Local religious leader Rabbi Alan Silverstein, chair of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel, will receive a special award at the foundation’s Spring Tribute Gala in Manhattan.
Silverstein, religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell since 1979, will step down as foundation chair, a position he has held since 2010.
The foundation works to strengthen the activities and influence of the Conservative (Masorti) movement in Israel.
“It has been a great honor for me to help raise funds and support for four years of substantial growth in Israel’s Masorti movement,” Silverstein said in an interview. “In four years we went from some 44 to 74 congregations, and from 12 to 20 chapters, and 2,000 members of Noam, the Israeli Masorti youth movement.” In 2014, Noam received official government recognition as a youth group from the Israeli Ministry of Education.
In addition, the Masorti Foundation helped develop a program called Revuta, to strengthen what Silverstein called “the professional skills and sense of cohesion among the 20 Masorti rabbis serving Israeli congregations.” It receives funding as part of the religious pluralism agenda of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Among his numerous leadership roles, Silverstein served as vice president of the National Council of Synagogues; president of the Rabbinical Assembly’s NJ region and of the New Jersey Coalition of Religious Leaders. From 1993 to 1995 he was president of the International Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement, and from 2000 to 2005 he served as president of Masorti Olami, the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues.
Following the recent election in Israel, Silverstein said, he is concerned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form a coalition that strengthens the hand of Israel’s Orthodox religious parties. Various government bodies set policy and control funding for religious life in Israel.
Such a development “would not be good news for people who advocate religious pluralism in terms of conversion or access to the Kotel or opportunities for military service,” Silverstein said. “We are concerned. We hope we will not see major setbacks, but obviously we are concerned about the intentions of Israeli political parties whose goal is to reverse the gains of the past several years.”
Four other leaders of the Masorti movement — three Americans and an Israeli — will also be honored at the awards dinner. They are Rabbi Gordon Tucker, religious leader of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY; philanthropists Susan and William Yarmuth of Louisville, Ky.; and Yizhar Hess, who is about to celebrate his 10th anniversary as CEO and executive director of the Masorti movement in Israel.