Conservative campus program wins reprieve, still needs more

Conservative campus program wins reprieve, still needs more

Here and below, scenes from the Koach kallah. Courtesy of Koach.

The “excitement and concern” generated after a media leak appears to have saved funding for the Conservative movement’s college campus program.

Meeting in Detroit over the weekend, the board of trustees of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism voted to allocate $100,000 to Koach for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1, provided that the campus group’s supporters come up with an additional $130,000 by the end of December.

United Synagogue now provides $225,000 to Koach, down from $750,000 a decade ago. The United Synagogue board will develop a three- to five-year business plan for the organization.

News of a possible funding cutoff for Koach “wasn’t supposed to be publicized,” United Synagogue’s executive vice president, Rabbi Steven Wernick, said.

After the story broke June 1 in the New York Jewish Week and was picked up by other publications, including the Standard, Wernick said, reaction has been so strong that “it is quite likely we will find alternate funding sources from a broad spectrum of shareholders allowing us to keep Koach.”

News of the possible suspension triggered an online petition drive at, and angst on the 50 college campuses where Koach (rhymes with “GO-Bach”) operates.

In New Jersey, there are Koach programs at Rutgers and Princeton universities.

The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism came to Koach’s rescue earlier this year when it raised about $35,000 in a last-minute campaign to save February’s Koach kallah, its annual conference.

In a statement posted on the league’s website, its communications director, Rhonda Jacobs Kahn of Teaneck, wrote, “This year, United Synagogue has been undergoing massive changes in order to implement its strategic plan.” When those changes threatened Koach’s kallah program, she continued, it needed “a savior.”

“Women’s League’s mission is to make sure that Conservative Judaism prospers in the home, the synagogue, and the community,” she wrote.

Rita Wertlieb, international president of Women’s League, also said on the website that supporting the kallah was indicative of the group’s commitment “to providing all of our college students with opportunities to become passionate about being Conservative Jews who are committed to our traditions as well as to tikkun olam.

The website added that Women’s League is continuing actively to raise funds for Koach.

Wernick said, “It was no secret that for nonprofits these are very challenging times.” Koach, he added, is “a program of great impact but perhaps not the greatest penetration. It is something that theoretically should be fundable, and we are trying to explore that right now.”

Rutgers Hillel’s executive director, Andrew Getraer, welcomed news of the provisional stay for Koach, although he said he believes United Synagogue must go a step further.

“While I think it’s important people are focusing on the movement’s responsibility to its college students, a … reprieve for Koach is not going to have significant impact relative to the commitment necessary for success,” he said. “Koach, even in its most recent reincarnation, was operating in such a reduced capacity from what it had been that while what is happening is important, it is not sufficient.”

When news of the possible elimination of Koach broke, Rutgers Hillel fast-tracked plans for a fund-raising drive to establish a Conservative educator position. The idea of a dedicated campus professional and programming was first conceived last fall when about two dozen Conservative rabbis from across the state met with Hillel staff members to brainstorm

Unlike many other chapters, the Koach program grew at Rutgers over the last year, and both student leaders and staff on the campus – where about 2,000 students affiliate with the Conservative movement, including incoming Hillel president Raffi Mark of Wayne – vowed the program would continue. There is a silver lining to the threatened funding cut, Mark said; “it got students talking about it. It’s an impetus to raising funds.”

“We at Rutgers will work with Koach and remain committed to our students from Conservative backgrounds,” Getraer said.

New Jersey Jewish News

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