Rabbi Eric Yoffie Calls on Synagogue Movements to Cooperate in Economic Crisis Says Synagogues May Need to Share Space, Services and Possibly Merge
December 12, 2008, Tampa, FL Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the time has come for the Reform and Conservative Movements to work together to serve their congregations, and that synagogues need to take a hard look at whether they need to merge or share services, buildings and staff with neighboring congregations, including those of other denominations.
Let me be clear: I have always believed that the passionate pluralism of North American synagogue life is a source of strength, Yoffie said, speaking at the Shabbat worship of the Unions Board of Trustees meeting here this weekend. But now we are in a crisis situation, and it may be that we can no longer afford what we once took for granted.
In a small town, it may be that a struggling Reform and a struggling Conservative synagogue will have to overcome their differences and join in cooperative programming, and even formal mergers, he said. In a large city, with two, or five, or ten Reform congregations, it may be that the time has come to share social services, buildings and staff.
And, while the economy may prompt local communities to do more together, it may also push the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements to do so as well, he suggested. In areas such as social action and synagogue management, why shouldnt we be working together? At a crucial crossroads of American Jewish history, perhaps now is the time for all streams of Judaism to join in friendship and cooperation to help maintain the strength and vibrancy of our synagogue community.
Mergers between Reform and Conservative congregations have happened in the past, and there are currently eight congregations that are members of both Movements. Mergers between congregations in the same Movement are more common and are due, primarily, to the changing demographics of a community.
In the past the Movements have worked together on issues such as the recognition of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel. But there has been little attempt to join forces in serving their member congregations.