That American Reform Judaism, after more than fifty years of continuous growth, is facing a financial crisis which may be the turning point of its development, was emphasized in a statement made public by Ludwig Vogelstein, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Mr. Vogelstein declared that the Conference of Liberal Jews held recently in London had given a decided impetus to religious movements in America. But at the same time, he said, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations which gives direction and development to Reform Judaism in the United States is confronted with the necessity for curtailing the budget required for its activities because of the inadequacy of funds. The Union’s Board of Finance, of which David A. Brown is chairman, has hesitated to go before the public to raise the sum required to maintain the Union’s activities because of urgent appeals for funds for relief and reconstruction from their coreligionists in many lands, Mr. Vogelstein stated.
Mr. Vogelstein declared that the Union had been able to carry on its large program which includes the maintenance of the Hebrew Union College at Cincinnati, two teachers’ training schools at Cincinnati and New York, the Hebrew Union College library and museum, and a Department of Synagogue and School Extension through the use of a reserve fund which has now been wiped out. At the last meeting of the Executive Board of the Union a budget calling for $600,000 for the Union’s activities was presented, and it was necessary to cut this by $100,000. The wider field of development opened to liberal Judaism by the organization of a World Union, Mr. Vogelstein declared, and the imminent possibility of detriment to the Union’s present work by curtailment of its budget, make it imperative to call upon the Jews of America to support this work.
“Up to the present time Reform Judaism has made progress without any unusual effort,” Mr. Vogelstein declared. “It has succeeded because, in the nature of things, it is the answer to those who are seeking a way of adjusting Jewish tradition to the necessities of modern life. Reform Judaism has developed an organization which is complete in its outline, but its leaders are now realizing that the carrying out of this program requires more than ‘general’ interest. Reform Jew have been content ‘to vote the Jewish ticket’ but now realize the necessity of organizing a Reform Jewish party which is to supply the sinews of war for an aggressive campaign.
“The unusual number of causes calling for assistance in America,” he went on, “and especially the supreme cause of Jewish suffering in foreign lands, has for a number of years overshadowed the real problem which faces the American Jew, namely, the problem of providing for his self-preservation, not only for the preservation of Jewish bodies but for the preservation of the Jewish soul. The time has come when adequate provision must be made for that part of our heritage without which the preservation of human bodies is apt to turn into a tragic thing.
“While Jewish liberalism was born in Germany,” he said, “it came to fruition in America, and here it developed organization and technique which had made the Reform movement the outstanding achievement of American Jewish life. The one important thing brought out at the London conference was the fact that the work of Liberal Judaism has only begun, that this has developed moderately by the force of the momentum of liberal thought; that we have created organizations which need more than the momentum of thought, which require the organized effort of creative genius and the supreme force of sacrifice.”
Mr. Vogelstein detailed the probable effects of the budgetary curtailment upon the present activities of the Union, and said:
“The Hebrew Union College, which requested $313,000 may have to reduce its teaching staff. This would indeed be a calamity, as the number of men in the whole world available for professional work of this kind is limited and as men of this description have to be especially trained over long periods of years. The cessation of activity along these lines will produce a discouragement in the development of Jewish learning that may take years to make good.
“The Hebrew Union College may also have to reduce the number of students applying at its doors for admission, at a time when the country is crying for Jewish religious leadership. The congregation is the unit of organization in American Jewish life and unless we are prepared to furnish congregational leaders we are sapping Judaism of its vitality.
“The Hebrew Union College may have to cease purchasing books for its library which by reason of recent acquisitions has become America’s center of Jewish culture. In Europe the schools of higher Jewish learning have been practically disbanded. The teachers have scattered. Many have passed away. The libraries have been destroyed. The Jewish world is looking to America as the future home of Jewish learning.
“The Hebrew Union College may have to close its summer school. The closing of this school would be a hardship to the earnest men who aim to increase their usefulness in the Jewish field through its assistance.
“The Hebrew Union College may have to close its school for teachers in New York City.
“The Department of Synagogue and School Extension of the Union may have to reduce its field work. Considering that the whole body of Reform rabbis is comparatively small, this represents a very large activity for which no salaries are paid, but the expenses of which are borne by the Department of Synagogue and School Extension. The Department may also have to reduce the number of its regional rabbis.
“The Department may have to reduce its activities in the field of Jewish education. After many years of experimentation in the organization of schools, in the production of literature, the Department has at last created a Jewish Bureau of Education called the Commission on Jewish Education which is training teachers, producing literature, organizing schools throughout the United States. On the eve of this development, whose ramifications reach out into every Jewish hamlet, into the large and neglected metropolitan areas, into the secluded universities, the Department faces the possibility of a reduction of funds and the possible breaking up of this Department which has been so auspiciously inaugurated.
“The Department of Synagogue and School Extension may have to relinquish the publication of its teacher’s magazine and its children’s magazine called “Young Israel.”
“The National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods is engaged in intensifying the Jewish life within the organized congregations by proposing a series of projects to the especial attention of women.
“At a time when problems of relief and reconstruction agitate sympathetic American Jewry, we are more than a little hesitant to present the needs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. But we feel that unless we do secure adequate and immediate support, a great achievement into which fifty years of labor, thought, zeal and prophetic inspiration have gone, will be forced into disintegration,” Mr. Vogelstein declared.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.