Conservative campus program earns reprieve
USCJ leaders vote to extend funding, seek matching gifts
Celebrating at a Rutgers Hillel Koach gathering last Sukkot are former Koach chair Felicia Siegel and Joey Bouganim, both class of ’13.
Photo courtesy Rutgers Hillel
June 13, 2012
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, leaders of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism voted to allocate $100,000 to Koach for fiscal year 2013, beginning July 1, provided that the campus group’s supporters come up with an additional $130,000 by the end of December.
USCJ now provides $225,000 nationally to Koach, down from $750,000 a decade ago.
The USCJ board will develop a three- to five-year business plan for the organization.
News of a possible funding cut-off for Koach “wasn’t supposed to be publicized,” USCJ CEO and executive vice president Rabbi Steven Wernick told NJJN.
After the story broke June 1 in the New York Jewish Week and was picked up by NJJN and other publications, 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 on-line petition drive, at savekoach.org, and angst at 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 of 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, said, “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 said, what was needed was “a savior.”
“Women’s League’s mission is to make sure that Conservative Judaism prospers in the home, the synagogue, and the community,” wrote Kahn.
Rita Wertlieb, international president of Women’s League, also said on the website that support of 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 tikun olam.
“At the same time, we hope that our assistance will challenge Koach to increase participation in the kallah and thereby increase our impact on the next generation.”
The website also stated that Women’s League was actively continuing to raise funds for Koach.
Wernick said, “It was no secret that for nonprofits these are very challenging times.” Koach, he said, 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,” said Wernick.
News of the provisional stay for Koach was welcomed by Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer, although he said he believes USCJ needs to go a step further.
“While I think it’s important people are focusing on the movement’s responsibility to its college students, a three-month 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 — vowed the program would continue.
“We at Rutgers will work with Koach and remain committed to our students from Conservative backgrounds,” said Getraer.