A request for financial assistance from the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel has prompted the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to develop a major initiative that would encourage Conservative Jews to contribute to the movement’s programs worldwide.
"Our congregations are continually bewildered by the large number of campaigns (all valid) in behalf of Conservative movement causes outside of North America," explained Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of United Synagogue. "So we said itís about time we ended up with a unified campaign to help all of these institutions. And we are now involved in heavy discussions to try to develop a campaign in which we would go to our congregations and say give to this campaign because it is a commitment you made as a Conservative Jew."
Rabbi Epstein said the United Synagogue is now discussing the financial needs of the overseas arms of the movement and whether they are "prepared to go out and inspire our congregations" to support their efforts.
"If we raise consciences effectively, we will be able to get people to support these causes," he said. "I think it’s very important, not so much because of the money but because of the vision. Money will come in as a result of the vision, not simply because of the program."
He said the effort needs the support of congregational rabbis, cantors, teachers, executive staff and lay leaders to be successful.
There are 53 Masorti congregations in Israel but movement itself is barely surviving on an annual budget of $2.3 million, Rabbi Bandel said.
Asked if the 35,000 members of the Masorti congregations pay dues, Rabbi Bandel replied: "The concept of dues to a synagogue is so alien to Israelis."
In February, the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism, representing 10 agencies of the Conservative movement, endorsed a resolution supporting the Masorti movement in Israel. Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of the movement, said the groups pledged to try to raise a total of $2 million. And at their convention last month in Los Angeles, the movementís Rabbinical Assembly reaffirmed each commitment to encourage each of the movement’s 750 rabbis to contribute between $500 and $1,000 from their personal or discretionary funds.
Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the movementís Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, said that once the United Synagogue puts together its initiative, he plans to meet with its representatives to plan a cooperative effort.
And Bernice Balter, executive director of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, said it has already raised about $12,000 of the $50,000 it pledged and would no "design a plan to raise the rest" among its synagogue sisterhoods.
In a recent interview, Rabbi Bandel said the "time has come for American Conservative Jews to realize that their status is dependent on the success, growth and (God forbid) failure of the Masorti movement. I’m not expecting Orthodox Jews to contribute or Reform Jews, but I do expect that Conservative Jews will take the challenge of having a strong Masorti movement in Israel seriously."
"Conservative Jews give to Chabad Lubavitch: they give to all," he continued. "God bless you, keep up the good work. But don’t forget we have our own movement in Israel and we have the right to survive and develop."