Rabbi Steven Wernick, spiritual leader of Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station, Pa., has been chosen to be the next executive vice-president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm, the Jewish Week has learned.
In his first interview since being tapped, Rabbi Wernick, 41, said Wednesday afternoon that the appointment is not final until he negotiates a contract. The talks, he said, are in the "very beginning stages."
The son of Rabbi Eugene Wernick, formerly of Allentown, Pa., Rabbi Wernick called the chance to succeed retiring Rabbi Jerome Epstein as the top professional at United Synagogue "an incredible opportunity."
"The movement is at an important juncture now," he added, echoing the sentiments of a group of 50 Conservative rabbis, cantors and lay leaders who
last week asked for an opportunity to "begin a process of developing a long-range plan" for the organization.
Rabbis and cantors had been shut out of the United Synagogue’s selection process and were now demanding a radical renewal in the movement.
"People are expressing their hopes for what the United Synagogue can be and are offering their assistance," Rabbi Wernick said of the letter. "I couldn’t be more happy about that."
Rabbi Wernick emphasized that the desire for change is "natural" because of the almost simultaneous personnel changes taking place at the top leadership of the Conservative movement. In addition to a new professional leader of United Synagogue, Arnold Eisen was selected to be chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is to become executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s rabbinic arm.
"A new generation is stepping forward to face the challenges that face us," Rabbi Wernick said. "I went through the [selection] process because I thought the United Synagogue will play an important role in the future. It has tremendous potential and something to offer."
"I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity, but I’m under no illusions as to the challenges facing us," he added. "My eyes are wide open. I hope to re-engage synagogues … [so that] we become better and move the agenda forward."
Rabbi Wernick has been the senior rabbi at Temple Adath Israel in suburban Philadelphia for the past seven years. For the previous six years, he was the associate rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, N.J.