurate statement. I AM the Conservative movement!

    So I ask, when will my voice be heard?

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  65. People like Rabbi Aaron Alexander from the Ziegler School and Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb from the Conservative Yeshiva get it! Both Rabbis travel across country and from Israel, respectively, every year jus to attend and teach at the KOACH Kallah. USY always has a staff member present. JTS sends a rep. Rabbi Shalom Kantor is a regular too. Even Dr. Ray Goldstein understood the importance of the younger generation as he attended and supported KOACH Kallah during his tenure as International President of USCJ. And I obviously cannot go without mentioning Dr. Marilyn Wind, who not only volunteered her time, but her own money, to be present at this past Kallah. These people get it! They understand the importance and value of the youth. United Synagogue must learn from them. So again I ask, where were the key leaders of United Synagogue this past weekend?

    Look, I’ll be the first to point out weaknesses of the KOACH program and suggest ways for it to improve – and I have in the past. I’m not suggesting that the KOACH program is prefect, because it does need some restructure too. But it is CLEAR to me that KOACH is barely on the radar of United Synagogue’s new strategic plan and with it’s new budget cut from two-thirds of what it used to be, KOACH as we know it will quickly dissolve and fade away.

    No college students were asked to be part of the strategic planning committee. No surveys were sent out to college students. And quite honestly, each college is different and requires different levels of attention and resources. But let it be known that we are here and we don’t want to be ignored!

    So I ask, when will my voice be heard?

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  66. It would be the BIGGEST mistake to abandon efforts for Conservative Judaism on the college campus. I have a friend who is now Orthodox because of the lack of a Conservative presence on campus. She grew up attending a Conservative synagogue, but was not active in USY or Ramah. One year ago she came to college looking for ways to grow Jewishly and to find where she fited in, just like many of us do during our college career. When there was no Conservative outlet present, she got involved with Aish, which offered her free trips to Israel, money to study Judaism, a Shabbat observance-friendly meal every Friday and Saturday. Now every Shabbat she stays at the Orthodox Rabbis house and associates herself with the ideals and practices of Orthodox Judaism. My friend isn’t the first to go through this rapid transformation and I have no problem with Jewish growth, after all, that is a prime principle of Judaism. Yet, she is a perfect example of where United Synagogue has failed.

    I understand that United Synagogue is under major financial constraints and certain sacrifices must be made in order for it to continue to prosper. But is cutting KOACH a sacrifice for a step in the right direction? Is United Synagogue really okay with abandoning efforts on the college campus and allowing other Jewish groups to take your future members simply because of lack of funds? That is unacceptable.

    And it isn’t just the unconnected college student that United Synagogue has failed to grab. My friends from USY, many former Regional Presidents and International Board members, Nativ alumni, college students, just like me, who at one time or another took on committed Conservative Jewish lifestyles on their own during their USY involvement have since strayed away, simply because there is no Conservative environment on the college campus. Myself included constantly struggle to find a way to be a practicing Conservative Jew on the college campus when the only way to live an observant lifestyle is to become immersed in an Orthodox or Aish setting, and under those circumstances, that’s not where we feel comfortable. But it’s that or nothing.

    I have no doubt in my mind that my lifestyle and my commitment to Conservative Judaism would be different if there was a better outlet to practice Conservative Judaism at my university. And if I am to be honest, the only thing today that ties me to United Synagogue is my involvement as a USY staff member. Yet, as I get older, my involvement is becoming less and less and soon enough, United Synagogue will have failed me too.

    So I ask, when will my voice be heard?

    My question to you, those who sit on the strategic planning committee, is where do I fit into your strategic plan?

    I am a former International USY officer. I am a Nativ alumnus. I am a former KOACH Intern. I’ve received the Peer Network Engagement Internship training from my involvement with Hillel. I am your perfect poster-child. Yet not once was I approached from someone at United Synagogue to share my experiences, thoughts, or ideas.

    I’m graduating college in three months, so my involvement with KOACH is coming to an end. And unless I get a job teaching Hebrew school at an USCJ-affiliated synagogue or become a USY advisor, chances are my involvement with United Synagogue during my 20-30s will be minimal too. My leadership skills will continue to be ignored, potential gone to waste, and I’ll put the last 10 years of my life of being involved with United Synagogue behind me and become another lost Jew of the Conservative movement.

    So I ask one last time….When will my voice be heard?

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  67. Having read the USCJ draft strategic plan I want to share two concerns that I noted. My son was active at UMD with Koach, Hillel, Chabad, JSU, and other Jewish programs on campus. Despite the tug of these many programs and the allure of larger and better attended services he felt responsible for trying to insure that Koach had a minyan at Maryland. As a Schechter student K-12,a USY'er and Nativ participant and with a Ramah background he was committed to making sure that there was a Conservative presence on campus. If we expect that young adults who grew up as members of Conservative synagogues, especially those who were active in the wonderful youth programs that were available to them, will continue to be a part of Conservative Judaism (however it is transformed through this strategic plan) then maintaining and fortifying Koach seems to make far more sense than scaling it back. The worst outcome would be non-affiliation, but we should be offering a vibrant program so that our youth do not feel that they need to turn to other alternatives in order to remain Jewishly identified. The other program that seems to be in jeopardy is the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem which is another program that keeps our young people engaged in both Jewish study and Israel at a very high level. It seems to me that rather than scaling either Koach of the Conservative Yeshiva back the priority should be on getting as many of our young people to participate in these programs as possible and find the means to make these programs even better. I would also like to note my support for recommendation to seed new congregations in areas with Jewish populations that are not being served or have the potential to grow.

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  68. Preserving Judaism, especially the conservative movement, is a big part of my life. I am only in a freshman in high school right now, but KOACH is something that has to continue in all schools. That way when my sister, cousins, my children, and I can continue practicing Judaism away from home.

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  69. I think it is interesting that the majority if not all of these responses are about KOACH and the Conservative Yeshiva - and from people who are involved with those programs.

    Just a thought.

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  70. After eight years of religious school, four years of Hebrew High School and USY, and multiple summers at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, I feel thoroughly invested in the Conservative movement. This is why I was attracted to KOACH upon coming to college. However, not all Jews grow up with these influences and are attracted to Jewish life on the college level.

    KOACH is out to create meaningful Jewish experiences and engage those who wish to be invested and those who are yet to be. But how can we provide these experiences without a higher up to offer us guidance? On my campus, the student leaders are the liaisons between KOACH and the Jewish community. We are responsible for keeping a connection with Conservative Judaism alive and helping to provide the meaningful Jewish experiences that KOACH’s mission statement speaks of. KOACH on campus helps to create leaders and build a sense of community. Too many Jews are apathetic and out of touch; out of touch with their synagogues, the movement, and therefore, themselves and each other.

    The USCJ strategic plan does not properly reflect the voices of college students and our concerns about engagement and outreach. We are the future of Conservative Judaism. We need to preserve who we are, who we will be, and what we stand for because we matter.

    Andrea Bromberg
    University of Delaware
    The Mahar Coalition

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  71. I have some serious concerns about the strategic plan as it relates to Koach and ultimately the future of Conservative Jewish students on campus. I am currently a senior at Boston University and in my almost four years have seen the Conservative Minyan on campus grow from a group that struggled to get a minyan on Shabbat into a strong community with great participation at Shabbat services, monthly Rosh Chodesh Minyan, weekly Drash N' Dines, as well as monthly social programs. As one of the people involved in growing the community, I can confidently say that without the support of Koach our community would not be where it is today. My Hillel Rabbi is a traditional Orthodox Rabbi and although he is supportive of us, Hillel does not provide for students the type of engaging, modern and relative Torah learning we thrive on as Conservative Jews. Moreover, the presence of organizations such as AISH, MEOR and JLI on campus that offer students $500 and free trips to Israel to take classes with them makes it incredibly challenging to organically grow a Conservative community.

    Fortunately, with the support of Koach, we were able to develop such a Kehillath. Koach enabled us to have weekly Drash N' Dines with Rabbi Winick where we socialized and learned together about topics that interested us in a relatable and provoking way. These dinners helped us draw in students who had abandoned Jewish learning because they were uncomfortable with the Orthodox educational opportunities on campus and did not want to venture to off-campus Conservative synagogues. Koach also supported us in creating social and religious programs such as Challah baking, Tu B'Shevat seders and Sex in the Sukkah, which drew in crowds of dozens of new students who were more comfortable attending these events which were not only conservative, but offered a more welcoming environment than many Hillel events. A majority of the attendants of these programs continued to come back to Koach sponsored programming, began attending services regularly and now consider themselves members of our Conservative Kehillath.Koach has also helped us bring in JTS Rabbinical students for Koach Shabbats. These Shabbats helped us nurture and solidify our community even further as together with a Conservative Rabbinical student we learned about topics relevant to us from a Jewis perspective, participated in meaningful davening experiences and enjoyed seudot shlishit with great ruach. As a community we ultimately emerged from these weekends as proud Conservative Jews confident in our movement's future.

    I cannot emphasize enough how intrinsic Koach has been to us in creating our community and I am confident that with the appropriate resources Koach can do teh same thing for Conservative students across the country. I implore you to reconsider your decisions about Koach in the strategic plan and give today's and future college students every opportunity to build their own communities on campus so that they, like I, can look back upon four years of college as proud Conservative Jews excited about the future communities they will be a part of and ultimately raise families in.

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  72. KOACH is my USY/Ramah

    I'm not sure I would still be a Conservative Jew if not for KOACH. I converted to Judaism in my 20s and so I was not involved in USY, Ramah, Nativ, etc - KOACH was my first experience with a Conservative Movement youth organization and ultimately it served to ground me as a Conservative Jew. In 2006, I began to look at Birthright Israel trips. I almost applied for a Hillel Birthright trip but decided to try out a more religiously focused trip and went with KOACH instead - my experiences with KOACH changed my life.

    On this trip with KOACH - my first trip to Israel, I had the amazing opportunity to experience Israel with other passionate and committed Conservative Jews. We davened daily - I have spectacular memories of our egal minyanim in the synagogue ruins at Masada, Robinson's Arch and my first taste of the Conservative Yeshiva! I fell in love with Israel and have been back three more times in the last five years. I made friendships on Birthright that are still strong today.

    Later that year, I attended my first KOACH Kallah - another absolutely unbelievable experience for me. I had the opportunity to study with other like-minded Jews, participate in community service projects, join in wonderful ruach-filled davening and singing on Shabbat. At both the KOACH Kallah and on my Birthright trip, I learned about the Conservative Yeshiva, which I attended in the summer of 2007 and again can only say amazing and wonderful things about! It is also a program that you should take care to nurture in the proper way because it is wonderful.

    Although my involvement with KOACH did not happen on a college campus, my experience with them is representative of those that a college student might have. For me, it was critical in helping me gain skills and experience to live Jewishly - I think that today, you would have difficulty in distinguishing me from any other young adult that grew up actively involved in a Conservative shul. I learned to bentsch and sing zemirot - melodies that kids learned at camp - through KOACH. I read Torah and Haftarah, lead services and am actively involved in my local shul community.

    I am sure that you are aware that many young converts go through multiple conversions - often beginning with Conservative and then drifting towards Orthodoxy. I was almost there as well - through my experiences with KOACH (and their amazing staff and students!) as well as my learning at the Conservative Yeshiva, I found the nurturing I needed and most importantly, gained confidence in my choices to truly believe that I was where I belonged. Today I am proud to be a Conservative Jew.

    I'm the kind of young Conservative Jew that you WANT and NEED - don't ignore the places that are successful in getting people there!

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  73. Just wanted to point everyone to a petition just started by the Mahar Coalition to save Conservative Judaism on college campuses.

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/maharcoalition/

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  74. I have emailed the Committee a response to several points of the Strategic Plan. I would like to post some of them here:

    5.1: I do not know what research methods were used in obtaining this information, but I know it does not reflect the situation in the BU Jewish community. Since KOACH has had limited funds to subsidized programming for colleges across the continent, our KOACH chapter and the BU Conservative Minyan have relied upon the BU Hillel Religious Life Council (on which I served as a member for two years) for funding. Due to changes I greatly disagree with, the RLC and Hillel will no longer be providing as much support, and with KOACH under-funded, the Conservative students of BU are caught between a rock and a hard place. If the USCJ proposes expanding the kehillot programs in neighboring communities for college student participation, I believe it would do irrevocable damage. I do not wish to sound agist, but I do not see how adults between fifteen and fifty years removed from college, now congregants at Kehillath Israel in Brookline, could develop programming, social and educational, for today's BU student. If this were to happen, or a host of other alternatives, the resulting problem, in the eyes of today's KOACH participants, is that agency will be taken away from the students. The most wonderful aspect of KOACH programming, at least at BU, is that students pick the topics for learning and decide what social programming we host. I would also advise the planners that many of the “numerous other well-funded and professionally staffed efforts” are Orthodox in hashkafah; here at BU, all the other past and present learning initiatives–JLIC, Meor-Maimonides, and Chabad, and the personal shiurim of Rabbi Joseph Polak–while sometimes providing engaging Jewish learning, are not engaging college-age Conservative Jews in a Conservative Jewish framework. Most of them are kiruv-type organizations, determined to output as many self-ascribed Orthodox Jews as possible. While I am happy to see any Jew turn to a life of Torah and mitzvot, it deeply saddens me to see that the United Synagogue does not do more to match these organizations. I believe a better-funded KOACH is the solution to this, perhaps with full-time, professional interns at major college campuses, not an underfunded or “restructured” model. Area kehillot cannot compete with on-campus Chabad houses in the numbers game to capture unaffiliated Jewish students. Slashing the budget by $500,000 is not the answer. KOACH is effective at what it does on a scale that may be two small for the adult leadership; increase its endowment and the results–meaningful learning and experience on campuses nationwide–will increase. I would think if the quasi-plutocracy so proposed is established, there would certainly be funds available to strengthen KOACH. Again, I am not certain of the research that went into the formation of this section of the plan, but I can assure you that KOACH is fighting the good fight, it is taking in Jewish students and putting them on the right path, often Jews that would otherwise be swept up by one of the myriad Orthodox organizations that compete with KOACH. KOACH has provided me with learning opportunities which have strengthened me as a Jewish leader. This is success, simply put. Underfunding, restructuring or–halilah–dismantling such a dedicated organization sounds like a bullet through the foot. How else are the next kehillah participants and leaders to be groomed? I can assure you, going through USY and Camp Ramah, that while the high-school phase is important, it does not do enough. KOACH is there to act as a “bridge between high school graduates and post-college young adults.”

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  75. More from my response:

    6.0: The vagueness of this point makes it difficult for me to respond. If this apparent blue-ribbon committee to review the “effective use, organizational model and governance” options for the Fuchsberg Center includes the Conservative Yeshiva, I am outraged. Only someone who has only seen enrollment numbers for the Yeshiva and never stepped inside the beit midrash could question its effect upon budding Conservative Jewish leaders and the next crop of rabbis. The teachers offer a wide variety of perspectives, all of them engaging the students in a tradition as ancient as Rabbinic Judaism itself: the study of Torah, equal to all the mitzvot. Many of the students in the Yeshiva–myself included–would not feel comfortable doing so in an Orthodox institution; the Yeshiva is the only place that does what it does. Its role should be expanded, not restructured and likely budget-decimated. Rather than minimize it, I would propose a more purposeful restructuring: developing similar programs domestically, to compete with institutions like Hadar and Chovevei Torah that are a serious drain on young Conservative Jews committed to halakhic life and Torah study. If this committee-to-be proposes to examine the Fuchsberg Center apart from the Yeshiva, I greatly take issue with that as well. The night learning offered through Fuchsberg offers American olim and Israelis of the Masorti movement with similar opportunities as the Yeshiva offers its students. The staff of Fuchsberg, whom I know personally, are deeply dedicated to the future of the movement. To cut them off from funding, or restructure them into some other form, would likely be detrimental to Conservative Jews in Israel who may not have their needs met by Masorti kehillot.

    2.0: As mentioned above, I am a havurah Jew, with a bred dislike of pulpit rabbis, shuls, and shul politics. I enjoyed growing up in a minyan that my parents co-founded in Skokie, IL, centered around lay leadership, where member families share in coordinating and leading services. I have always dismayed the fact that, for political and occupational reasons, members of our minyan have had to be attached to a USCJ-affiliated congregation. I see this part of the strategic plan as a means for my minyan and those like it to be supported by the United Synagogue without the intermediary of a congregation, to be a kehillah on its own. I would like to see this happen, although I am wary of the possibility that perhaps not all services can be provided through a newly-formed USCJ that could come from partnership with a synagogue (classes, Hebrew school, davening space, a sefer Torah, etc.). I would like to see the USCJ stand in full support of egalitarian minyanim like my own that are committed to its values, even if they do not wish to participate in the traditional synagogue structure. I hope the adage written into the plan, “one size does not fit all,” will come to fruition.

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  76. The remainder of my comments:

    10.0/10.1: I have no training in business, so I would not know whether or not a philanthropy-based model versus a dues-based model would be more financially solvent, nor do I have any idea what resources these philanthropists could amass. My main concern with this leadership model comes from someone trained in modern liberal political theory: this appears to me as a plutocracy. Yes, I understand that there will also be elements of the leadership to cover thought and organization (10.2 and 10.3, respectively), but I know that money talks. Like any good American, I am concerned about so much power being centered among the rich. I fear this could result in policy decisions that do not support or reflect the needs or opinions of the greater Conservative community.
    4.6: As far as I am aware, the USCJ has already made a “limited, focused investment in the college-age cohort,” calling itself KOACH. KOACH seems to me to be the only way to keep these so-called “outstanding graduates of other programs committed to the movement. I have seen many a USY alum and Boger Nativ emerge from college calling himself or herself modern Orthodox, and I believe this to be correlated with a lack of resources given to KOACH (see my other comments for more on this point).

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  77. I am a current student at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland. As my college's name may lead you to believe, Jewish life here is minimal. However, there is a fledgling community here, and with the proposed funding cuts in place from USCJ-Hayom, this community will die. There is no nearby KOACH organization or affiliated Conservative shul; Hillel is all that we have, and we barely have staffing or funding from our own school. At this past weekend's KOACH Kallah, I was informed that the new strategic plan would neither create nor aid the construction and maintenance of newborn or struggling campus Jewish groups. If we cannot turn to a parent organization, then who may Jewish students (and faculty) here turn to?

    I am an alumna of Seaboard region Kadima and USY. I was on my region's general board for three years and attended two international conventions. I also attended Taglit-Birthright Israel Pilgrimage in summer 2009. As the most observant in my family, having an environment where I could interact with other Conservative Jewish youth was essential to my upbringing and involvement in the Jewish community. I did not attend Ramah or Nativ, but my interactions with those who did participate in those groups lead me to believe that they, too, encourage rich Jewish cultural and ritual activity. Now that I am in college and preparing to become a community leader, I am no less in need of spiritual guidance and support than either a growing high school student or a working adult.

    Before attending this year's KOACH Kallah, I felt that I was experiencing a dulling of my faith and observance, and that my identity as a Conservative Jew was slipping away. But after attending a single Kallah, without having attended any KOACH event, KOACH has clearly and wonderfully changed my life. I received a wake-up call and revival of my faith and identity. I received practical and spiritual education. And I was able to interact with a large group of intelligent, observant, active Jews.

    I urge USCJ-Hayom to not cut funding for such effective and meaningful groups. I understand that the budget is limited, but I also understand that youth programming may be the most important and telling aspect of the future of Conservative Judaism. Judging from the quantity of similar statements on this page, I am not alone in this sentiment. I would also like reassurance that the comments here are not merely being brushed off, and are being seriously considered and our ideas implemented.

    Pamela Schrenk
    The Mahar Coalition

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  78. It is unclear to me how the strategic plan can include severing ties with KOACH as one of the main sources of support for the next generation of Conservative Jews. If we are focused on a thriving destiny, how do we pull the rug of support out from such a vital asset as today's college students to both shore up the tradition and to expand our outreach to those students who have yet to be tapped. At a time when resources are tight, making that decision seems extremely short-sighted with regard to what the future can hold for this denomination.

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  79. I applaud the goal of trying to foster better relationships and communication with other branches of the Movement.
    2. I agree that USCJ should move towards increasing philanthropy.
    3. I support the effort to reach out to the post college age group.
    4. I support the effort to reach out to independent and unaffiliated minyanim.
    5. I do not understand what the move to �kehilla� means. I understand that USCJ wants to reach out to unaffiliated and young independent minyanim. But what does that mean for established congregations? Are we to change our name to include �Kehilla?� Does USCJ intend to offer us anything different than what has gone on before? I support USCJ�s desire to reach out to the unaffiliated, but do not forget about those who are already affiliated and have been so for many years.
    6. The plan articulates creating and supporting an integrated educational system. There is nothing wrong with this but I do not understand what USCJ actually plans to do. Does USCJ mean to change how congregations deliver education? Does USCJ mean to dictate curriculum? Does USCJ mean to change the way Solomon Schechter does business? Doesn�t USCJ already have educational materials? Is USCJ planning to start from a blank slate? I suspect USCJ is not planning on any of this, but I cannot tell from this plan.
    7. Sadly, I agree that the programs we have for college kids are not working well. I understand that we might be better off spending our money on the post college group. But USCJ is abandoning our college kids too quickly. Why not partner with congregations nearby campuses? Why not pay interns on campuses to reach out to their peers? The plan talks about limited activity where there are a critical number of active conservative kids but only mentions List College. I am offended that USCJ thinks they are the only kids worth it. The List kids need USCJ�s help the least. Even if USCJ is looking for colleges with a critical mass � I implore USCJ to widen its reach. There are many committed kids at other schools. Please understand that if we leave these college age kids alone, Chabad will be only too happy to take them off our hands and in the end, there may not be many left to worry about in the post college age group. I personally would be delighted to help USCJ rethink its strategy for this age group.
    8. This plan includes very little mention of Kadima or USY. I don�t know if that is because USCJ believes those programs are currently quite good or if the omission signals something else. Let me be clear: Kadima and USY � especially USY�are the most successful and critically important of any program USCJ offers. Period. There is no question that USY informed my Judaism when I was in High School and that it is the single program most responsible for my family�s commitment to kashrut, Shabbat and day school. I know that it is the single USCJ program that Moriah, and many other congregations in our area, believe to be the most positive, successful and least in need of fixing. If USCJ were to abandon, or lessen, its commitment to our youth, I would have to recommend that Moriah seriously reevaluate its relationship to the organization. I hope that the plan�s silence on this program was just an oversight, and I recommend that you expressly affirm USCJ�s commitment to these programs in the final plan.
    9. I do not understand what is meant by reevaluating the Fuchsberg center. I understand that the Fuchsberg Center is very expensive, but it (along with the Conservative Yeshiva) are the bright spots in the Movement. It is imperative to do all that we can to strengthen our ties to it, to fundraise for it and to support all of our Israel programs including USY summer trips and the Nativ program.
    10. I am baffled by your decision to call field people �connectors� or �relationship builders.� That title makes them sound like a dating service or cruise ship party planner. Our District staff does much more than that and they deserve a name that sounds professional.
    Karen Peaceman

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  80. When I came to college I looked for a group to get involved with. Koach served as a warm and inviting community. I don't know where I'd be without Koach.
    I understand the gravity of USCJ's budget woes, but the college demographic is not the place to cut. A little money on a college campus can go a long way.
    Whether it be through reaching out to disenchanted Conservative Jews, or grooming young leaders, Koach is one of the most important Conservative arms.
    SAVE KOACH

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  81. I support KOACH and the Mahar Coalition’s Statement!! Without KOACH there is essentially no more Conservative Judaism!!

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  82. KOACH is a huge part of my life here at the University of Maryland, and has been since my very first week at school. I am a junior now, and co-president of the organization on campus, but I can still remember back to my first experience with KOACH. I was a freshman, and I was a mess. I was so homesick. Growing up, I had never participated in USY. I had never gone away to camp Ramah. And I had attended public school all my life. But every Saturday morning, whether it was raining or snowing or 100 degrees, I walked to shul with my dad. So, on my first Saturday as a college freshman, I did what I had been doing my entire life—I got up and began walking to the closest conservative service—the KOACH service at the UMD Hillel.

    Of course, it was raining that day. And I was new to school, so I got lost on the way. And just for everyone’s information, my freshman dorm building was the farthest building from Hillel on Maryland’s campus.
    By the time I got to Hillel, I was a complete mess. I was soaking wet from the rain, tired from my long, long, walk, and so sad because it was my first time walking to services without my dad.

    But when I walked upstairs to the KOACH service, everyone was so friendly. They all introduced themselves and asked me questions about my time at school so far, and really went out of their way to tell me that they were glad I had decided to come to services that morning. The prayers were familiar and the tunes were cheerful, and for the first time since my parents had dropped me off at school, I felt like I belonged, like I wasn’t in this totally new and strange environment, but that I was just participating in my normal Saturday morning routine, just 300 miles south of where I was used to doing it.

    Having KOACH there that day helped me to feel like I belonged, and cheered me up out of my homesick state. It comforted me to know that there was something familiar here at school, and that the people here were just as friendly as the ones at home. I don’t know what I would have done if there hadn’t been KOACH services that day. There are no reform services on Saturday mornings, and I don’t think I would have felt comfortable in the orthodox service because I am not used to having a mehitzah. I was so thankful that conservative KOACH services were an option that morning, and I hope that conservative services will always be an option in the future.

    I understand that the economy is not good, and that there is not enough money to go around. But if you want something to continue into the future, you need to give the funding to the children. If all of the money goes to the post-college independent minyanim and the older generations, and none goes into college campuses, soon there will be no post-college independent minyanim to fund. If kids grow up attending USY events and camp Ramah, or even just attending Saturday morning services with their parents, and then go off to a college where there is no conservative Judaism to speak of, they will lose their interest and drive and passion for being Jewish. And then when they graduate from college, are they really going to go looking for a conservative Jewish organization when they have been out of touch for the past four years? Probably not. Which is why it is so, so important that KOACH not end on college campuses. College students decide so much of their lives in the four years during which they are in school. They choose their careers, they may choose their spouses, and they decide who they want to be when they start their “real lives”. Judaism needs to be an option on college campuses. It needs to have a presence so that students can choose to make it a part of their lives. USCJ needs to continue funding KOACH on college campuses to ensure the continuation of Conservative Judaism.

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  83. We, representatives of the University of Maryland- College Park KOACH, would like to see some important changes made to the USCJ’s strategic plan regarding the future of KOACH. We recognize the great deal of effort that Hayom Coaltion and USCJ put into creating the new plan, and we are very excited for many of the opportunities that the new plan will allow. However, we feel that the provisions involving reducing funding and support of KOACH are a grave mistake.

    We recognize how extremely fortunate we are to be involved with KOACH at UMD. We have both Friday night and Saturday morning services weekly, and have a relatively large and active kehillah. Fortunately for our kehillah, we are strong enough to stand on our own. We have survived for the last two years without any major support from International KOACH, although our previous KOACH-funded rabbinical interns, Adam Baldachin and Dave Goldberg, were wonderful assets to our community. Since the rabbinical intern program was eliminated, we have benefited from KOACH Kallah and KOACH Shabbat. KOACH Kallah has been a life-changing, eye-opening spiritual experience that has brought renewed faith, observance, and energy to all of our members who have attended. KOACH Shabbat allows us to learn more about our movement from inspiring teachers and Rabbis who truly understand the nuances of being Conservative in college. In addition to helping individuals, these programs have been helpful in both establishing a stronger KOACH kehillah and strengthening our Jewish identities within a Conservative framework.

    Not only do we benefit from having a vibrant KOACH at UMD, but we also benefit from the myriad Conservative congregations in the area, as we bring in speakers for occasional Pizza Parshas and Shabbat Lunch ‘n Learns. There are also many KOACH members who are actively involved in local Conservative synagogues as Hebrew School teachers and youth advisers. We are currently in the beginning stages of seeking a local Conservative Rabbi who would be willing to mentor us and represent our interests in the Maryland community. Currently, the Orthodox students are represented by a JLI Rabbi and Rebbetzin who are consistently available to answer questions, provide guidance, and represent the Orthodox community within Maryland’s Hillel. While we recognize that the USCJ does not have the resources to provide a similar service, we would appreciate any help that a local Rabbi would be willing to give us.

    In addition to providing us with opportunities to get involved in the local Conservative kehillot, KOACH has provided us with a safe haven within Maryland Hillel. Our Hillel is very large and very crowded. It can be extremely overwhelming and intimidating, especially when one is a new student. KOACH has provided us with an intimate, friendly, welcoming kehillah that embraces all of the values that are most dear to us. We believe very strongly in maintaining the safe space for personal reflection, ideological discussion, and religious exploration that is a constant part of developing a strong Conservative identity in college.

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  84. Many of our members are constantly taking advantage of our opportunities for deep thought and reflection. For example, another student group with greater monetary resources is hosting Rabbi Elliott Dorff. They are graciously allowing us to co-promote the event, even though we cannot contribute funds. In preparation for Rabbi Dorff’s visit, many of us have started a book club to study and discuss his works in order to better understand Conservative values.

    In addition to having a vibrant Conservative kehillah, our KOACH has also attracted many students converting to Judaism. These Jews-by-choice do not feel comfortable in any other services offered at Hillel. We have welcomed them with open arms into our kehillah, and we love having discussions about our values and beliefs with them. These Jews-by-choice feel comfortable in our kehillah and feel more accepted here than they did in their previous faith’s communities.

    While we currently have a very strong KOACH, not every school is this lucky. Many schools rely heavily on International KOACH’s support to have any programs and create even a small corner for a Conservative kehillah at their colleges. We recognize that for these colleges, funding from International KOACH is crucial to their continued existence. Also, programs such as KOACH Kallah may be the only opportunity for brainstorming and interaction with other Conservative peers that students at these universities have. It is of the utmost importance that International KOACH invest now and in the future by assisting these schools. Schools with large KOACH kehillot are strong enough to sustain themselves; schools without these resources will be decimated without sufficient support from International KOACH.

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  85. As the USCJ says in the strategic plan in Section 4.0, “USCJ should seed and nurture new kehillot and engage the next generation of kehilla leadership.” While we believe that this is a very admirable goal, reducing support for smaller KOACH kehillot will not engage the next generation of kehillah leadership. Instead, it will simply make them feel alienated and disconnected from the Conservative movement.

    Another problematic assumption that is in the strategic plan is in Section 5.1-- “The current campus environment is heavily serviced by Hillel and numerous other well-funded and professionally staffed efforts.” Unfortunately, this assumption that Hillel is supporting KOACH is not true of all KOACH kehillot, including University of Maryland’s. Our Hillel only supports KOACH by paying expenses for High Holiday services, providing us with a small food budget each semester, and allowing us to reserve rooms in Hillel for events. This is not an example of being “heavily serviced,” and can in no way replace the support that International KOACH could provide. While we do not know the situation at all colleges, we feel that it is safe to say that most schools rely just as much, if not more, on KOACH as they do Hillel.

    A final point of issue that we take with the strategic plan is the assumption, in Section 4.6, that the “graduates of Ramah, USY, and Nativ, many of who are studying in List College” are the leaders of KOACH kehillot. In our KOACH alone, we have many leaders who were not involved in Ramah, USY or Nativ, but still affiliate with the Conservative movement. It is exclusionary to assume that only people who participated in exclusively-Conservative programs are qualified or interested in being the present and future leaders of Conservative Kehillot. In addition, alumni of Solomon Schechter day schools are not mentioned as future leaders, effectively denying them the same opportunities provided to alumni of other Conservative programs. Lastly, we find the mention of only one college in the strategic plan to be excluding other schools that also have vibrant, committed KOACH kehillot. As the massive support for Mahar Coaltion has shown, there are committed KOACH leaders from many schools of many sizes in many states.

    As a group of committed KOACH leaders, we feel that continued and even increased support for KOACH is the only way to ensure that the Conservative movement survives to the next generation. If the all-important bridge between high school-aged youth and post-college minyanim fades away, then an entire generation of energetic young adults will be lost. Therefore, it is with great pride that we, University of Maryland- College Park KOACH, fully support the ideas expressed by the Mahar Coaltion. While we may not need International KOACH to survive, we acknowledge and respect that most other schools do. Please, for the future of Conservative Judaism, reconsider your stance on future support for KOACH.

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  86. Hi,

    I write as a concerned Jew. I am the result of over ten summers at RAMAH, a current NATIVer headed to LIST COLLEGE next year.

    It just strikes me that Conservative Judaism, which I will openly admit I don't fully identify with, seems to be an aging community. Conservative Jews offer an important voice to world Judaism, and I hate to think about trying to live in a world without a strong and legitimate Conservative movement.

    I guess what I'm saying is that it strikes me that without planning and funding for a serious young adult infrastructure, such as KOACH (and the Conservative Yeshiva as well), I'm being told that Conservative Judaism doesn't matter, and that I don't matter. I honestly believe that it will be my generation that completely revitalizes and restructures the Conservative movement, so please give us a chance—given the proper resources, KOACH leaders will have both the means and the motivation to carry this branch of Judaism for many years to come.

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  87. I've written a series of articles on the USCJ strategic plan. Rather than reposting in these comments, here are the links:

    Part 1: USCJ as it is
    http://jewschool.com/2011/02/23/25510/the-uscj-strategic-plan/

    Part 2: Critique of the Strategic Plan
    http://jewschool.com/2011/02/24/25553/the-uscj-strategic-plan-part-ii-critique

    Part 3: A vision of what USCJ could be
    A: Intro & "Nexus for serious, post-denominational Judaism and Conservative movement regrowth"
    http://jewschool.com/2011/03/01/25621/uscj-strategic-plan-part-3a/

    B: Education
    http://jewschool.com/2011/03/01/25624/uscj-strategic-plan-part-3b/

    C: Governance and Finance
    http://jewschool.com/2011/03/01/25628/uscj-strategic-plan-part-3c

    Enjoy

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  88. My name is Noah and I am currently a Sophomore at the University of Maryland and am currently serving on my schools KOACH board as religious VP.

    I grew up attending a conservative synagogue in Maryland. I attended the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD and was very involved as a leader in BBYO. During my summers growing up, I attended Jewish sleep away camp, a Judaism Institute program, and Jewish international leadership conferences both here and abroad in Israel. I grew up in a home where Judaism was a central aspect of life. We kept kosher, celebrated Shabbat weekly, attended synagogue, and celebrated the Jewish holidays. I am half Israeli and I have spent almost half of my life in Israel. Until college, my life revolved around Judaism. It was only at the end of high school that I began to realize how important my Jewish heritage was to me. I realized it was important for me to go to a college that had a strong Jewish community where I would feel comfortable and be able to expand my Jewish identity.

    I ended up spending my Freshman year at the College of Charleston (CofC) in South Carolina. Although I had applied to many other universities with bigger Jewish communities, I felt that for academic reasons CofC was a right fit and that the Jewish community and Hillel there would be enough for me. It was a completely new experience for me to be at a Southern school since my entire life I was living in a Jewish bubble and for the first time ever I was experiencing diversity and becoming friends with and interacting with non- Jews. I even met people who had never met a Jewish person in their entire lives. It was a different experience being Jewish at a school with not that many Jews but I am glad I had that experience to expand my horizons. I spent my year as an active member of Hillel, attending weekly programs and events. Since the Hillel did not offer Shabbat services, I would wake up every Saturday morning and walk to the Orthodox temple that was a fifteen minute walk away. I felt that in order to be satisfied Jewishly I needed to go to synagogue every Shabbos and be around a Jewish community, even if it wasn’t the conservative congregation I was used to at home. After being really involved in Hillel my first semester of college, I was elected as Religious chair on the Hillel’s student executive board. I saw that the Hillel needed a lot of work and I was hoping that by being on the executive board I would be able to help build the Jewish community. My job was to plan religious programming as well as plan Shabbat services every Friday. I spent my second semester of college spending extensive time planning services and having no students show up to my services. After a while this really started to bother me and I realized that I wasn’t all that happy at CofC since I was not happy with the Jewish life. All of the students at CofC came to Hillel for purely social reasons and the religious aspect of Judaism that I needed during my college experience was not there at all. I thought that I could help build up the Jewish community there however I realized that it was something greater than me.

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  89. (part 2)

    Ultimately, I decided to transfer to the University of Maryland (UMD), where I knew there was a strong Jewish community I could be a part of and where I could be satisfied Jewishly. It is only my second semester at UMD and I am greatly involved in Hillel. I am religious VP of KOACH, on the board of our Jewish Student Union, on the Committee for Religious Life, and involved in our schools Israel culture group TERPAC. I attend KOACH services weekly on both Fridays and Saturday and am in and out of the Hillel building multiple times on a weekly basis attending meetings for all these clubs I am involved in. Clearly, Jewish life at UMD is a huge part of my life and I am also constantly looking for new ways to help out and get involved.

    I also have recently decided to become a Jewish Studies major something that UMD has that many other schools don’t. I love Jewish learning and am always looking to expand my Jewish knowledge so it is great that I can do this through my major. I know that after college I want to work in Jewish education or work for some type of Jewish organization such as BBYO, Alexander Muss High School in Israel, Hillel, or even KOACH. I have a passion for Jewish people and life and I want to put my passion to a greater use after college by working for one of these wonderful organizations and inspire others.

    Now that I am heavily involved in KOACH, I am realizing how important it is that there is a conservative presence for me on my college campus. What CofC lacked for me was Jewish religious life and what UMD has done for me was provide a positive Jewish experience, and in particular a conservative Jewish experience.

    When I walked into Hillel for the first time at UMD on a Friday night, I was overwhelmed with what I saw because there were almost 500 students who all seemed to know each other while I was new and didn’t know anyone. The majority of the students were of Orthodox backgrounds and since I knew UMD had a heavy Orthodox population, I was worried I would be the only conservative Jew who wanted to come to Hillel services. No one was particularly friendly or introduced themselves to me and because of this I was nervous and worried that maybe UMD wouldn’t be a good place for me Jewishly because it was so cliquey. I remember going to eat at Hillel because I had a meal plan and sitting alone at a table because I didn’t know anyone while everyone was friends and knew each other. I hated coming into Hillel because it made me feel like I didn’t have friends and that’s an awful feeling for someone who transferred for the Jewish life. What did change this awful feeling was the fact that I went to KOACH services and found my niche in Hillel. At KOACH services and events I found a smaller group of Jews that seemed to be more like me. They were friendly and wanted to talk to me. It made the overwhelming mass of people that I was used to less overwhelming because I found a smaller group of people that I could relate to and identify with. I now feel comfortable walking into services knowing that I have people I can sit with. I can walk into Hillel on any day for lunch and have people to talk to. I now feel comfortable participating in services and speaking in front of people. Today, some of my closest friends at UMD are people I met through KOACH. None of these things would be possible for me if KOACH didn’t exist.

    My Jewish identity is something that is so important to me and something I live my life by. I feel that it is so important to have a conservative presence on a college campus since we are both the future and the present of the conservative movement. I believe it is critical for the USCJ to realize how important my generation is and to give us more support. This is essential in order for us to develop our Jewish identities and sense of self, otherwise our presence in the conservative movement in the future will be absent. I hope that the USCJ will take my story into consideration and realize how vital we are as leaders of future Kehilot.

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  90. I am a Conservative rabbi serving a congregation in suburban DC. My father is a retired Conservative rabbi in Philly. My daughter is a junior at the University of Maryland and has been actively involved in KOACH there. Growing up in the Movement I have seen the trials and tribulations of USCJ. I do my best to support and be loyal to the Movement and I can think of nothing more important than investing in the next generation. The college campus is alive and vibrant. Students are searching for meaning and we, USCJ, needs to be there in force in order to provide answers and programs. Our students go to CHABAD for free dinners and become influenced by them. We need to do the same.

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  91. I just wanted to say I have read all the messages here and although I do not have the experience with all the other services that the other people have (such as USY) but I do go to services at KOACH on friday nights and its important to me that you save KOACH at every college campus around the country or you'll start to loose college students to the other two movements that are not abandoning their presence on college campuses to save some cash...

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  92. As somebody who has recently converted to Judaism, I have spent most of my time at college going to services at KOACH because they were the group that most closely related to the values of what attracted me to Judaism in the first place. I feel most connected to those values (those of the Conservative Movement) than those of any other movement or religion and therefore the removal of KOACH will truly make me loose a place at school that makes me feel at home. Please don't take that away from us.

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  93. Dear USCJ Admin: Look at all the people who are still involved in Conservative Judaism, even after bad experiences pushed them away, because of the Conservative Yeshiva! The call has gone out from master teachers and eager students, from 18 year olds to eighty year olds, USCJ. Comment after Comment, they say the same thing: Conservative Jews need the Conservative Yeshiva. Have you shown this to anyone? Reported this? The outpouring for the Conservative Yeshiva has been simply incredible on this comments page!

    It would be great if right here, we would see some kind of acknowledgement that the USCJ plan authors have seen this outpouring of support for CY, followed by a post of a new draft that mentions the Conservative Yeshiva. It’s time to see a pledge that that USCJ will quintuple the CY budget, fund recruitment trips, build housing for it’s students and more classrooms in Fuchsberg, as well as help it support two year and gap-year programs.

    *Sigh.* We won’t hear anything, folks. Our support for CY is falling on deaf ears, just like the support for Koach. CY and Koach are big holes in the USCJ budget that work primarily with young people who can’t make major donations or matching grants. The movement needs money and people with money.

    The Conservative Yeshiva was not left out of the plan by accident- it's too controversial. CY is perceived as a threat for all the dumbest reasons, but reasons that scare people nonetheless. And those scared people are part of the USCJ leadership. Let’s count our blessings and be glad they are not arguing to cut CY down like they want to do with Koach. CY Alumni, we have to turn our hopes away from this plan and back towards ourselves. We are the only reliable source of increased support for our dear Conservative Yeshiva. It’s a shame for the movement, but grass will grow from our cheeks before the USCJ makes a top priority of our beloved, tiny, remarkable Yeshiva.

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  94. I post here not as someone involved in Koach in any sense but from a different perspective. I am on the University of Maryland's Committee for Religious Life (CRL), davka as the representative of the Orthodox community Kedma's board to the CRL. We on CRL advocate for a vibrant religious life on campus and encourage people to participate in Jewish religious life in a way that is comfortable for them. Therefore, Koach, as the Conservative community on campus is important for us. It's vital that kids comfortable in the Conservative setting feel that they have a place to daven and feel comfortable in Jewish observance. As has been noted many times on this blog, organizations like Chabad and Aish/Meor/Maryland Jewish Experience are providing free meals, are paying people to take classes, and offer personal relationships with students. I know, though, that many people who take advantage of these opportunities come form Conservative backgrounds and would benefit from a strong Conservative community if resources were spent on college campuses. Kedma, while not supported by any organization, is closely connected with the JLIC program sponsored by the OU which brings a rabbi and rebbetzin to campus to be both teachers and role models. Our community thrives on their presence. Without neither a parent organization nor a rabbi, however, our community would not be nearly as strong. And so I urge USCJ to consider the implications of dropping Koach or any college program - sure, there will still be a Conservative minyan, but if the Conservative movement wants to grow, wants more college kids to adhere to Conservative Judaism and see those benefits in the future, it needs to invest way more in Koach or anything of the like. It needs resources to either have rabbis devoted to students or for the community at least to program effectively so that it can reach and inspire more Conservative Jews.

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  95. To the USCJ Strategic Planning Committee:

    My name is Josh Mellits and I am a senior at Boston University. I recently returned from the annual Koach Kallah convention at Northwestern University, where I heard about the recent USCJ Strategic Plan, and was disturbed learn about the proposal to downsize Koach.

    I am blessed to have received a Jewish education from kindergarten through high school. I was also active in my synagogue's USY chapter, Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley, PA, as well as attend Camp Ramah in the Poconos for 5 years as a camper and 2 as a counselor. You could say I am among the ranks of the "best and brightest," in the words of the plan.

    Coming to Boston University, I was thrilled to find a warm, engaged Conservative community - indeed, it was a reason I enrolled. I was able to attend weekly learning sessions in an egalitarian setting, something that Meor or Chabad couldn't offer. I was able to participate in monthly social events such as challah baking and (literally) making dreidels out of clay, something that we couldn't always depend on Hillel for. I served as gabbai for the minyan and represented my movement on the Religious Life Council, and the foundations laid down by Koach saw our ranks swell and prosper. This environment would not have been possible without Koach and slashing its funds threatens everything we have worked for.

    This past weekend at Kallah further validated my passions for Conservative Judaism and Koach. The ruach during the services, a room filled with my peers davening in harmony, is an experience I have not had since my high school years. Reuniting with old friends from Ramah and USY, as well hearing the stories of new friends at schools with a smaller Conservative (and Jewish) populations have inspired me that everyone has a place in this movement, not just the "best and brightest" like myself.

    As I approach graduation amid an insecure job market and an uncertain future, I am confident that no matter where I go or what I do, I will be an active and passionate Conservative Jew - all thanks to Koach. Please allow other students ahead me to enjoy the experience I did.

    Sincerely,
    Joshua Mellits
    Boston University 2011

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  96. Save Koach! While budget cuts may be necessary for the United Synagogue, cutting Koach would be disastrous. College is the age of independence, where young Jews leave their homes and figure out how they want to practice Judaism on their own terms. Koach gives Conservative Jews a community on campus for which there is no substitute. Please recognize the importance of Koach in creating the leaders who will shape the future of Conservative Judaism!

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  97. While I am happy to see that USCJ is taking the initiative to develop a plan to stay relevant with the modern Jewish world, I question the approach outlined in section 5 of the Strategic Plan. How can we expect to support young communities if we don’t support those individuals while in college? To shift our engagement responsibilities to Hillel is not only irresponsible; it will also prove to be counterproductive. Instead of shifting the responsibilities and the funding, why doesn't USCJ take a harder look at how to really engage the youth involved in the movement! To eliminate KOACH will seals USCJ fate of being irrelevant to the next generation of Jewish leaders.

    There has been a long standing joke about two types of USYers in college - the ones who weren't really involved in high school, but get really involved in college. Then the other type who was so involved that if another blue B'kol Echad bencher is set in front of them, they'll scream and run! But that's doesn't need to be the case if USCJ developed a strategy that would allow for more improved engagement! We certainly will not have the former if we let Hillel engage our next generation of leaders.

    I worked for USCJ for three years engaging with college students across the United States. I spent two KOACH Shabbats at schools that had no support from Hillel international. I sent over 50 students to Israel on a Birthright trip because their school trip didn’t offer then a true experience of being Jewish in our homeland. All of the Hillel professionals and student leadership told me how great it was having
    KOACH on their campus to provide them with some connection to their heritage, provide them with a
    sense that there is more than just tzedek, and provide them with the yiddishkeit.

    Hillel’s approach to engagement is to only be concerned with the large campuses and make Jewish
    students feel good about the label “Jew”. How can USCJ expect the next generation of leaders to start communities if they don’t receive support and a connection while in college?

    Currently, I volunteer and am on the steering committee for a Conservative synagogues young
    professional program. Our monthly Friday night service brings close to 300 people a month! Our
    chaggim celebrations are staple events in the Washington, D.C. community. At these events I constantly run into former students of mine who tell me because they were involved in KOACH, they now look forward to coming to Jewish events. I have former students tell me that they enjoy coming to services because they did it as USYers and missed it in college.

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  98. The conservative movement has been an active part of my life since I was very small. I went to Solomon Schechter, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, was in USY, worked at Ramah Nyack, and participate ind KOACH at the University of Maryland. If you are suggesting to cut funding that will essentially end KOACH on college campuses, you are basically ending the future of Conservative Judaism. Without funding, you are denying the Conservative movement future leaders and depleting its community of members. If there is no KOACH on college campuses, you are saying to young Conservative Jews that you don't care, and they will quickly move away from a movement that has so much to offer. Listen to the Machar Coalition. If you don't invest in the future, there will be no future. I hardly believe that USCJ would condone virtually ending the future of the Conservative movement. I hope that I am proved correct.

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  99. My name is Raanan and I am a student at Binghamton University, where I hold the Director of Pluralistic Programming position on our Hillel board. I also regularly attend KOACH events.

    With the except of Solomon Schechter, I did not grow up in the conservative movement. I am the product of an "interdenominational marriage"- my father is a Reform Rabbi and my mother went to JTS graduate school. Yet I, and many loosely affiliated Conservative Jews ("I did USY", "I went to Schechter", "My family belongs to a Conservative synagogue, but we don't go often") feel at home with KOACH.

    As the director of religious programming at Hillel, I know that there is NO alternative for Conservative Jews except for the now-defunt Kesher, or powerful and heavily funded Chabad, JLIC and Aish emissaries. As a leader in Hillel, I know that the strongest focus of the organization is not on religious life but on other (equally important) aspects of Judaism such as social action, Israel advocacy and events, and community building. Jews looking for halakhic yet open-minded learning and services go to KOACH.

    I've been to the past three KOACH Kallot and I've seen personally how amazing the movement can be when we come together. Everyone in attendance wonders in amazement during Torah Lishma and the incredible davening. We all think, "What if this atmosphere was transplanted to our campus every week?" What if learning became the norm? What if our kehillot grew even bigger?

    We have 40+ students daven kabbalat shabbat, and dozens who come on Shabbat morning. We volunteer and read Torah at our local synagogue- we want to help build kehillot.

    The potential is out there, within our reach. No matter what reason- for the future of Conservative Judaism, for the enhancement of Jewish religious life on campus, for the ruach given to each and every one of us- PLEASE consider what kind of message and what kind of effect will occur if you cut funds to KOACH. Don't make the same mistake I saw first hand when the URJ eliminated Kesher- the Reform community is already seeing the negative effect.

    The kehillah is here, its on every campus with KOACH.

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  100. I am sending you the message below and asking you as a leading member of USCJ to petition USCJ to reconsider this faulty strategic decision. As we well know from previous days it is far easier to retain a loyal brand follower than create a new one which is essentially what Conservative Judaism will have to do after four years of abandoning our youth. There are schools with active Conservative minyanim and activities that cannot be abandoned to the Lubavitch. You well know that not all kids go on to Nativ or go to USY or go to Ramah and then proceed to JTS/Liszt. There are a whole bunch of our Schechter alumni and other affiliated youth who go to a multitude of other schools. They must not be abandoned after years of dedicated funding in one way or another by parents. The leadership at schools need a basis of funding and support. YOUR support is appreciated and if you are of similar mind, please forward to your listserv and contacts to get this message out further.

    With much appreciation,

    Mother of Boston University Student


    Subject: A student's message

    Dear Beth Sholom Community,

    I would like to bring some aspects of the recent USCJ Strategic Plan to your attention. One of the key components of the plan is downsizing the Koach program, USCJ’s presence on college campuses. As a Conservative student, Koach has had a profound impact on my college experience. Each week I attend Koach Drash and Dines with my fellow Conservative students and Rabbi Winick where we learn together about a variety of topics. Koach has also helped our Minyan provide a variety of social programs as well as other learning opportunities that have helped us grow a strong and vibrant Conservative Community on campus. Without the support of Koach, these events would not be possible and would lead to a significant decrease in the involvement of college students in Conservative Judaism. Many of my peers did not attend Camp Ramah, were not active in USY, or did not participate in Nativ, and only became connected to Conservative Judaism through Koach.

    This Thursday, March 3rd, the Strategic Planning Committee is meeting to make revisions to the draft, after which point it will be finalized and brought to a vote with the Board of Directorson March 13th. Should the draft be approved as is, with significant reductions to Koach, the impact would be detrimental to Conservative college students across the country, including me. The Rabbi of my Hillel is traditional Orthodox and while he is supportive of our Minyan, we really depend upon the support of Koach through Rabbi Winick and semesterly Koach Shabbats with JTS Rabbinic students to truly learn Torah in an engaging way that is relevant to our lives. Additionally, next year the Conservative Minyan will no longer be financially supported by Hillel. Without the support of Koach, it will be incredibly difficult to hold events that will help to build our community .

    For many students across the country, Koach is the only connection to Conservative Judaism during their four years of college and the annual Koach Kallah is the only Conservative Shabbat they have during the school year. As someone who has been so deeply affected by Koach, I cannot support the passing of this draft. We have the ability to have our voices heard before the Thursday meeting and I would really appreciate your support.

    As soon as possible, please email the Strategic Planning Committee at 4tomorrow@..., join the Facebook group Mahar Coalition (a group of Koach supporters), and post on the strategic planning blog: http://uscj4tomorrow.blogspot.com/to urge them not to downsize Koach. I would also deeply appreciate if you could forward this to your peers and other members of our community and encourage them to also vocalize their protests against this plan.

    Thank you for your support,
    A Student at
    Boston University

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  101. Hi,

    I am a Jew-by-choice (convert) and strongly feel that having a supportive KOACH at my university while I made the decision to convert and go through the conversion process was a huge plus! I've learned a lot of things through the UMD KOACH community about conservative, and having a separate Friday night/Saturday morning conservative right on campus has been an awesome opportunity and addition to my study of Judaism. UMD KOACH has been a welcoming community since I started attending Shabbat services at Hillel, which I feel is important not just to converts like myself, but also to all members of the conservative community. Keeping KOACH running on college campuses is an excellent experience and motivation for continuing conservative Jewish practice beyond college graduation. I strongly support keeping funding for KOACH going to provide future generations of college-aged conservative Jews with the great programs that are going now!

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  102. My name is Daniel Ring, and I'm currently a junior at the University of Maryland, and was the past President of KOACH. For me, not attending Ramah, USY, NATIV, or Schechter, KOACH has been my strongest and first adult link to Conservative Judaism, and must be supported.

    I was raised in a tiny Conservative shul, Adat Chaim, in Reisterstown, MD. I had a strong Hebrew School education, and a very high dedication to Judaism at home, with a high level of family observance. I've always kept kosher, and attended Saturday morning services for as long as I can remember. In high school, I was involved in BBYO, not USY, and found a strong attachment to cultural Judaism. However, never was I taught about Conservative ideology, or given more a basic glimpse at traditional Jewish texts.

    In college, I searched for something Jewish that appealed to me, but had difficulty finding the meaning I was looking for. I eventually found it in a kiruv program, as no other Jewish organization truly reached out me. I reached new Jewish heights, which I probably would never have without these outreach rabbis. I started to adopt a more halachic lifestyle, keeping shabbat, keeping stricter kashrut, and learning traditional Jewish texts. I am forever indebted to them.

    I would also regularly attend Friday night KOACH services, but always got there just in time for Aleinu. Then, one day, someone from KOACH Board called me (later to become one of my best friends), asking if I wanted to be KOACH President! On a whim, I said sure. It turned out to be a great time, and I realized that KOACH gave me somewhere to put my efforts into, even though at the time I didn't understand what it really meant, or the meaning it would give to my Judaism.

    At the same time, I had reached a stumbling block in my Jewish search, as I realized the ideology expressed by the kiruv rabbis didn’t sit well with me. It didn't feel right for me to accept this ideology, but I didn't know where else to go. I had nowhere else to turn to, no background in Conservative ideology.

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  103. Then I went to KOACH Kallah. Starting with the first conversation, every conversation was about the Movement, about Conservative ideology, about Judaism, Torah, and life. These were conversations I had never had before, and it changed me. I realized that the way I saw the Torah and the tradition was okay. I realized that other people saw Judaism and the world the way I did. I was set on a quest to find my own truth to seek out why I saw Judaism this way, with balance, historical and societal grounding, and a meaningful halachic lifestyle.

    I came back and argued with the kiruv rabbis, checked out some books, and talked to my family and my friends. At the same time, I continued to grow more comfortable as an egalitarian, halachic, Conservative Jew.

    Last semester for KOACH Shabbat, we hosted a rabbinical intern at our campus. I learned how a Conservative teshuva was developed and where modern Conservative ideology and halacha was based. The intern's travel was paid for by KOACH, and he wouldn't have been here otherwise.

    Later, on a Haredi kiruv Israel trip, I began to question, and was informed that my perspectives on Jewish issues were essentially “wrong”. I received the same “right” answers where ever I turned. Unsure and confused, I contacted the same rabbinical intern. He reassured me that my beliefs were also grounded in halacha and the halachic process. He held up my Conservative, egalitarian backbone when it was on the verge of breaking. Honestly, if he wasn't there, I would have been even more confused, unsure, and lost. Without that contact, and that conversation, I don’t know where I would be currently.

    I am deeply involved in KOACH at UMD. KOACH provides a kehilla here at college, allowing me to associate with likeminded Jews, giving me a minyan on Saturday mornings and Friday nights, and a Shabbat community. I host KOACH Shabbat meals regularly, learn with visiting guest speakers, and participate weekly in services. I have made some of my best friends through KOACH. Honestly, if not for KOACH, I probably would have given up on Conservative Judaism.

    We must keep KOACH strong, and not cut any of their funding, and should even add to it. We will have no future if we do not provide a healthy, safe, secure place for Jewish college students who are ideologically confused, looking for Jewish meaning. For many nominally Conservative Jewish students, and ideologically confused students, KOACH provides an option in Jewish discourse unavailable from any other place of college Jewish learning such as Chabad, Meor, Hillel, or the JLI. It also provides access to large resources such as JTS or the RA. KOACH is an essential part to the Conservative Movement, and without quality funding, the future for Conservative Judaism looks grim.

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  104. The KOACH at the University of Maryland @ College Park has been an invaluable part of my Jewish identity since arriving here two years ago. As a potential convert, the KOACH board was extremely welcoming, inviting, and helpful. They have modeled the type of openness and compassion that the Jewish kehillah should embody. Furthermore, KOACH serves a community that would not otherwise be served on UMD campus. For those who need a halakhically observant yet still egalitarian service, the Conservative Movement needs to remain present on our campus. The learning opportunities have developed my understanding of Jewish faith, halakhah, history, and the values of tikkun olam and tzedakah. The social atmosphere, as I said, has been gracious and welcoming. i have grown as a person and grown in my Jewish learning as a direct result of the programming and religious life offered by UMD KOACH.

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  105. Hi my name is Abby and I am a Junior at the University of Maryland. I am currently serving on my school’s KOACH board as Social Programming VP.

    I am a product of the Conservative movement, and have been very involved in the Conservative movement throughout my life. I went to public school, but I attended religious school at my Conservative synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, in Providence, Rhode Island. In high school, I continued my education at the Harry Elkin Midrasha (Hebrew High School) and worked at my synagogue’s religious school. I was also extremely active in my shul’s Kadima and USY chapters. In 11th grade, I went on Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), a semester of high school in Israel through Ramah. On that program, my love for Israel and my love for Judaism deepened. After an amazing and life changing experience on TRY, I still longed for more Jewish learning and to be back in Israel, so after I graduated high school I went on Nativ. While on Nativ, I became more observant, I started to keep Shabbat, and Judaism became an even bigger part of my life. I have also spent 5 summers working at Camp Ramah in New England, an amazing summer experience for both campers and staff.

    Before I went on Nativ, I felt as though I would be fine at a small school with a very small Jewish life. However, after Nativ, the small school in Massachusetts that I had chosen to attend was no longer a good match for me. I was not happy with the lack of a Jewish community. There was a Hillel, but they were inactive, and despite my best efforts to change that, no one listened to me or wanted to put in the effort needed. I soon became discouraged, and after spending a year there, I chose to transfer to University of Maryland. I chose UMD for, among other things, its large Jewish community, and I could not be happier about my decision.

    When I first walked into Hillel for my first Friday night at UMD, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in the lobby. Even though I knew some people, the large group in the lobby made me feel as though I knew no one. Once I got into the KOACH small room on the second floor of Hillel, I felt less overwhelmed, and quickly felt welcomed into the KOACH community. During my first year at UMD I attended Friday night services every week. I quickly made many friends and soon found my own community within the greater KOACH community. Through the friends I met, I became more and more involved with KOACH. This past semester, I joined UMD KOACH’s board.

    KOACH is the bridge between high school and the post-college leaders of the Conservative movement. Without KOACH, many people may fall through the cracks and soon become disconnected from their Conservative roots. I know that if it were not for KOACH, I might have lost touch with my Judaism due to a lack of a community. KOACH gave me the Jewish community I craved, and it also opened more doors for me. It allowed me to come out of my shell and further my Jewish learning. It is through KOACH that I have made many of my good friends, and it is through KOACH that I have become more of a leader. USCJ, please reconsider your decision to cut the funding for KOACH.

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  106. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, attended Hebrew school through high school, and attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos every summer since I was eight years old (counselor for the past two summers). I would have to say that I have a strong Jewish identity and looked for a good Jewish community when applying to colleges. I ended up at the University of Maryland and immediately searched for a niche on my campus. I'm not one to immediately feel comfortable in new situations but I knew that I would find a home at Hillel and people that I could count on. I attend almost every Friday night service offered through KOACH as well as many Saturday morning services. I am involved in the Jewish Student Union on campus, was Vice President of Membership for a semester on KOACH board, and have participated in an Alternative Spring Break program through Hillel. The Jewish community at the University of Maryland has had a huge impact on my college experience. Without the support of my friends at Hillel and the availability of a Jewish experience through KOACH I would not have felt at home here at Maryland. I have heard numerous stories of my friends jetting off to various colleges and not having a Hillel to go to, not being able to form that link with their fellow classmates. My Jewish identity is a strong part of who I am and without a strong KOACH community on my campus I would not be able to make it a part of who I will become. I support KOACH and strongly encourage you to do the same. Invest in the future.

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  107. KOACH is vital to college campuses! Coming from a campus with an extremely strong Reform minyan and an ever popular, ever growing chabad, KOACH lost numbers extremely quickly due to Chabad's social and spiritual appeal. I will admit to being one of those who is now unaffiliated because this very situation happened to me. However, I knew that if I ever grew frustrated with Chabad style davening or theology, that I had the Conservative minyan to fall back on. Unfortunately, I did not take advantage of this, but I think that knowing that it existed as a part of our Hillel was a very comforting presence for me. In addition, I know many of my peers who are positively impacted by KOACH Kallah and who are now in Israel and really growing "Conservatively" through the learning at CY. The importance of a middle-ground minyan that helps balance out where the Reform movement places themselves ritually and where Chabad stands theologically, cannot be expressed. And, what better way and time to do this during college when you witness excited post-Nativers and excited former USYers eager to engage their Conservative Jewish values on campus, at a time when many students fall off the Conservative Movement radar.

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  108. About a year ago I realized that it was time to further my interest in Judaism and take my first step toward conversion. I started by attending a local shul, but felt out of place and uncomfortable as I didn't know anyone. I went once and wasn't sure where to turn to next. I mentioned my problem to a close friend, who invited me to accompany her at Hillel this Shabbos. This was my first positive experience of many with KOACH. Everyone introduced themselves to me as we quickly became friends. I've found that I can go to them with any question regarding Judaism and will always get a lengthy, informational response.
    At KOACH, I never feel embarrassed or ashamed for my lack of knowledge. They always make me feel welcome and are accepting to who I am.
    The main aspect of KOACH that I enjoy most is it's small, laid-back atmosphere, which doesn't make me feel intimated like other places have.
    I hope that KOACH will be able to further it's commitment in providing a home for conservative Jews and continue to welcome new students to this rare and comforting experience.

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  109. Part 1:

    Shalom,

    My name is Judy Gerstenblith and I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I belong to Chizuk Amuno Congregation, I went to Krieger Schechter from preschool through eighth grade, I went to Beth Tfiloh High School, I was a camper at Ramah in New England for seven years, I went on Ramah Israel Seminar, and I have been a counselor at Ramah for two summers. I currently attend the University of Maryland, College Park, where I am a sophomore psychology major and Jewish Studies minor.

    As a strong supporter of the First Amendment, I am pleased to see that the USCJ has provided the public with a forum for expressing our beliefs. Since you “welcome [our] comments,” I would like to address some important aspects of the draft strategic plan. While I cannot comment on everything, I will do my best to pick the most crucial parts, as I see fit.

    First, I agree that there should be a “New United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.” I think the claims made about the current challenges facing Conservative Judaism are completely accurate. These include:
    1) “Conservative congregations face financial stress, declining and aging membership, a narrow leadership base, weak denominational commitment, and a loss of meaning for many younger people” (Draft Strategic Plan 6).
    2) “The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has lost ground” (Draft Strategic Plan 7).
    3) “The USCJ can, and must, play a pivotal role in realizing the potential of Conservative congregations and overcoming these challenges” (Draft Strategic Plan 7).
    I think that recognizing these challenges, being open about them, and sharing them with the rest of the Conservative Movement are all critical steps in the process of finding ways to work through these challenges. Thank you for being open about them.

    Second, I support the change in language from “synagogue” or “congregation” to “kehillah”. (I always believe in using Hebrew as much as possible!) But even more importantly, I think you are right in that this change is “more than semantic” (Draft Strategic Plan 8). I look forward to seeing how this change in language translates into practicality, and I hope that it will accomplish what the strategic plan has in mind.

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  110. Part 2:

    Third, I recognize that we are in the midst of an economic crisis. We are all low on money. Budgets must be reduced, funds must be cut, and money must be reallocated. It appears, however, that the order of importance, according to the draft strategic plan, is:
    1) Existing kehillot
    2) The educational system
    3) The next generation of kehilla leadership
    It is here, with the focus of the little money that USCJ has to be spent first on existing kehillot, and last on the next generation of kehilla leadership, that I find troubling. I agree that “a strong and vibrant religious center for North American Jewry requires strong and vibrant Conservative congregations,” but when our money is low, we must carefully consider our priorities (Draft Strategic Plan 5). Young college-age students, more than the population of the majority of existing kehillot, engage in deep intellectual, ideological, and philosophical thought. We are constantly questioning. We are passionate, committed, and interested- about beliefs that engage us, about movements that cater to us, about people that identify with us.

    “The next generation of kehilla leadership” refers to many people (Draft Strategic Plan 9). However, as a member of University of Maryland’s KOACH, I would like to focus on the impact of KOACH on myself, on this campus, and on kehillot in general.

    As I mentioned above, I grew up in a Conservative shul, I went to Schechter and Ramah, and I went to Beth Tfiloh, a community high school affiliated with a Modern Orthodox shul. I have friends and family that identify with many different movements of Judaism. I also have friends and family that purposefully choose not to identify. I, myself, often question the purpose of labeling.

    Regardless of whether I identify as a Conservative Jew, regardless of whether I affiliate with the Conservative Movement, regardless of whether I am a staunch supporter of all Conservative ideology, I still see KOACH as a necessary and vital kehilla on my college campus. For me, KOACH has been just that- a kehilla in which I have established meaningful friendships, shared meals over Jewish philosophy, literature, and ideology, and immersed myself in the programming that is meant to bring this kehilla together. With the support that the USCJ has continued to provide for KOACH, despite its dwindling funds over the past few years, our KOACH kehilla here at Maryland is thriving. In my time at Maryland so far, I see firsthand the impact that KOACH has had on my fellow peers. Coming to weekly services, reading Torah, leading parts of the service, engaging in programs, and creating my own community were unquestionable activities for me. I have always been active in similar activities at home and at camp. But for many of my peers, many of whom did not participate in USY, Nativ, or Schechter, KOACH has been their sole connection to Conservative Judaism with people their own age. Without KOACH, many of my friends would most-likely view the Conservative Movement as a movement of the past- a dying movement. Therefore, I believe it is essential for the USCJ Strategic Planning Committee to be able to recognize the importance of KOACH on college students. Maybe you have only heard negative feedback about KOACH (because “bad” speaks louder than “good”), but I know that for me and my peers, being a part of KOACH has been an incredible, life-changing experience. If the USCJ votes affirmatively for the plan as it currently stands, I do not believe KOACH will be able to make the same impact that it has on myself and my peers.

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  111. Part 3:

    At the University of Maryland, KOACH is a kehilla. We are a kehilla that holds weekly services both Friday night and Shabbat morning, sponsors monthly Shabbat lunch-n’-learns, onegs, havdalah and desserts, schedules social programming such as hamantaschen baking, chocolate seders, and movie nights, and engages in serious intellectual conversations on a regular basis. Within our Hillel, a vibrant, large, and often overwhelming space, KOACH provides an intimate kehilla for all Jews that “embraces all of the values…most dear to us” (UMD’s Statement to the USCJ). Our kehilla is strong, and fortunately, “we are strong enough to stand our own” (UMD’s Statement to the USCJ). That being said, leaving the strategic plan as is, here is what we would primarily be missing:
    1) The KOACH Kallah
    2) KOACH Shabbat
    3) National connection to Jews on other campuses
    All three of these factors are critical to the University of Maryland, and we view them as essential to our programming and identity on campus.

    I am writing on behalf of a movement that is greater than myself. I am writing on behalf of a movement that is greater than University of Maryland’s KOACH. I am writing on behalf of college students around the country who do not attend the University of Maryland. I am writing on behalf of students who attend the KOACH Kallah because that is their only annual exposure to serious Torah learning. I am writing on behalf of the students who would have loved to attend the KOACH Kallah, but who couldn’t afford to do so because of this economic crisis. We have a wealth of opportunity here, and if you were present at this year’s KOACH Kallah hosted by Northwestern University, you would have witnessed that. You would have felt the kavanah that emanated our davening. You would have experienced the thirst in our eyes for community, kehilla. You would have experienced the richness of our questions and conversations.

    And perhaps even more significant, we feel that as college students, and as KOACH affiliates, we believe that we are not only “the next generation of kehilla leadership,” but we are also the current generation of kehilla leadership (Draft Strategic Plan 9). We are a kehilla, and we are the leaders of that kehilla. But even more so, we possess a shared relationship with other kehillot. We benefit from the “myriad Conservative congregations in the area,” and in turn, “we are actively involved in local Conservative synagogues as Hebrew School teachers and youth advisors” (UMD’s Statement to the USCJ). We, the members of KOACH, are certainly important for the future of the Conservative Movement. But we are also important now, in the present, as we all look to restructure the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

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  112. Part 4:

    Fourth, I would like to seriously question a section that seems to not have received comprehensive input when it was written. Section 5.1 claims that “the current campus environment is heavily serviced by Hillel and numerous other well-funded and professionally staffed efforts” (Draft Strategic Plan 14). Of course, I can only speak for the University of Maryland Hillel, but I can tell you personally that we certainly are not “heavily serviced by Hillel.” Additionally, where are these “numerous other well-funded and professionally staffed efforts”? If they exist, I do not know about them.

    I think it is frustrating, to say the least, that the authors of the USCJ Strategic Planning Committee did not use a representative sample when conducting research on college campuses. The “eleven months of research, consultations, and analysis…” were either not enough, or the research was not well designed (Draft Strategic Plan 4). I hope that in the future, the USCJ will use better samples, with higher validity and reliability, before making statements like the one quoted from section 5.1.

    Fifth, I want to thank the USCJ for making an open statement that they “cannot abandon Conservative Jewish college students” (Draft Strategic Plan 14). While you are not planning on “abandon[ing]“ us per say, you are effectively cutting enough of our funding that the impact you will make will most-likely not be statistically significant.

    Sixth, I agree 101% that the USCJ “needs a more effective vehicle than the current Koach program” (Draft Strategic Plan 14). I agree; KOACH is not the best program that it can be. It has the potential for so much more. So let’s talk. Let’s engage in a conversation about how to make KOACH better. Let’s discuss what we can do, with the limited funds that we have, to improve KOACH on ALL college campuses. I think this is a key point: just because the current KOACH program is not outstanding, just because it is not 100% successful, does not mean that we should basically eliminate the program. This means that we should engage in conversation and implementation of changes to the program. And that conversation should be between USCJ and college students. It should not be a one-sided conversation. It cannot be a one-sided conversation in order for the changes to be effective.

    Here are a few of my preliminary suggestions:

    1) Retain the KOACH Kallah, but find ways to reduce funds (ex: students can stay in dorms rather than hotels, students can participate in a low cost social event rather than a high cost one, etc.)
    2) Retain the KOACH Shabbat program, but find ways to reduce funds (ex: rabbinical interns can stay in student apartments rather than hotels, food can be paid for by the individual Hillels rather than by KOACH)
    3) Set up an alliance between every school that has KOACH and a Rabbi from the closest Conservative shul. Even if the Rabbi cannot be present at the school on a regular basis, the Rabbi would still act as that school’s KOACH “liaison” or “mentor” (this is a cheap way for KOACH students to still have guidance and a convenient, halachik source)
    4) Set up events that engage multiple KOACH kehillot from the same areas (ex: GW, AU, Delaware, Hopkins, UMBC, Goucher, Towson, UMD, etc. can do KOACH-based programming together. KOACH can and should provide the funds for this type of programming)
    5) If convenience allows (such as New York schools, BU, Brandeis, etc.), send a Conservative Rabbi to the school on a weekly basis to engage the students in serious, Jewish learning

    These are just a few suggestions, and I would love the opportunity to continue this conversation in greater depth.

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  113. Part 5:

    Before I close, I also want to briefly mention that I fully support the Fuchsberg Center, and I believe that participants of the Conservative Yeshiva fall under the category of “the next generation of kehilla leadership” (Draft Strategic Plan 9). As such, I believe that in addition to programs like KOACH, the Conservative Yeshiva should be one of the USCJ’s top priorities, not the last. Without an institution that takes learning seriously and participates in studying Torah from an authentically Conservative approach, we have almost no legitimacy as a movement that prides itself on our commitment to halacha.

    In conclusion, I hope that the USCJ Strategic Planning Committee reads this post as an attempt to help you to help us. As a college student active in the KOACH community, I cannot support the plan as it currently stands. We, college students, are serious. We are not merely writing to you in order to just make a fuss or get publicity. We really, truly believe that our voices need to be heard before this plan can be passed. We are only doing this because we believe in Conservative Judaism, we have seen the impact that it has had on us and on our peers, and we know that it can continue to have a similar and even greater impact in the future…but only if we take the correct approach.

    Judaism has never been a religion about answers. It has always been about questions. Consequently, I am not writing this statement to propose an answer (or answers) to the many challenges that the Conservative Movement currently faces. I am writing it to pose questions, and to further open up this tremendous discussion that has ensued.

    If nothing else, I want to applaud the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for raising many crucial points about the current state of Conservative Judaism. It is about time that we bring these conversations to the forefront of the public. Thank you for your time, your energy, and your commitment to hearing, and more importantly, to listening, to my voice.

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  114. Temple Israel in Vestal NY has a wonderful relationship with our Binghamton University Hillel. We have engaged their Jewish Acapela group in our Shabbat Across America programming, enjoyed having students read Torah, Haftarah and lead services on occasion, and participate in student led Yom HaShoah Memorial and Israel Day celebrations. They are a wonderful breath of fresh air to an aging community. The Binghamton Vestal area holds less than a thousand Jewish families, we are aging and struggling hard with economic strain. There are over 4000 Jewihs students at Binghamton university, many of them involved with Koach, growing to be the next generation of leaders for our movement. These students approached with me with great concern over the new budget strategy and how it will affect Koach. Especially in a small city region like Binghamton, where the number of Jewish students at the university far exceeds a small financially constrained Jewish community, "kehllah" financing may leave these wonderful young leaders out in the cold. Binghamton has an incredibly well supported Chabad Center, with deep pockets and centralized support, but it does not provide for every student. What of our gay and lesbian Jewish students, what of our women students who need to say kaddish, our women Torah readers and service leaders. All our people deserve to be cared for by our movement, to feel a place that is home in Judaism. Koach provides a unique and indispensable experience and training ground for our young people and is our greatest hope for the future of the Conservative movement.

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  115. I understand the value of KOACH. I am sure that college campuses with KOACH benefit a great deal from what it has to offer. But as a student from a school without KOACH, I think that the money may be better spent somewhere else. KOACH is mostly present on campuses that have a somewhat large and active Jewish population. I think what is most needed is to cater to schools having trouble creating a strong Jewish community. KOACH does not do this. At these schools the Hillels are struggling to have Shabbat dinner every week. At these schools it seems as if there are no Conservative Jews. I think these are the problems that need to be addressed, so that we can continue to have a strong, knowledgeable, engaged movement.

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  116. How can United Synagogue stand idly by and let ultra-orthodox programs take away Conservative Jews??

    I am a product of both USY and Nativ and because there is no Conservative lay leadership or professional on my campus I am forced to study with an orthodox rabbi that has told me to my face that my beliefs of Judaism - Conservative Judaism- are invalid.

    But I have no other option if I want to continue my Jewish growth.

    United Synagogue would be foolish to ignore the conservative Jewish youth on the college campus simply because there are other "alternatives" already in existence.

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  117. A two-parter.

    The failure of the strategic plan is that it simply doesn't confront the very real but very difficult problems that the movement faces right now. Instead, it focuses on marginal changes like a few dollars more or less for KOACH or for Fuchsburg; changes that may keep the movement afloat for a few more years, but keep us firmly embedded in our downward spiral.

    The real problem that the Conservative movement needs to address is the enormous gap between what the movement says it is, and what its members really are.

    The plan states five characteristics of "Jews in the center generally." I belong to, and am a board member and ritual lay leader of, a medium-sized Conservative synagogue in the Northeast. None of those five statements accurately describes the large majority of the members of my synagogue - whom I believe to be pretty typical of the movement as a whole. They do not attach great importance to being Jewish or to religious practice - it at best of marginal importance. They do marry other Jews more often than not, but do not have mostly Jewish friends nor close to it. They do prefer egalitarian prayer over gender-segregated prayer, but they prefer no prayer at all (ie, not going to shul) when that's an option, which it almost always is. They generally minimize or conceal their Jewishness in their broader social engagement; they remain far more committed to assimilation (in the social sense, not the identity sense) than to Jewish distinctiveness. They have no interest whatsoever in Jewish text learning. How many people study Talmud in your Conservative shul? In mine, four do, three if you don't count the rabbi, and I think that's more than in most Conservative synagogues.

    The history of the Conservative movement (which is very clearly described in _American Judaism_ by Jonathan Sarna, which everyone should read) is simple. The Conservative movement is the people who want the look-and-feel of Orthodoxy (eg, Hebrew prayer) but want to loosen the restrictions. We got started in the early 1900s by people who wanted the rabbi to have a secular education as well as a rabbinic one. We grew before the Second World War by abandoning segregated seating, and we became the largest movement after the war by allowing people to drive on Shabbat. (Biggest mistake we ever made.) Unfortunately, in the 1950s and 1960s, Orthodoxy nearly vanished. As a result, we no longer have a pool of people who want that look and feel. Also, during our heyday, if your parents were Orthodox but you affiliated Conservative, the Orthodox were more willing to say, "well, you're meeting us halfway." Today the gap between us and the Orthodox is nearly unbridgable. Hence we don't get people who were raised Orthodox affiliating Conservative in anything like the numbers we once did. Instead, the people whose parents drifted from Orthodox to Conservative are now drifting from Conservative to Reform, and in the next generation they'll drift to non-affiliation, and in the generation after that they won't be Jews at all. That's the experience of the majority of the movement's membership. They're not in the center because they hold centrist principles; they're in the center because you can't get from the right to the left to out the door without passing through the center for a generation or two.

    [continued]

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  118. Part 2.

    Now, there are a handful of members of my community (I try to be one) who do, in general, meet the plan's description. The strategic document's main problem is that, following in the proud tradition of the movement, it pretends that that handful, who are the Jews the movement would like to have, are typical of the ones it actually has. They're not. As long as the movement remains in denial about that, it will continue to program for the small number of Jews who fit the movement's ideal, and the rest will continue to drift away. Most of them will go to Reform synagogues; some of the ones who are well educated will either find Conservadox minyanim or stomach the gender disparities and join Modern Orthodoxy, since in both of those communities the majority -are- well described by the five characterists. A pity those groups are nowhere near the center, no matter how much we wish they were. So our well-educated members drift into those groups, not because they're rejecting our principles, but because they want peers who share their values - and they don't find them in our synagogues.

    The Conservative movement has three choices. One, accept the fact that there aren't a fifth as many Jews of the type it wants to serve as it has long pretended there are, stay true to its principles, and accept being a much smaller movement than it presently is. Second, accept the fact that the majority of its current members aren't buying what it's selling and the majority of young adult Jews aren't either, switch to selling a completely different product, and try to hang onto its current size by changing into something that greatly resembles Reform Judaism. (In fact, this alternative probably leads to a merger with the Reform movement in 30-50 years.) Third, stay in denial and keep drifting.

    This strategic plan is firmly in the camp of the third alternative, because the third alternative is the only one it can promote as long as it refuses to deal with the gap between what the movement wants its members to be, and what they really are. In truth, the plan is a nice piece of paperwork drawn up by the kind of entrenched bureaucracy that the independent minyanim are completely committed to avoiding. Who was surprised that the first step in the movement's solution to its existential problems was to draw up a vision statement? Who is surprised that the middle of the plan (section 11) is to form a half-dozen more committees? It's time to stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and actually confront the very real, very difficult problems we're facing.

    Stephen Schmidt
    schmidsj@union.edu

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  119. Although I concede that in a time of limited resources, USCJ cannot necessarily continue to offer all the services it offered in the past, I am concerned about some of the recomendations in the draft Strategic Plan:
    1. While it may be appropriate to decide that USCJ's primary focus should be on serving Kehillot rather than individual Conservative Jews, limiting this focus to the "business side" of Kehillot as suggested in Dr. Eisen's letter is not at all appropriate. USCJ needs to play a role in programming, education, social action initiatives, etc. A role that is limited to the "business side" of Kehillot could be filled equally well by UJC, United Way, or even a for-profit service bureau.
    2. If USCJ does decide to focus on serving Kehillot rather than individuals, it puts some of its most successful programs at risk: USY, Koach, and even Hazak (which can certainly prosper as more Baby-Boomers reach retrement age) are directed at, and primarily benefit, individuals.
    3. Focusing on education only through high school is short-sighted. USCJ needs strong education programs for all age groups, including college students, grad students and recent college grads, young working adults, etc. Part of the success of Independent Minyanim is due to the high quality prayer experiences and educational programs offered and the opportunity to work and grow alongside like-minded peers. USCJ, working through Kehillot, must offer a similar opportunity to young people, and it can be done.
    USCJ should invest resources in educational opportunities for young adults through Koach and should set up a similar forum for the post-Koach cohort: 25 to 35 year olds who are starting careers and setting up their first housholds. They have limited free-time, so we have to offer exciting opportunities that can be implemented "out of the box". This is a place to invest, not divest!
    4. Full disclosure: Both my son and daughter are "poster children" for the Conservative Movement: Schechter School grads, Ramahniks, active USYers and involved with Koach. Were it not for those programs, they would not be where they are today. I want to make sure my grandchildren have those some possibilities.

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  120. I have written a response to the strategic plan titled, "Visioning Future Success: The Next Iteration of a Central Organization for Conservative Judaism and Kehillot. It can be found at www.hamirpesetsheli.blogspot.com . It sets out a vision and attempts to open a discussion. I look forward to your feedback.

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  121. I received an e-newsletter yesterday from USCJ. Among the items being touted was KOACH and it's glories! But I'm confused - If USCJ includes KOACH under "bragging rights" it seems not to
    make sense to want to de-fund/cancel it. That's short-sighted and UNstategic planning in my book.

    Two young people, one of whom is my daughter Batya (currently the Regional Executive VP for Religion and Education in NERUSY), sent me a
    petition which is circulating, urging you to re-consider eliminating funding for KOACH.
    These young people - who are very devoted and highly identified with our Movement - are paying close attention to what the USCJ is doing. And they are not happy with the direction being taken with regard to their future. There seems to be more involvement in KOACH and more need for it on campuses than I realized, and the students' arguments seem sound. It makes more sense to strengthen and encourage our young people who want to identify with the Conservative Movement than to chase windmills among the minyanim/kehilot who have made clear their disinterest and disdain for denominationalism.

    I think we need to clarify better who our target audience is and determine how best to serve them, even with a shortage of funds. And I think that if one of USCJ's clear missions is to serve our young people, we can raise money for that. Of course, we have to be serious and do things with the money, which will be different from how the USCJ has not served its primary constituents - the congregations - for too long. Which is why we are at this juncture.

    As to the plan I heard discussed at Mishkan Tefilla in Newton a couple of weeks ago,
    I think too much energy is devoted to issues of governance and not enough on substance. I know that the draft calls for an Operational Plan to flesh out the details, but without those details, like "Who is going to do What?", this plan is not meaningful or substantial. I am also concerned that the USCJ is acting on proposals before the plan is finalized and accepted, as in the case of KOACH. That feels impulsive and unwise.

    As I said at the Boston/New England area meeting, this plan is lacking in vision for the Movement. And it lacks a sense of who will lead the Movement. These are critical issues that need to be discussed before any kind of strategy makes sense. Perhaps that's not for USCJ to decide, but it's an issue we all need to address.

    Rabbi Wayne Franklin
    Temple Emanu-El, Providence

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  122. Strategic Planning Committee-

    Please maintain full support for the Koach programs. For some of our young Jewish adults, this may be their last best chance to be involved and learn Torah with peers in a way that is deeply relevant to them. Conservative synagogues across the country are trying to find ways to maintain current membership, and attract new members, but they cannot sell a product, if you will not be offended by the analogy, if the consumer doesn't consider the product important or even minimally worthy of their attention.

    For a strategic planning committee, I believe it is strategically imperative to continue to reach out with all the strength we can muster to our young adults in college. It must be our plan to capture their hearts and minds at this time, or run the risk of losing them altogether in the future.

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  123. Hazzan Henry RosenblumMarch 4, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    I will not dwell on the many reasons why cutting back support for Koach and the CY may well prove devastating to the future of the movement. Rather I will just go on record stating that now is EXACTLY the crucial time for enhancing the engagement of college age students and those who desire the opportunity of studying Torah L'Shma! Cutting back the necessary funding for these 2 "programs" is nothing less than foolishness and misplaced priorities. There will be no future for our movement without the programs that provide serious Torah study in committed communities. This strategic plan is strategically flawed.

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  124. I'll keep it simple since most of the posts are pretty long:

    -Rabbi Wernick is quoted in the New Jersey Jewish News saying that spending $400k on KOACH is a "waste of money." I'm not getting that from the comments on this blog and elsewhere.

    -From what I've read about the Mahar Coalition, Steven Cohen admitted that no college students were consulted and there was no study done to come to the conclusions reached in the report about service to college students. If one of his students turned in a paper like that, I wonder what kind of grade they'd get.

    -The report says that other organizations are adequately serving our Conservative kids. Really? Have any members of the committee been on a college campus lately?

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  125. Hi, and yasher koach first of all for taking on this daunting task. Second, let me say I'm mystified that the CY, as part of the Fuchsberg Center, gets only passing and negative mention. You can see from the messages here what a positive impact it has on Conservative Jews and Judaism. If you want to imagine an ideal Conservative institution, then the CY is as close as it gets in real life. It has actually succeeded in doing what Conservative Judaism set out to do, which is rare. It gives Jews of various levels of education and observance an intense, immersive experience of authentic Jewish living, exposes them to the power and depth of Torah through world class teachers, and sends them on reinvigorated and empowered to effect change in their home congregations. Why in the world would you ever consider cutting it? We need more CY's, not one less.

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  126. Kudos to this comment above -- "The report says that other organizations are adequately serving our Conservative kids. Really? Have any members of the committee been on a college campus lately?

    I understand the need to strengthen USCJ services to congregations. As someone who spends a good amount of time on a college campus (as a professor), I can tell you that Conservative Jews are UNDERserved. No one is asserting that KOACH needs to provide Hillel-type services; but if the Conservative Movement wishes to have any future, it needs to focus on at-risk populations. I can tell you that students have told me they are not welcome in Orthodox-dominated Hillels and they do not feel a connection to Conservative synagogues, despite their USY and Ramah backgrounds. Revamp if you need to, but the pittance you want to spend on college students is sad and counterproductive.

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  127. Dr. Judith H. LaxMarch 11, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    I read the article in the Metrowest Jewish News describing your visit to New Jersey to explain the focus of the Strategic Plan for USCJ. I have to say that I took umbrage at your comments concerning Koach's allocation as "a waste of money". I know that you were talking about the future. I was thinking of what Koach has been able to accomplish with each year's smaller and smaller allocations. To have given groups of college students identity as Conservative Jews to daven, to study and to socialize together was not a waste of money. To have given a Jewish student who was at a college where there were few Jews a way to meet other Jewish students at a Conservative regional or national Kallah was not a waste of money. Chabad would not think so. To have read the Koach newsletter written by college students concerned and enthusiastic about every aspect of living the Jewish way and to think , as it seems to be the plan, " OK but we, USCJ, will show our concern for them
    when they are in their twenties or thirties or later " is the true waste.

    Judith H Lax

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  128. It may help to hear from a defector, one raised as observant Conservative, Ramah alumnus, USY clique outsider and who in 1997 moved across town to the Traditional unaffiliated shul to escape a fair amount of mistreatment and the relentless quest for mediocrity that evolved in my 17 years with the USCJ affiliate. On arrival at my new congregation I found myself sharing the bimah with a dozen other contemporaries who had made the switch 10-15 years before.

    Having spent about a half hour reading the 24 pages of document and browsing the other comments which come primarily from people with a particular interest in some aspect of the Conservative infrastructure, I am neither ready to return or to ask anything of the USCJ for myself. That is not what the document is about. In some ways it tries to salvage a trend that really began with the Havurah movement about forty years ago when the people most interested in Judaism found themselves staring blankly ahead in non-Orthodox sanctuary pews where tfillah took the form of reading drill. Many of us found Ramah, USY, Hillel and the like stimulating but on entering adulthood we were demoted back to local synagogues which functioned at the level of our despised Hebrew schools. The United Synagogue Review came every quarter in the mail, had some attractive stuff in it but did not apply to my congregation that had macher swoops, Rabbis who thought smart well educated Jews were a threat to authority more than a resource for the other congregants, Hebrew school kids like my own spending 50% of one year doing a geneology project and learning one prayer to perform for the parents one Friday night, all the while being told by the President and the school principal how wonderful the experience was. Guess I was short on Hakaras HaTov. Eventually the machers pounced upon a real talent, though a tempermental one, and I scheduled a formal exit interview with the Rabbi the next day.

    As I read the document as a plan, it neglects to correct, or even disallow, some of the activity inflicted by the processes in place, from a very restrictive Rabbinical Placement procedure to total lack of measurement or accountability within the Hebrew schools or even the requirement that members of the kehillot function as equal shareholders. For the most part membership in these synagogues or other communities continues as the default position until displaced by either a negative experience from within or a particularly attractive experience elsewhere that comes along. Most of us just do not write our resumes to move to the next destination until we encounter dissatisfaction with our current circumstances.

    Is this document a form of Obama's "Pig with Lipstick"? I think it is at least an olive branch or a troll net to recapture some of those who have voted with their feet. That's important since the core Conservative ideology maintains its attractiveness to many of who have departed based on the experience of its faulty implementation. I do not think really goes far enough to remedy what created the problem they are trying to reverse.

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  129. I have two comments.
    1. Vibrant kehilot attract and retain membership. UJA and Funds for Jewish Justice have supported community organizing in synagogues with the goal in mind. This approach has been shown to build new leadership as well as institutional commitment. It is an approach that USCJ may want to incorporate in its strategic planning
    2. You may want to consider substituting prayer as a pillar of the plan with a commitment to the development of spiritual and covental communities.

    Susan Abramowitz
    Town and Village Synagogue

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  130. I support the Strategic Plan overall. I think it is a big step forward.
    However, I remain concerned about the capacity of the movement overall to attract Jews with its message and to inspire service and philanthropy to help us move forward. One of the aspects I found to be missing in the plan is the need to develop an international service model that gives opportunity for young people, young Jewish professionals opportunities to serve the broader Jewish community as ambassadors of the movement. The lack of ambassadors, people who do tikun olam or serve underserved communities is a real deficiency of our movement. But such efforts also are potentially attractive to funders. I am suggesting there is a strong link between innovative service ideas and funding.
    Under the current plan I think it will still be hard to attract funders and philanthropic leaders. While Kehilot are our bread and butter, they are essentially local and idiosyncratic and will not inspire larger national scale funding.
    I think the issue is not only how to hold the vital center, but how to attract Jews and potential converts to the vital center. It is my belief that outreach/keruv must receive greater emphasis for the UCSJ and the movement to rebound.

    Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
    Long Beach, California

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