Funding the Conservative Movement

How one congregation makes a difference

by Rhonda Jacobs-Kahn

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Rabbi Vernon Kurtz learned over the years that most donors were not interested in giving money to core budgets, but he assumed that they might be interested in designated giving to specific programs. He also thought that kind of support was exactly what the Conservative movement needed. And Rabbi Kurtz should know: he is a past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, MERCAZ USA and MERCAZ Olami and the current president of the American Zionist Movement.

Rabbi Kurtz’s plan was simple. He approached people in his congregation, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Illinois, and asked if they would create a fund to “initiate new programs for local, national and international organizations within the Conservative/Masorti Movement.” Small grants of up to $3,000 would hopefully prove to be the tipping points in getting new initiatives off the ground. The one prerequisite: at least two Conservative/Masorti institutions or organizations had to work together to envision and implement the program.

The requirement that more than one organization be involved was particularly attractive to donors who often feel bombarded by requests for money, especially from the many organizations that make up the worldwide Conservative movement. A one-ask request would be a better way to do business. Eighteen people signed up with gifts of $2,500 each.

The next step was to solicit proposals. In the United States, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and United Synagogue, as well as Israel’s Schechter Institute, Masorti Movement and Masorti Olami, and the more local Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, Solomon Schechter Day School and Chicagoland Jewish High School were all invited to send proposals. The entire group of funders reviewed the proposals and a small group chose the five projects that would be supported.

Says Rabbi Kurtz of his initiative: “I don’t think I could have raised this money for core budgets. It was much easier to do so for specific projects. The fund has allowed me to educate my members about the worldwide Conservative/Masorti movement. The participants are proud of their involvement, the congregation is proud of supporting these activities. This is a win-win situation for all.”

North Suburban Synagogue Beth El will soon be accepting applications for the 2015-2016 year.

Recipients of the 2013-2014 North Suburban Synagogue Beth El Grants

Lehava is a project of the Schechter Rabbinical School and the Israel Rabbinical Assembly that creates study opportunities for Masorti rabbis in the field in Israel.

Hofesh TALI, a project of the TALI Education Fund and Hannaton Educational Center, offers 4-day mini-camps over Passover and Chanukkah holiday breaks.

Light Fantastics is a musical video about Masorti Judaism and the struggle to combat racism in Israel, featuring the Masorti movement’s choir, Shirat Machar, and students from JTS and Ziegler.

A shaliach for Chicago Region USY, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and Chicagoland Jewish High School is initiating programs for teens within the movement.

Seminars for young adults (Marom) in Europe interested in strengthening their Jewish and Zionist identity and leading Jewish lives in Masorti congregations is a joint project of Masorti Olami and Marom Olami.