May 18, 2010

Special Message: Hayom Update and an Invitation

Shalom Chevreh,

As we prepare to receive Revelation this evening, I share with you the message (below) from Rabbi Michael Siegel, chair of Hayom: The Coalition for the Transformation of Conservative Judaism.  It is also with a deep measure of pride that I point to the "Transparency and Congregational Involvement in the Process" in Rabbi Siegel's message, in which he explains that the ShefaNetwork will be the venue for discussion of many of the issues raised by the Hayom/USCJ joint project, the Strategic Planning process for the USCJ.

May the Torah we receive strengthen the communities which serve as Her Conduit,

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

[From Rabbi Michael Siegel]


I wanted to share the progress of the work of Hayom.  Included in this email are excerpts of a recent progress report that was shared with the members of Hayom.  As you can see, we are moving forward in a very positive way!

The RA leadership has graciously given us a time slot in the upcoming RA Convention.  On Wednesday, May 26th, we will host an early morning session after minyan.   Jack Ukeles and Steven Cohen will present the Strategic Planning process and will take questions.  Ed Feinstein will also have an opportunity to present his thinking as well via telephone.  There will also be a report on the direction of Hayom and future planning beyond this first stage

I hope that you will make every effort to attend this important session.  In addition, if you are not currently a member of Hayom, I hope that you will give strong consideration to join our coalition for positive change for the Conservative Movement.

Our First Strategic Planning Meeting

A meeting was held on Wednesday, May 5th in New York City at NYU.  The purpose of the meeting was to lay a framework for the process.  Steven Cohen reported on the results of a survey that was sent out.  One of the noteworthy findings is the high percentage of Conservative congregations who look to the USCJ for expertise in a whole variety of areas pertaining to synagogue life.   While the survey did not measure the congregation's level of satisfaction, Jack Ukeles reported that other surveys that they have conducted often show a much high percentage of stakeholders who simply walk away if services they seek are not provided in an adequate way. While the fact that a high percentage of congregations continue to look to the USCJ must be understood as a positive, the reason for this continued loyalty has not been properly studied.  The same survey reported that most Conservative congregations are struggling with significant financial pressures.

Another positive element of the meeting was the openness of the parties involved.  There was a clear atmosphere of cooperation amongst all of the participants. As Steven Cohen noted, often when there is a well established institution and an agitating group demanding change the lines remain drawn and groups remain entrenched in their positions the relationship between Hayom and the USCJ leadership was clearly different than that.  An excellent draft mission and vision statement is in the process of being hammered out.  While it is still in a rough stage we should be ready to distribute them shortly.  One element of that discussion that I would like to share is the use of the term Kehillot/religious communities instead of synagogue.  This is a clear acknowledgement that a variety of new entities are developing that are different from the classic synagogue models  The fact that the leaders of the USCJ displayed such an openness to a veritable redefinition of synagogue as it has presently been understood is notable.  It is also clear that the more contentious issues will be the focus of subsequent meetings.  However, by everyone's estimation it was an excellent start.


The Strategic Planning Process

The Strategic Planning Commission will have three meetings -- in June, August, and then in October. Our June gathering will be to conduct what Jack Ukeles has termed a "clean piece of paper exercise."  That is, if we were starting to create a synagogue organization today what components would we include? What goods and services would we want to receive from this organization and how would we want to see them executed?  The UAI team is beginning a detailed analysis of USCJ current operations -- relating program, cost, revenue and mission. This will take several months and the results will be reviewed at the August meeting.  The October meeting will focus on integrating the "ideal" developed at the June meeting with the best of the current USCJ operation (identified at the August meeting) to create a strategic direction for a viable entity.   The strategic plan will be completed by the first of the year.


Transparency and Congregational Involvement in the Process

 If we are to be successful it is vital that all of our work be transparent and that all of the stakeholders have the opportunity to be involved in the discussion and the process of re-envisioning a vibrant synagogue organization for today and the future.  In order to accomplish this we have planned to do the following:

 Webinars:  Jack Ukeles and Steven Cohen will hold three webinars for Hayom and other USCJ members in order to present their findings and to entertain questions and solicit input.

 Monthly emails:  Rabbi Ed Feinstein and Jack Finkelstein serve as the co-chairs of the strategic planning commission.  They will prepare monthly emails discussing the progress of the commission.  They will also present questions for discussion. 

 Electronic Forum for Discussion:  Rabbi Menachem Creditor has graciously offered to make the ShefaNetwork a place for discussion. 

Rabbi Ed Feinstein has requested that before the June meeting that he have the benefit of the thinking of as many congregations as possible.  In order to accomplish this we will be asking the Hayom congregations to take the time to participate in a clean piece of paper exercise.  This would require leaders of synagogues to create a 1-2 page document describing the services that they would like to receive from a synagogue organization.  To his credit, Menachem Creditor has conducted such a discussion on the Shefa Network. Each congregation will receive a condensed version to get an idea of some of the current thinking on the subject in order to consider the possibilities from new vantage points.  You will also be asked to identify your current membership, so that we can acknowledge the different needs based upon congregational size and location. The form and the process are currently being hammered out and you will receive the information shortly.

The Expansion of the makeup of the Strategic Planning Commission:

Along with the original representatives of the USCJ and the Hayom Commission we have added representatives from the Educators Assembly and the Cantors Assembly to ensure that we are well represented in our deliberations.

The names of the members of the Strategic Planning Commission are:


Rabbi Edward Feinstein - Hayom

Dr. Jack Finkelstein - USCJ


Hayom Representatives:

Ned Gladstein

Hylton Jonas

Rabbi Gilah Dror

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Dr. Alisa Kurshan

Rabbi Michael Siegel  Ex-Officio



Rabbi Steven Wernick

Richard Helfand

Alan Weissman

Marilyn Wind

Margie Pomerantz

Richard Skolnik  Ex-Officio


Cantor's Assembly: Cantor Jack Chomsky 

Jewish Educator's Assembly: Ed Edelstein

Naaseh:  Howard Lesner


Ukeles Associates, Inc:

Jack Ukeles

Dr. Steven M. Cohen 

Hevre, we are moving forward!  While it has taken a great deal of time and effort to get us to this position, it should also be said that this is the first time in the history of our movement that the stakeholders themselves have ever been organized across these lines.  The fact that we have lay leaders, Rabbis, Cantors, and educators all joined together in such a coalition is a significant accomplishment.  We have a powerful voice that is being heard and taken seriously, by the leadership of our Movement.  If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments please do not hesitate to contact me at

Now the real work begins! 

Hag Sameach!

Rabbi Michael S. Siegel, Chair of Hayom 
The Anshe Emet Synagogue
3751 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60613