As FJMC works to build and strengthen men’s clubs and at the same time collaborate with other arms of our Movement to address the issues facing Conservative Judaism, it’s been very enjoyable and rewarding for me personally to be able to form good relationships with the leadership of these other organizations. The presidents of United Synagogue and Women’s League and I meet by phone every other month; I serve on the Boards of JTS, the Ziegler School, and Mercaz; and I’m a member of the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism which includes the professional and lay leadership of every arm of our movement.
My previous blogs have addressed some of the issues facing our Movement, so I won’t recount those here. But what I can relate is that the leadership of Conservative Judaism is comprised of many dedicated and thoughtful men and women who are committed to the continuing success of our Movement. It’s stimulating and exciting to work with them.
This of course was not unexpected as I started to engage with our Movement’s leadership at the start of my presidency. But I did recently encounter a completely unexpected opportunity outside our Movement that I’d like to share with you. As you may know I live in the greater Los Angeles area, which is unusual in that most of the leadership of the major Jewish organizations in North America are located either in New York or at least on the East Coast. By coincidence, the current President of the Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ), Stuart Leviton, also lives in Los Angeles. MRJ is our counterpart in the Reform Movement.
You might think that MRJ with primarily brotherhoods in Reform temples and FJMC with primarily men’s clubs in Conservative synagogues wouldn’t necessarily have a lot in common, but this is not the case. I’ve gotten to know the Stuart, and he invited me (and my wife and our regional president) to attend their annual Man of the Year dinner for brotherhoods in the western part of the U.S. It was a fun evening, and it really felt just like an FJMC regional Man of the Year event.
FJMC and MRJ clearly have a lot in common. Our organizations are both dedicated to engaging the men in our respective congregations in Jewish life by strengthening our respective men’s groups through leadership and programming. The men’s groups operate in a very similar manner in both organizations. At the Man of the Year dinner, I heard the stories of their honorees – and they spoke of volunteering to slice bagels and spread cream cheese and lox before a Sunday morning event; being involved in many and varied mitzvah projects in their communities; leading brotherhood projects related to sports events, education, and fundraising; etc. Sound familiar?
Did you know that we are already partnering with MRJ, in our Yellow Candle Program? (We also partner with United Synagogue.) For several years MRJ has been a major distributor of our candles; the horrors of the holocaust were no respecter of Jewish denomination. Beyond this, there has not been much interaction between us. Now, however, I’d like to see this change and Stuart does also. Given that all Jewish denominations are facing reduced affiliation, with the challenges of intermarriage and of attracting the next generation of Jews, it just makes sense for us to collaborate and leverage our mutual strengths for the benefit of both organizations. I like to call this a strategic alliance, but basically it’s simply taking the slogan “together we can accomplish so much more” and expanding it to encompass more guys who can work together.
We’ve decided to hold some pilot projects here in the West. For starters, one of our clubs is holding a Hearing Men’s Voices program at the end of the month and we’ve invited neighboring MRJ brotherhoods to participate. MRJ also has programs that address men’s issues, but they don’t follow the same approach as our HMV program. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out!
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Have any of you already held joint activities with a local MRJ brotherhood? Would you be willing to do so? Can you think of other strategic alliances that we might want to pursue?
One final note – Gail and I are leaving soon for the FJMC Mission to Masorti Congregations in Southern France, and we’ll be visiting historical Jewish sites in Spain as well. I plan to discuss what we learn in my next Blog.