Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Final Day of KOACH

Dear Friends,
A little over a year ago we came together to save KOACH, and to convince the leaders of the Conservative Movement about the importance of engaging young adults for the survival of Traditional-Egalitarian Judaism. This past year we were able to bring together a contingent of over 130 young adults for a weekend of powerful learning and discussion at the University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, despite two years of overcoming challenges, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism announced that today, June 30, will be KOACH's last day.
We would like to thank Rabbi Elyse Winick, Rich Moline and the countless other professionals, lay leaders, and students who have helped enrich the lives of young Jewish adults across North America for over 20 years. KOACH's closure is certainly saddening but it is key to not let institutional decisions and financial situations hinder the future of Traditional-Egalitarian Judaism.
In response to USCJ's announcement, a group of students have already come together and formed Masorti on Campus, which is already gaining support from Movement leaders from across the globe.
A group of current students, KOACH alumni, and lay leaders are working hard to keep us moving forward, but we need your help. We are looking for current and future students, Rabbis, Jewish professionals, and volunteers to join us to an effort to formalize our organization. We are looking for assistance with both functionality and strategy. We plan on running/coordinating several regional Shabbatonim during the 2013-2014 academic year. If you would like to help in anyway possible please contact us.
We are currently in talks with professional Jewish leadership from Masorti Olami, Marom, Women's League, Ramah, JTS and many others about how we can work together to keep moving forward. We thank the many people who have already reached out with support.
The wheels are in motion, but we need you to step up to keep us moving!
Douglas A. Kandl                Eric M. Leiderman
Masorti on Campus Student Volunteer Leadership Representatives
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אִם תִּרְצוּ, אֵין זוֹ אַגָדַה
If you will it, it is no dream.
-Theodor Herzl
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

from Keshet: Mazel Tov! #LoveIsLove




Two years ago this summer, I stood under a chuppah with my wife. Because we live in Massachusetts, we are "lucky" that our relationship is recognized by our state. However, under the current law, we are denied 1,138 federal rights that our straight friends are automatically granted when they wed.

Today, this discrimination is over!
We are elated that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of fairness and equality by striking down DOMA and Prop 8. Our ancient Jewish values teach us that we all are created B'tzelem Elohim (in God's Image) and our current laws violated this sacred principle by refusing to recognize and protect LGBTQ relationships.
The overwhelming majority of American Jews support equal marriage (81%, 2012 Public Religion Research Institute) and this is a proud day for us all.
On this anniversary, I celebrate not only our relationship, but the hundreds of thousands of other LGBTQ Americans who will be able to access this fundamental right.
Throughout the day, we will be updating this page with information about public celebrations and resources:
Ready to tie the knot?

Thank you for all you've done to help us reach this day. Onward together to full equality!



Idit Klein

Executive Director, Keshet



Your Jewish guide for celebrating PRIDE





Thursday, June 20, 2013

My OpEd in the J: "Sadly, Conservative Judaism’s lead ship is sinking fast"

Dear Shefa Chevreh,

My thanks to our teacher, Alex Weinberg, for sending out a link to my OpEd in the NorCal Jewish paper (the "J"). I'm including below the entire text, as I hope our passion, as a network of Masorti/Conservative Jews of every kind, makes the future stronger. I'm a child of the Conservative Movement, a proud one. Here's hoping our institutions can be transformed and thereby transformative to many, many people.

Kol Tuv,

Sadly, Conservative Judaism's lead ship is sinking fast

by rabbi menachem creditor

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In February 1913, Rabbi Solomon Schechter founded the United Synagogue of America — which in 1991 became the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — to "advance the cause of traditional Judaism in America and strengthen the conservative tendency in Israel."

Schechter's vision of traditional Judaism lives on in communities, but the organization he founded has lost its mandate to fulfill this mission.

Last week, USCJ closed down Koach, the college outreach organization of the Conservative movement. One of many anguished Conservative Jewish college students on Facebook interpreted this as the USCJ "signing their own death warrant."

9_avatar_creditor_withnameWere this the only recent experience of the USCJ cutting off its own future, one would already worry. But Koach is not an exception to the rule. It demonstrates the pervasive reality of too few USCJ staff spread way too thinly to meet a too-meager definition of movement success.

Honestly, as a product of the Conservative movement, I am very saddened by this. In moments of budgetary woe, it is all about money. But that cuts both ways: Lack of funding demonstrates lack of resonance and vitality. The USCJ has for decades failed to actualize the vibrancy of Conservative Judaism's founding ideas and is currently dying the slow, painful death of a thousand paper cuts.

The greatest tragedy of all this is that it need not be.

The American Conservative movement is declining numerically not because Schechter's vision is meaningless. It is because we, as Conservative Jewish leaders, have forgotten how right he was, what a gift Conservative Judaism truly is. We have made the mistake of letting our nostalgia for the institutions of the past and personal affection for one another (not to mention a bit of ego and turf-battling) get in the way of holding our institutions accountable when they fail.

As soon-to-be-former director of Koach, Rabbi Elyse Winick, wrote in her announcement of the closure: "Tens of thousands of students and dozens of professionals have been part of this sacred endeavor. All of our lives have been transformed and elevated by the experiences we have shared. We are better people for it. We are better Jews. We have much to be grateful for."

Though perennially underfunded, Koach (and its ancestor, the similarly barely supported Conservative movement college network Atid), "turned on" Conservative Jews during their formative years on campus. Untold numbers of Koachniks have become rabbis, educators and leaders in and out of Conservative Judaism's orbit.

Koach was succeeding. Not enough, but more than its funding warranted. That USCJ closed down the most transformative of all its programs, while Chabad and the Orthodox campus outreach professionals are exploding with funding, is so very, very sad.

It would have been better if the USCJ had announced its own closure and presented a plan for Koach to expand its vital work under the aegis of another agency, or launched Koach as an independent organization.

Whereas denominations matter less and less to Jews (and Americans, according to recent Pew Center studies), the search for meaning and connection is on the upswing. Schechter's vision truly defined American Judaism, transcending label and brand. The bravery of Open Orthodoxy and the assertive "re-traditioning" of Reform Judaism speak to the enduring power of his vision, which has nothing to do with denominations and institutions.

The products of Conservative Judaism include Reconstructionism, the JCC move-ment and the havurah movement. In fact, most of the post-denominational energy in the United States is also being led by leaders trained within the Conserv-ative movement.

This should make Conservative Jews very proud, and keep us very humble. A denomination is, after all, utilitarian. It serves to strengthen the particular spiritual identity of its affiliated communities in an effort to work for the betterment of the world.

Fewer and fewer synagogues are affiliated with USCJ, and few of those affiliated shuls fully pay their assessed dues. It is only a matter of time before USCJ closes its doors, or places all of itself into one of its programs (for example, USCJ's Sulam consulting, a leadership development program that supports congregations).

USCJ is a fading national institution that has jettisoned what the Conservative movement needs most: a future.

I do hope for, and have long worked toward, a healthy Conservative Movement.  (Among other efforts, I and others are working to support #MasortiUSA, a new U.S. student-run campus network.) The idea of Conservative Judaism could live without institutions, but Conservative Judaism is a path to God, a spiritually demanding and rewarding journey that deserves better institutional support and leadership than it has received in recent memory. 

Schechter's dream still awaits fulfillment.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor is the spiritual leader of Conservative Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley and founder of ShefaNetwork: The Conservative Movement Dreaming from Within.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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News Coverage (June 2013) on USCJ

June 12

Jewish Week: "Leaner USCJ Still $1 Million Short, But On Sounder Footing"
Jewish Daily Forward:: "Conservative Umbrella Group Lays Off 12 Staffers as Fiscal Woes Bite"

June 13

Jewish News of Greater Phoenix: "USCJ chief confident in face of budget gap"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fwd: [Shefa] Conservative Jewish College Students of America's Response to USCJ's Announcement to Eliminate KOACH

PRESS RELEASE                  

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, who am I?
If not now, when?" 
- Hillel the Elder

Putting Student Leadership to the Test

Conservative Jewish College Students of America
(Jerusalem/New York) - The students of KOACH were shocked and dismayed by the news that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) has eliminated the KOACH/College Outreach program. A student fueled campaign to keep KOACH running led to one last successful year; including the signature KOACH Kallah shabbaton. For more than two decades, KOACH-on-Campus was the sole organization committed to providing a Conservative Jewish experience on North American college campuses. In its final year, KOACH reached students on over 50 campuses. While KOACH (hebrew for strength) might only have a few days left as an organization the students involved will certainly maintain their koach.
With the declining numbers of self identified Conservative Jews, it is unfortunate to see that USCJ will no longer serve the key 18-22 year old demographic. This demographic  with a love of Torah, devotion to social justice, commitment to Israel and community is the future of Judaism. These core values, which the students of KOACH hold dear, are the pillars of progressive Judaism. Their thirst for knowledge and quest for meaning will, inevitably, be fostered by other organizations. Without KOACH, progressive Jewish college students will be left scattered in unstructured egalitarian cliques or sacrificing egalitarianism for the embrace of on campus Orthodox communities.
Campuses, whether previously KOACH affiliation or not, are strongly encouraged to host regional Shabbtonim and maintain existing Conservative/Traditional-Egalitarian communities. With the goal to fill the 2013-2014 academic year with powerful Torah learning, a traditional-egalitarian atmosphere and community. The student leadership of KOACH has decided to form an independent network of college campuses, in order to stave off the void left without the previous organizational structure.
Using the established communities as a jumping off point, this new Conservative/ Traditional-Egalitarian Jewish campus network will be working to develop a student run national shabbaton. Unlike KOACH's signature annual Kallah shabbaton, a new model will be used where students will host other students and a university's Jewish life organization will help to coordinate. A number of universities and colleges in the Northeast have already expressed interest in hosting.
USCJ's announcement to shut down KOACH is certainly a troubling revelation; even withoutKOACH a commitment to promote the growth of thoughtful Jewish adults, who value both tradition and egalitarianism, is paramount.

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