Rebellion Brewing in Conservative Movement


A mini rebellion is brewing in the Conservative movement.

After being denied input into the selection of a new top professional at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a group of Conservative rabbis, lay leaders and cantors has requested an urgent meeting with USCJ lay leaders.

"We are writing to you to continue what we believe is an urgent conversation on which hangs nothing less than the future of the Conservative Movement," said the letter to Raymond B. Goldstein, the United Synagogue’s international president.

The 50 signatories, who called themselves HaYom: Coalition for the Transformation of Conservative Judaism, requested a meeting within the next month.

Among its members are Rabbi Gordon Tucker, a former dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, the

new spiritual leader of the Park Avenue Synagogue.

"This is a prominent group who want to bring their expertise and resources to the United Synagogue and transform the movement," said the group’s chair, Rabbi Michael Siegel of Chicago. "They want to develop long range plans and think about how to re-engineer all of the branches of the movement so we can work together in harmony. We hope this will be a positive experience."

He said, however, that the letter was being made public prematurely because someone leaked it to the media.

"Part of what has eluded us in recent years has been connecting these many religious communities together in a vision and mission that would give us a sense of common cause," the letter said. "The [United Synagogue] has always been the organization to which we have looked for making that happen, and although candor forces us to say that we have often been disappointed in the past, we continue to believe that with the right kind of re-engineering to suit the needs of the times, with the right professional leadership, and with a commitment to work together with the rabbis, cantors and lay leadership of individual congregations, it can still happen."

The letter added: "We don’t believe that it can happen if ‘business as usual’ reigns, with merely a change in the identity of the leadership."

Rabbi Chicago said the group sent the letter March 5 before learning that the committee to select the new United Synagogue executive vice president had just met. He said it was unclear whether it had selected a successor to Rabbi Jerome Epstein.

Goldstein did not return a call to his cell phone.

"I guess we’ll have to wait for the smoke to come out of the United Synagogue building," Rabbi Siegel said, referring to the ancient process the Vatican uses to announce the selection of a new Pope.

Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld, the incoming executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said she had seen the letter and that it "shows a tremendous commitment on the part of our rabbis to the revitalization of the Conservative movement."

"The letter is very clear that they desire to work in a partnership with the United Synagogue to build our future, and I think what it demonstrates is the commitment to bring renewal and revitalization," she added.

Rabbi Siegel said the group is called HaYom [today] because the changes needed in the Conservative movement cannot wait until tomorrow.

"The United Synagogue has to evolve and change," he added.

"Often change does not come from within but from outside agitating forces that create the evolutionary moment. We will be that group. We no longer are going to wait patiently."

The letter stressed that the signatories "are looking for serious conversations to take place without delay at this moment of opportunity, conversations in which no visionary idea will be excluded simply because it has not been done in the past, conversations that will involve leaders from all arms of the Movement, conversations that will have as their goal the emergence within a reasonably limited period of time, a strategic plan for renewing the Conservative Movement.”