Local Reconstructionist rabbis say the impending merger of two of the movement’s governing bodies will provide a boost to its synagogues, congregational schools, summer camps, adult and teen activities, and social action programs.
The Reconstructionist movement, the smallest of American Judaism’s four major denominations, announced the merger on Feb. 22.
The agreement will bring together the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the seminary in Wyncote, Pa., and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the movement’s congregational arm.
A third body, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, will remain closely tied to the combined entity if the merger is approved at a special meeting of congregational leaders on April 10 in Philadelphia.
The merger’s “immediate impact on us is probably not that significant, but our long-term hope is that this change will be synergistic and increase the creativity and availability of congregational sources,” said Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair. “Hopefully it will help us improve constituent services for our members and will better position our movement to impact and speak to the broader Jewish world.”
A JRF board member, Tepperman said he had been “somewhat involved in this process for a couple of years,” and several of his synagogue’s members “were very involved in this negotiation.”
Rabbi Amy Small of Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit was part of the merger negotiating team for the last year and a half.
“I feel strongly that this is a very important step for our movement to take,” she told NJJN. “Everything is changing. We live in a world with much conflict and division, and people are looking for a religious community to help them navigate through that. We would like to position ourselves to be able to help Jews move into this new age in Jewish history in a way that suits the spiritual and intellectual needs of the broad Jewish community and those who participate in Reconstructionist congregations.”
Movement leaders said the goal is to pool resources and increase efficiency.
“We are setting a model of human and financial resources by putting under one roof something that will make both organizations better and do it in a more efficient way,” said RRC president Dan Ehrenkrantz.
With 105 congregations and some 300 rabbis, the Reconstructionist movement is sometimes said to chart a middle ground between the liberal Reform and more traditional Conservative movements. Many of its innovations, including bat mitzva ceremonies for girls and, more recently, its early embrace of gay rights, were eventually adopted by the other non-Orthodox denominations in one form or another.
The JRF was founded in 1955, and the college opened in 1968.
“We have always been influential vastly out of proportion to our numbers,” Ehrenkrantz said. “That is a hallmark of what we have been, and we hope to continue that kind of influence, and yet, I do think this change will help us to broaden our reach and have a deep influence.”
Ehrenkrantz served as rabbi at Bnai Keshet for 14 years before becoming president of the college in 2002. He told NJJN the merger was not a marketing ploy to increase the size and visibility of his denomination.
“Our major influence has occurred without needing to be the biggest. I don’t think the way to measure religious influence is based on market share. We are not in the business of selling toothpaste,” he said.
Small said the movement hasn’t grown in recent years, but also said the merger has other goals.
“I see this as more of a growth in vision than a growth in numbers,” she said. “With pooling resources and stronger collaboration we will be able to grow our vision and produce new expressions of Jewish learning.”