Working Paper

WORKING PAPER
1/12/2004 – Original Document

The key idea of Kehillot B’Yahad/Congregations Together (KBY) is to encourage individual congregants of Reform and Conservative congregations in the United States and Canada to directly, personally and individually support Reform and Conservative congregations (Kehillot) in Israel. This proposal seeks to mobilize and create, at a grass roots level, individual and institutional connections to Israeli congregations and to provide the support systems to make these connections real, effective and long-lasting.

This project, as designed, is practically and purposefully directed toward supporting both the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Masorti (Conservative) Movement, directly through their congregational networks.

We want KBY supporters to take a personal interest in the welfare of a specific Israeli Congregation and to be educated about its affiliated movement. In return we expect Israeli congregations to treat their overseas supporters as an extension of their congregations and to treat them in a warm, friendly and familial manner, rather than as impersonal contributors.

Kehillot B’Yahad / Congregations Together will be created to act as a clearinghouse and workstation for participating individual Israeli congregations in both the Conservative and Reform movements. The proposed organization will handle the administrative interaction with overseas supporters and the individual congregations. It will handle organizational development, web site operation, overseas supporter development, information distribution, contribution processing, fund transfers and reporting and annual renewals.

landscape_roshpinaKBY will emphasize the connection between the individual contributor and the individual Israeli congregation. Our target population naturally will be the congregants of Reform and Conservative synagogues and temples in North America. Our approach will be to develop and present our message and ideas to the Reform/Conservative (R/C) Jewish community through the communication and contact facilities of the Internet, the web and email. We will be contacting and presenting KBY ideas and introducing its program through institutional contacts, Israel committees, press releases, synagogue leaders, temple newsletters and journals and KBY field representatives. The KBY web site will highlight the people, programs and congregations supported and provide a mechanism for individuals to take action.

Why Would You Support an Israeli Congregation?
As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union of Reform Congregations, said in the presidential sermon at the most recent biennial, “…we know that ultimately our extended Jewish family is only as strong as its shared religious heritage…Therefore our primary task …is to support synagogues and to promote religious life wherever Jews are found.” Who can question that without strong Israeli progressive Jewish movements, our extended family is impacted? He continued, “Jewish life cannot be sustained without Israel at its core.” The progressive synagogues in Israel are struggling in an environment that has always been difficult, and sometimes even hostile.

The Masorti (Conservative) Movement states: ”The State of Israel…’will guarantee freedom of religion, language, education and culture.’ So promised the founders of the State of Israel in the Declaration of Independence in 1948. Yet, more than 50 years later, hundreds of thousands of Israelis do not have access to rabbis and religious services of their choice.” Progress has been made, but those battling on behalf of our movements are facing an uphill struggle. We need to find an effective way to strengthen their position in Israel and to increase their support among the largely secular and traditional, and mostly unaffiliated, Israeli population.

landscape_rishonWe are launching Kehillot B’Yahad to materially increase support for progressive congregations from individuals. KBY congregations represent a collective approach to Jewish values and practice that mirrors and makes whole a stream of Judaism that we accept as consistent with our own modern traditions. We want to show our support for pluralistic progressive Judaism and to make sure those institutions that represent us in Israel have the necessary resources so that they may build a stronger position within Israeli society. This takes time, it takes money, and it takes commitment.

Relatively few Israelis who identify with progressive ideology actively participate in a congregation. The reactions of “secular” Israelis to organized religion, which most define as orthodox and antithetical to modernity, are hardly neutral and often negative. The “There is More Than One Way to Be a Jew” campaign, by the Reform and Conservative movements, is directed toward this group. There must be strong, vibrant and solid R/C communities for this type of campaign to be effective.

Strengthening KBY congregations makes progressive Judaism more accessible to the vast majority of Israelis who do not accept an orthodox approach to religion. Many of these congregations have been around for years, but for Israelis they are but a few dots on the map of a religious universe that is populated with Orthodox synagogues.

Worldwide, of course, the Reform and Conservative communities dwarf Orthodox communities; but in Israel historic concessions to Orthodoxy have placed our movements at the periphery. These concessions, and in practice their application, have alienated the majority of Israelis from organized religious practice. Even today, Reform and Conservative rabbis cannot perform weddings recognized by the State. Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel are not publicly supported, whereas Orthodox synagogues receive state funding.

landscape_kinneretExisting progressive congregations offer a few rays of hope. However, scattered across Israel, they have been historically under funded, restricted by law and discriminated against in public access and support. The State of Israel only recognizes Orthodox institutions. No one questions that progressive Judaism has been adversely affected by an Orthodox religious monopoly that is politically powerful and adverse to a modern approach to religious practice. For 50 years we have overlooked the situation because of other national concerns. It has never been the “right time” to aid our constituent communities. As the Masorti (Conservative) Movement declares, “And if not now…when?”

Just a few years ago, the Leo Baeck high school, regarded as one of the best schools in Haifa, had the opportunity to start a similar high school in Jerusalem in an existing school building that was slated to be closed. Jerusalem municipal officials refused to turn the build over to Leo Baeck and approve the program. This situation occurred primarily because the operation of the school would be in the hands of the Reform Movement organization.

Supporting KBY congregations makes modern, pluralistic and progressive Judaism available as an option to Israelis who have never been effectively given the choice. It is for the individual congregations to provide services and education and meet the needs of the communities they serve. But for them to effectively compete for the hearts and loyalties of Israelis, they need to be unburdened from the fear for their own economic survival.

Reform and Conservative synagogues throughout the country number about 50, and most of these communities are very small (under 100 families). These figures compare with 1000+ Orthodox synagogues. With the exception of perhaps five synagogues, most R/C communities are not financially viable without outside help. Both the Reform and Conservative movements provide modest funding for the continuing operations of their institutions, but even these resources are limited. Our proposal’s principle purpose is to expand the total resource levels available to our sister communities.

landscape_tsubawhy It is time, and perhaps well past time, for Reform and Conservative congregations outside of Israel to make a positive statement to Israelis and the State of Israel about the value, validity and authenticity of our approach to Jewish practice. Our goal is to help the existing community institutions be stronger and present a viable alternative to Israelis with no religious affiliation. For Jewish communities outside of Israel to remain strong, there must exist a place for progressive Judaism within Israel.

The people committed to Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel are amazing in their dedication, tireless in their efforts, and inspirational to anyone who meets them and understands the conditions in which they work. They are nothing less than pioneers who work with few resources and limited support; yet they produce unbelievable results. For their efforts to bear greater fruit, it is time for us to support these heroes and their efforts. It is in our own best interests.

There are effective Jewish organizations that in various ways direct resources to synagogues in Israel, but Israeli congregations are not the primary focus for any one of these organizations. By all accounts, the funding level presently received by congregations is inadequate to the task at hand.

How You Can Help
Here is how to help. Participate in our “Join a Shul in Israel” program and let KBY make the connection for you.

“Join a Shul in Israel” Program

Your participation in Kehillot B’Yahad is simple. We ask you to contribute at one of two levels:

A gift contribution at an “KBY Member” level is US$ 360.
A gift contribution at an “KBY Friend” level is US$ 180.

We will ask you for a preference, either a Reform or a Conservative synagogue. KBY will send your individual contribution, in full and directly, to a specific congregation, which will then acknowledge and recognize your gift. Of course if you are already connected to an Israeli synagogue, you can suggest an association. Our web site supports contribution processing.

You may of course “join” more than one congregation, and we hope you will. “Join” means offering your financial support, but it means more too.

Making a Contribution and What You Will Receive…
First, you will receive an information package about the congregation that has received your contribution. You will also receive contact names, phone numbers and email addresses of the congregation. Undoubtedly, a member of the congregation will contact you via email or letter.

As with any group or organization you support, you will receive regular communication on the activities and programs of the congregation. All congregations produce regular bulletins, notices and program information, which KBY will post on our web site. You will receive email notification that new information has been posted.

You can arrange a “virtual aliyah” to honor a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a wedding or an important birthday. An Israeli member of “your congregation in Israel” will stand-in for you or a member of your family to accept an aliyah in your honor. Of course, you may accept the honor in person.

Yartzeits of your family and loved ones will be commemorated publicly at your congregation in Israel.

Why we encourage contributors to let KBY direct their contribution
KBY wants to distribute, both fairly and equitably, contributions to participating congregations. However, we ask you not to pick a specific congregation, and here is why…

It is natural for those who are familiar with Israel to want to support congregations where there is some association. Keep in mind, however, that if you are a visitor to Israel and have attended services at a Reform or Conservative synagogue, it was probably one in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or perhaps Haifa. Further, it was probably one of five out of a total of 50 R/C congregations in Israel. Please let KBY place your synagogue contribution.

Of course, everyone has many reasons for participating in the KBY project. You are the one to decide.

All renewal contributions will naturally go to your affiliated synagogue, if you agree to continue your support.

How is your “Synagogue in Israel” Chosen
Here is how the distribution of new KBY contributions will work, if a donor does not specifically direct the gift. The donor will choose the movement and KBY will select a congregation and deliver the contributed funds to it. In all cases, one hundred (100%) percent of any individual contribution will go to one specific congregation.

KBY will allocate 50% of new contributors to Israeli congregations in a ratio proportionate to the size of a congregation relative to the total membership within each movement. The remaining 50% will be directed to individual congregations consistent with priorities set by KBY. It may be that one year a specific congregation is building a building and the movement wants to direct additional funds to this effort.

Twinning Congregations
When a North American congregation has 10 KBY Associates (a minyan) who support the same Israeli congregation, KBY will define a twinning relationship and send a written acknowledgement and certificate. We will develop a twinning program in which North American and Israeli congregations can create a partnership that will allow them to share information, materials and personal experiences.

Administrative Costs
The funds required for KBY operations will be raised independently Charitable contributions from KBY Supporters will be dedicated to its charitable mission of supporting Israeli congregations. We expect to raise funds to support KBY administrative and operating costs as a separate project.

Below is an estimate of the costs of the initial year’s expenses:

Initial Operating Cost Estimates

Operating Expenses

Administrative Assistant

$20,000

Office Expenses

5,000

Training Seminars for Presenters

2,500

Web Site Development & Maintenance

3,000

Printing (cards, postcards, etc.)

2,500

Non-profit Development Consultant

3,500

Legal Expenses

2,000

Accounting Services

donated

Foundation Operating Expense in U.S. & Canada

Executive Director

voluntary

Accounting Services

donated

Legal Expenses

donated

Government Fees

1,000

Total

$39,500

Organization Development Tasks and Notes
Build the KBY Organization

  • Seek endorsements from the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel.
  • Contact and develop contacts and cooperative relations with movement affiliates in Israel.
  • An initial task will be to solicit endorsements and sponsorships from synagogue and community leaders who support KBY. Contact and recruit Sponsoring Congregations and Sponsoring Rabbis.
  • Solicit and recruit KBY Field Representatives, people who would make local contacts, organize and host events. This process can be developed co-incident with the development of the email contact list.
  • Contact the Israeli R/C Congregations and explain the program. Develop Training Program for Overseas Supporter contact people within Israeli congregations.

Develop a Contact Email List

  • Maintain the usual contact information and email for everyone associated with, recruited for, contacted by or referred to KBY.
  • Develop an information distribution network, with the ability to reach specific subsets of the list: Field Representatives, Israel committees, Rabbis, Congregational Leaders, KBY supporters, etc.
  • Develop “the list” of interested Israel supporters: Rabbis, Cantors, Educators, Synagogue Leadership, and Interested Congregants. Use initial list to propagate an expanding list. Request interested parties to “pass along” email addresses of other possible supports to KBY.

Create a Speakers and Presentations Center

  • Create Opportunities for Presentations at R/C congregations in North America when Israeli Rabbis, Cantors, Congregational Leaders and selected members are traveling and have time to contribute for KBY presentations.
  • Develop a PowerPoint Presentation and a Meeting Format.
  • Train speakers to deliver an effective presentation and ask for support.
  • Train Field Representative in meeting/presentation planning.
  • Coordinate Travel Plans to maximize effectiveness and minimize costs.
  • Develop a catalog of Personal Stories from Congregational experience.

Public Relations

  • Accumulate Articles and Useful Quotes.
  • Distribute Press Releases to Jewish newspapers, magazines and Israel Committees. Post release on the web site.
  • Produce a postcard and business card sized piece that contains the web site address and contact information for KBY.
  • Design a KBY pin and refrigerator magnet.

Organizational Preparation – NY and Canada

  • Create Non-profit organizations in U.S. and Canada to process the contributions and forward the funds to Israel.
  • Request from participating Israeli Congregations the required documentation to substantiate non-profit status in Israel and substantiate tax-deductible nature of funds contributed with U.S. and Canadian tax authorities.

Web Site Development and Operation

  • Design Web Site, with automated contributions processing.
  • Think about Login, with name and email for all entering site.
  • Develop Graphic Designs for Print and On-line Materials.
  • Implement Web Site, using as much material already available through the movements.
  • Post each synagogue’s monthly bulletin on the web site and email supporters the highlights and a link to the entire bulletin.
  • Summarize and translate into English any bulletin in Hebrew.
  • Links to the IMPJ and Masorti web sites will appear on the main KBY page.
  • Post descriptive information of congregations and their programs. From each congregational page include a link to “Join this shul” which will process the contribution transaction.

Expectations from Participating Congregations in Israel

  • Direct overseas supporters to and through KBY. Provide email and synagogue contact lists for overseas supporters to KBY.
  • Inform KBY when a synagogue rabbi, cantor, leader or member is traveling to the U.S. or Canada AND is available to give a presentation (formal, informal, lecture or concert). Include the dates available and locations that are convenient. KBY will contact field representatives in the area and synagogues within range.
  • Recognize KBY members, regardless of which congregation they support, as important visitors when they are in Israel.
  • Develop a personal approach to individual “overseas supporters” of the congregation. Personal notes, individual emails, letters mailed from Israel. Send them a candy bar to indicate the sweetness of the association. Share a description of a synagogue program that went well, including pictures.

KBY Israel

  • Work station for supporting Israeli congregations.
  • Handle administrative functions for participating congregations.
  • Manage regular email communications.
  • Send holiday cards on Rosh Hashanah and Pesach and Hanukkah.

Duties of Field Representatives

  • Make local contacts and discuss the idea and program with other synagogue members, community leaders, and other interested parties.
  • Help to develop our email contact list (“the list”).
  • Help place press releases in local Jewish publications.
  • Organize and host presentations by visiting KBY rabbis, cantors and members willing to share their experiences in Israeli congregations. These will be held at synagogues, community centers or homes as venues are offered and are available.

Other Ideas to Keep in Mind

1. Fundraising for administration independently of individual contributions. One hundred percent of funds contributed go directly to the congregation in Israel.
2. Plan meetings with Israeli Synagogues to define what an “overseas supporter” needs/wants from a congregation in Israel. How to respond to a contributor? What you can offer to a North American congregant or congregation.
3. Visitors to Israel, who are members of Kehillot B’Yachad, who attend any participatory synagogue in Israel, should be welcomed as members.
4. Regularly send an email to all participants concerning their travel plans to Israel, and the travel plans of their families.
5. Request short meeting with participants on UJC and other missions to Israel.
6. Keep track of Bar/Bat Mitzvah age children and when they will celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Offer to have a congregation Bar/Bat Mitzvah aged child stand-in for the celebrant and accept and Aliyah and Mishabayrach in honor of the occasion.
7. Item 6 can be done for other important personal events. Wedding anniversaries, “big” birthdays, etc.
8. Contributions made directly to KBY for smaller amounts will be accepted through the site, and funds will be disbursed to congregations in the aggregate defined by KBY.
9. Gift Contributions – give a contribution as a gift.
10. Develop a “Builders’ Program” for contributions over $1000 to building funds or building projects.

Still to Do
Everything…

The paintings above are offered as a small reward for your working through this long document.  They and others like them can be found on the Hammersite.com Israeli Artist Auction site.

1. Rosh Pina Landscape — Oded Feingersh
2. Rishon LeZion Landscape — Jacob Gilder
3. Kinneret Landscape –  Shimshon Holtzman
4. Tsuba Landscape — Joseph Zaritsky