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A Message from the CEO

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October 28, 2016



As the single largest constituent organization of Conservative Judaism in the world, reaching more than one million North American Jews (the 2013 Pew study  estimates 1.35 million self-identified North American Conservative Jews), USCJ has a responsibility to be engaged with our sister organizations Masorti Israel and Masorti Olami (our movement in Israel and worldwide).  More than that, I, as CEO, must also take significant leadership roles in the national institutions of the Jewish People – the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the World Zionist Organization (WZO).


In service of these roles, I typically travel to Israel three times a year.  (These last few years, owing to conflicts, meetings with the Prime Minister and other state business, I have averaged 3-5 visits annually).  My travel is usually scheduled around the JAFI and WZO meetings – October, February and June.  While in Israel, I advocate for our issues – religious pluralism and equality -- as a member of the board of governors and outer executive of JAFI and the WZO, respectively; engage with our Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (FJC) staff in strategy, problem solving and management; lobby the Prime Minister and other leaders in the Israeli government; meet with our sister organizations and more.


USCJ’s FJC is our movement’s “embassy” in Israel, engaging more than 3,000 people annually.  It is the home base of our Nativ and USY Pilgrimage programs and Jewish Day High School Israel experiences.  There, we nurture the Jewish learning and identity of more than 300 adults annually at the Conservative Yeshiva (CY) including 30 college students and 30 rabbinical students from just about every liberal seminary in the world.  We also welcome dozens of kehilla groups for Shabbat worship and days of learning and we support egalitarianism at the Kotel with a weekly Tuesday shaharit in Azarat Yisrael (near Robinson’s Arch).


For the past 12 months, in anticipation of FJC’s Associate Director Yitz Jacobsen’s retirement the end of December 2016, we have been planning for how we can align our staff and lay leadership with our vision for the FJC and CY.  A few weeks ago the Amuta (our Israeli entity) approved the outline of a new reorganization to accomplish our goals.  


I’ll share that with you in a moment, but first let me thank Yitz for his 47 years of service to the Jewish people, USCJ, Masorti Judaism worldwide and the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center!  There are not enough words to express the breadth and depth of Yitz’s contributions but we will do our best at the December 4 board of director’s meeting in New York.  


We will hire an Executive Director, a newly created position, who will be the senior executive of the FJC reporting to me as the General Director of the FJC.  This person (a search is now underway) will be responsible for organizing the FJC into a seamless team, overseeing operations, financial systems and accountability, PR and communications, and fundraising and functioning as our liaison to the Israel Youth Hostel Association and our other Israeli partners.


To support this position, we will also hire a full-time controller (and a communications and student liaison to interface with our larger communications team in North America.  The Executive Director will also interface with our North American FRD department to maximize resources and assure alignment and an integrated strategy.  We will also streamline the current reporting structure to simplify our system and focus on outputs and impacts – goals, rather than reporting. 


Our recent hire of Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz as Director of North American Engagement, Conservative Yeshiva, is part of this overall strategy, specifically the recruitment of students and the creation of new value add to our network of kehillot.  


While in Israel over the coming weeks, I will discuss these changes in more depth with our FJC staff and begin interviewing candidates for the Executive Director position.  


Please email or call me should you have ideas on how you can help or if you’d like further clarification. 


This trip, I will also ride my bike (Israel Ride) 300 miles from Jerusalem to Eilat with Alana, my 15-year-old daughter.  You can follow us on Facebook as we tour southern Israel from our saddles in support of Hazon and the Arava Institute – two terrific environmental and peace organizations.  


I’d like to close with a recent Rosh Hashanah sermon from my friend and colleague Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue, which I am including here for you.  In it he calls for a new American Zionism, a topic I think about often.  Tell me what you think.  What should be the content of such a Zionism?





Rabbi Steven Wernick


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