I would like to thank Rabbi Dr. David Fine for his opinion piece (“That dirty word ‘merger’ – and building a shared Jewish future,” December 5). In my position as director of the Synagogue Leadership Initiative and then as senior community strategist at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, I became aware of the need for more collaborative efforts between community institutions.
To that end, SLI initiated a series of workshops called “mergers and collaborations,” where congregations could come together to discuss collaborative efforts in community purchasing, religious education, and indeed mergers. Those programs spawned a community purchasing collaborative, a collaborative Hebrew school located in Rabbi Fine’s congregation, and several congregational mergers. There were even some non-realized visions: One, to create a Jewish community campus in Wayne, with the Wayne Y building expanded to include several synagogues and the Gerard Berman Day School. Another, a co-housing venture, where an emerging Orthodox congregation and small Conservative and Reform congregations would share space in the Reform congregation’s building.
JFNNJ was in the forefront. The national Jewish denominational movements are just now putting together initiatives to deal with congregational mergers. In fact, I have been involved as a consultant in one such initiative with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. My takeaway: Congregational mergers are a great thing. They usually provide the institution with money from the sale of one of the buildings, more members, and the opportunity to expand programming.
There are caveats, however. It is after all a marriage. All marriages create a new entity. Each partner in the union must be willing to compromise, expand his or her vision so that the union can grow and flourish. Leaders from both congregations must recognize that they have created a new entity. They must set aside their egos and the old idea that “This is the way we have always done it.” They must be willing to bring together people from both congregations to re-envision a new congregational culture and trajectory. Everything must be on the table for discussion.
This is not easy and like in a marriage sometimes there may be the need to bring in a third party to help smooth the rough spots.