Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who will provide for Conservative college students?

By Rabbi Esther Reed, Senior Associate Director of Rutgers Hillel

Yesterday, I got the news that United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) decided to close the KOACH/College Outreach program. My students at Rutgers have been touched by KOACH in many ways and gained a tremendous strength in their own Jewish identity from the KOACH program, including the KOACH Kallah, the student intern program, campus grants and more. This is indeed a loss.

A little history: in June of last year, the USCJ board voted to continue KOACH on the condition that fundraising goals were met and a long term plan be developed for the health and stability of the movement’s campus efforts.

I served on that subcommittee that created a wonderful plan for the future of KOACH. It had grand ideas and inspiring concepts. Other people were tasked with fundraising for it, and clearly the fundraising was not successful. So now USCJ must close KOACH as we knew it, while merely maintaining their Birthright trip to Israel and a small internship through Hillel International.

Fortunately, Rutgers University is one of the six campuses to participate in the new internship program. Rutgers Hillel has a thriving Conservative community, with weekly Friday night and Saturday morning services, regular learning programs, and robust student leadership. I, as a Conservative Rabbi, serve as advisor to Conservative students. And yet, even at Rutgers, we feel the loss of KOACH.

When I shared this information with one of my student leaders, she wrote to me “It feels like a weird foreshadowing that this is happening, like the Conservative movement is dying.”

The Conservative movement is not dying. It may be getting a little smaller, but those who are still a part of the movement are more committed than ever. It’s funny, because in the 1950’s everyone said that Orthodox Judaism was dying. Look at how much Orthodox Judaism has grown now! I suspect that the Conservative movement will shrink a little now, but will be strengthened by the commitment of those in its core, and then it will start to grow again.

These things are cyclical. I think we’re just at a part of the cycle where we’re a little smaller. But we’re still strong (get it–“KOACH” means strength) and I firmly believe that we’re right (in terms of theology and practice). I believe that we are fulfilling God’s will when we follow the traditional egalitarian halacha of the Conservative movement.

I am not worried about the Conservative movement as a whole, but I am concerned about how Conservative students on campus will be supported, now that KOACH is gone. Instead of a national organization allocating funds to campus KOACH groups, now individuals should give their money to the campus that they want to support. Rutgers is one of those campuses. In light of the reduced resources from KOACH, we do need more financial support.

USCJ’s decision is a reflection of fiscal realities. Individuals need to realize that if traditional egalitarian Judaism is the value you stand for, you must give it financial support in order for it to thrive and survive in the marketplace of ideas on campus. Showing support is more than just sharing this article or “liking” it on Facebook. It requires opening your wallet.