Last June, the Reform and Conservative movements formed an alliance between their respective men’s clubs’ umbrella organizations — Men of Reform Judaism and the Conservative Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. The agreement they struck on behalf of their member congregations enacted collaboration in four areas: leadership development, programming, community building, and services (including data, training materials, and referrals).
The agreement states, in part, “This is not a merger; each organization will continue to maintain its own identity. It is our joint belief that this inter-movement cooperation between men’s groups will enhance our understanding of, and enable us to involve, Jewish families.”
In a July posting on the blog of the Union for Reform Judaism, MRJ president Steve Portnoy called the move “historic”; but for many local congregations, the agreement offered official recognition of what was already happening on the ground.
Rabbi Steven Bayar of B’nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Millburn, believes this change goes well beyond the congregation’s social arms. In an e-mail to NJJN, he wrote, “This presages a transition that we have been witnessing but not recognizing for almost a decade: the eventual cooperation and merging of parts of the liberal movements in Judaism in the United States.” He acknowledged that it is still not known precisely what form this transition will take and said that “[while] there certainly remain significant differences between Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist, the similarities and challenges have begun to outweigh the differences as we work ever more closely together.”
Rabbi Mark Mallach, of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield, pointed out that his Conservative synagogue has been conducting joint programs with the local Reform congregation, Temple Sha’arey Shalom, also in Springfield, for at least 10 years. Such programs, which he termed “home and away,” are a series of regular events that move back and forth between the synagogues, and include everything from educational programs for teens to occasional joint kabalat Shabbat services. The two congregations will hold their third annual joint Selihot program and service Saturday night, Sept. 24 — this year at Sha’arey Shalom — featuring combined choirs and clergy from both congregations.
“We are not about competing for membership, rather working together to build a stronger Jewish community in Springfield,” said Mallach.
The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs is the umbrella group for over 250 affiliated Conservative organizations across North America. Men of Reform Judaism, founded in 1923, is its Reform counterpart and approved the memorandum at its June convention in New Orleans.