March 16, 2009Congregations are the heart and soul of the Reform Movement, and we need to do all we can to help them continue to provide a strong spiritual community for their members, said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union. We have therefore adopted an extraordinary plan for extraordinary times.
At a special meeting of its Board of Trustees last evening, the Union for Reform Judaism took the first step to reorganize itself by voting to accept a plan for reconfiguring the Union. In a bold move designed to provide immediate financial relief to all Union congregations, the Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism also adopted a plan to help congregations financially during these very difficult economic times
The plan for reorganization is the outcome of the Unions effort to strengthen and better serve congregations, their leadership and their members. The design of the plan will also allow the Union to provide services that augment congregational life and unite the Reform Movement.
We believe this plan will build strong relationships between and among the Union and congregations, said Peter Weidhorn, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He added, We will aggressively work with congregations to lengthen the affiliation life span of synagogue members and build lifelong engagement with Reform Jewish values and community.
Increased focus, optimized use of resources and better congregational service will characterize the reorganized Union. The work of the Union will be organized around three primary areas: congregational support, congregational consultation, and advancing Reform Judaism. A more centralized and streamlined structure will replace the current structure of program departments and regional offices.
Enduring relationships with congregational leaders is the foundation upon which the Union will build its delivery of programs and services to congregations, observed Rabbi Stacy Offner, Vice President of the Union. Congregations will have a single key contact, a person who will know their congregation well, advocate for the services and consultations they need, proactively help them meet the challenges they face and identify the resources that are available to assist them. The Congregational Representatives will work with congregations in the geographic area served by one of four Congregational Support Centers, East, West, Central and South. These Centers are planned for Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, with an additional office in Canada.
A Center for Congregational Consultation will serve as the primary arena for consulting, training and delivering resources to enhance and strengthen congregations, congregational leaders and individual Reform Jews. The Center will be responsible for an expanded array of training opportunities, including existing programs such as Mifgash Musicale, the Scheidt Seminar for incoming congregational presidents, and the Rabbi Alexander Schindler Outreach Fellows.
The Union will continue in its mission to advance Reform Judaism and connect the various aspects of the Reform movement by providing core services that no one congregation can do alone. These include: The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, URJ Camps and Israel programs, NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth), Reform Judaism magazine, The North American Biennial, and education about and support for Israel and world Jewry. To promote interaction among congregations, the Union will form affinity groups around an array of topics and commonalities.
As part of the proposed restructuring some new roles will be created and approximately 60 current staff positions will be eliminated. Many of the eliminations are due to roles that no longer align with the new structure, while some are the result of budget cuts in response to these difficult economic times.
Knowing that some roles will be eliminated has made this process extremely difficult, said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, Senior Vice President of the Union. Every person at the Union is deeply committed to the Reform Movement, and we, in turn, are deeply committed to them. We have put into place a number of support resources and programs for staff members and will continue to treat our people with dignity, care and respect.
The Board also adopted a proposal to provide immediate and practical financial relief to its member congregations during these challenging economic times. The plan will reduce dues paid by congregations to the Union over a three year period 5% in the current year, 20% for the next fiscal year and 10% for the year after. The Union believes that it is essential in these difficult times to maintain the cohesiveness of the Reform Jewish Movement and that of the Union and its congregations. To that end, the Union has adopted a three year reduction in the dues to be paid to the Union to aid them in these demanding times.
The reorganization plan outlines a creative collaboration among staff, lay leaders, affiliate and partner organizations and member congregations that will, when fully implemented, establish the framework for a stronger, streamlined and more vital Reform Jewish future.