Jul 3, 2011

What makes for a compelling message?

Shalom Chevreh,

It's interesting to note the recent Shefa posts regarding USCJ.  They have been intense and informative  - but I wonder if they matter to most Shefaniks (let alone shul chevreh).  I find strange the expectation that the inner workings of Masorti institutions (or any institutions, for that matter) are important to the "Jews in the Pews."  I think they aren't.  

Having personally put in major sweat and time (and money) to the Hayom effort to rescue USCJ, I've come to believe that the heart of Conservative Judaism must resurrect the body, and that the body must start speaking from the heart.  In other words, If USCJ (and the other institutions of the Movement) is functional, I don't believe Conservative/Masorti Jews care about the inner mechanisms.  Shuls are the same.  Transparency is only clamored-for when something is wrong.  Otherwise, the experiences our sacred organizations provide are what our people care about.

Similar to AJWS, Hazon, Mechon Hadar, CLAL. Keshet and Mazon - these organizations have clear purposes, create compelling and communicable content, market their case incredibly well, and produce annual reports that detail their budgets.  Every facet of their public "face" makes clear the purposefulness of the organization, making the case for support through substantive communication.  Take Chancellor Eisen's new Conservative Judaism blog (http://tinyurl.com/jtsablog) or American Jewish University's "Walking With" (http://tinyurl.com/ajuwalkingwith) - they aren't the curriculae, strategic plan, or budget of their organization - they are viral broadcastings of the "WHY" behind their organizations' lives.

When people say something like "The USCJ is not the Conservative Movement" (like Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard and Harvey Schiller), I believe they are simply saying that the structure (institution) is not the same as the message (idea).  When there is a gap between the two, or a sense that the vision's needs have evolved beyond the capacity/definition of its former body, statements like this are made.  Budget cycles force every shul to reckon with every allocation.  Sometimes allocations are approved, sometimes they are not.  The past "has a vote, but not a veto", as Rabbi Moderchai Kaplan so famously taught.  For instance, there was clear desire and ready partners to build a CJ Torah site three times in the past 4 years (see ShefaJournal 5770:2), and after being approached (lobbied), the USCJ did not make it a priority.  This is fair - limited resources demand very clear decisions.  As Fred wrote, USCJ is trying to answer the following question: "...what does it mean to be a confederacy of congregations and what do the member congregations get for their membership?"  

It seems to me that Conservative/Masorti shuls, members, and clergy (ie, the Conservative/Masorti Movement) are asking a different question: "Does the Conservative Movement need this historic confederacy?  Or do we need a resonant amplifier for the spiritual ideas that define us?"  It was this very question that animated the conversation in ShefaJournals 5770:1 and 5771:1 (all the past ShefaJournals are now archived on the new Shefa site: shefanetwork.blogspot.com.)

USCJ must develop a compelling message. Leadership training and fundraising training are valuable and already available through local and national consultants (EiztahCLAL, and Wexner, for instance).  Communication tools like listserves, Constant Contacts and social media are beyond any organization's capacity, given their easy accessibility and grassroots nature.  We have entered a decentralized era, where only compelling messages will endure.  Conservative Judaism is such a message.  And, similar to the viral Maccabeats and Six13 videos, it isn't the championing of (or wrestling with) Conservative/Masorti Judaism: It is loudly championing Judaism as Conservative/Masorti Jews that will spread like wildfire into the hearts of others.

Chevreh, I believe the time has come for the vision of Masorti Judaism to be amplified.  Israel needs it.  Our shuls need it.  Everyone of us, clergy and layperson needs it.  And what is wonderful, truly magical, is that it's already happening.  (For example, and to be inspired, just click on the Shefa collections of Current LuminariesPast Luminaries, and active CJ Torah Blogs).  

ShefaNetwork was created as a virtual community of professional and lay activists in the Conservative movement and a place to discuss the movement's direction and ways of strengthening Conservative Judaism for the future.  I pray that our conversation remains focused on amplifying the "why."  That's, I believe, what matters the most, and will fuel our sacred work ahead. 

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
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